An emotional support animal is an animal that has been prescribed to a patient to help with certain medical conditions or disabilities. And it’s not as hard to get a prescription letter as you might think. Read on to learn why.
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What Is Certapet?
Certapet is a web-based company that pairs medical professionals with tenants and consumers. The end goal is to diagnose you a condition that will require them to prescribe you an emotional support animal.
While they claim to strictly be a third party facilitating a transaction, their website is chalked full of information about ESAs and how a prescription letter can get you around paying pet fees on rental property and airplanes.
In fact, Certapet claims that with an ESA letter, you can:
- Avoid pet deposits and fees
- Bring your ESA on planes
- Bypass the “no pets allowed” policy in rentals
But is it really that easy? Just pay a fee and you’re good to go? Not exactly. They do actually have some measures in place to ensure users aren’t abusing the system. Read on to learn about my experience
Who Uses Certapet?
Most of the time, they couldn’t produce proper documentation to support their claims. In order to qualify as a support animal, you must have a letter from someone licensed to prescribe it.
Most tenants would submit a letter from a service animal registry, which is of course just that – a registry. However, I found that tenants I previously turned down were suddenly coming back a week later with real documentation from a licensed therapist.
Upon closer investigation, I found online services promising to streamline the process by connecting users with licensed therapists. One of the names that kept coming up was Certapet.
At first, I thought the system was a scam, but decided to give them a fair shot. I paid their fee and was nearly able to get an ESA letter. However, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it’d be. Read on to learn about my experience and what makes me think this service is legitimate.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
An Emotional Support Animal, otherwise known as an ESA, is a designation given to an animal after being prescribed to a patient. This classification was created in an effort to protect people with disabilities and other conditions that require them to have a support animal.
Fair housing laws require landlords to accept the animals without charge. Businesses and airlines must allow the animals to accompany their owner free of charge.
As a property manager, I saw this almost monthly. But as long as my residents from one of a few sources (therapist, clergy member, etc), there was nothing I could do to stop them.
My Experience With Certapet
As an experiment, I set out to get my very own ESA letter. I don’t need one, but I wanted to see how easy it was to get a letter. For only $149, Certapet promised me that I’d have a letter in no time. If not, I’d get my money back.
Pay the Fee
After paying the fee, I filled out an application listing my birth date, my name, my dog’s name, and completed a short survey with some leading questions about my mental health.
Based on my responses of “I sometimes am stressed” and “sometimes I get sad,” the system felt that I’d qualify for an ESA letter. However, I did not want to list my actual birthday, as I didn’t want my fake medical questionnaire to show up on my actual medical records.
So I said I was born on 01/01/1980. Next, I filled out a detailed survey about the same leading questions asked in my pre-screening.
I kept these generic because, truthfully, I was not sure how to respond in a way that would trigger the “professional” to write me an ESA letter.
Talk With a Therapist
After submitting this application, a therapist from Chicago called me. I live in a different state, so I found it slightly odd she was willing to consult me over the phone without ever having met me. But I’m not a medical professional, so I proceeded.
Maybe that’s how these things are done. During the course of this call, the therapist told me that the birthday I stated was not the one I listed on my application. And that my application was mostly blank. I inferred to her that I’m just looking for a letter.
Explain Your Situation
She proceeded to explain to me that she has to diagnose me with something, and proceeded to coach me through the diagnosis process.
This included a variety of questions that I felt were “leading” and designed to help me achieve the desired diagnosis so she could prescribe me an ESA letter.
In the end, she ended up telling me that my responses were not 100% consistent with a diagnosis. The fact that I couldn’t remember my birthday (of course I couldn’t, I made it up on the spot).
She said the blank application was not enough to diagnose me with a condition for which she could prescribe me a service animal.
However, she did say that if I could think of any other symptoms that would help her diagnose me, she’d speak to me again and I’d have a better chance of getting a letter.
Our Take on Certapet
There’s a lot of back and forth on the internet as to whether Certapet is legitimate. The company claims on reddit that,
We don’t sell to people who are going to attempt to use their pet iguana, ostrich or hamster as a way to get around regulations.
Yes, there is a grey area when it comes to emotional support animals. But, I clearly don’t need an ESA letter and as a result I was unable to get one.
So they do have measures in place to prevent abuse of the system. I do find abuse of a system meant to help those in need to be unethical, but that is more of an issue with the users than the service itself.
Just as a liquor store can’t always prevent someone from using a fake ID to buy alcohol, these services can’t always prevent someone from lying on their application.
However, they do have a decent system in place to try to attempt abuse of the system, and for that reason we think this service is legitimate.
Frequently Asked Question
Should You Use Certapet?
The question now is whether you should use Certapet. I’m here to provide information about third party products and services related to real estate, not argue about ethics.
As a result, my answer is easy: if you need an ESA letter and want to speak to a therapist from the comfort of your own home, this seems to be a legitimate option.