An emotional support animal is an animal that has been prescribed to a patient to help with certain medical conditions or disabilities. Unfortunately, companies have recognized the potential to make a quick profit by matching customers with therapists who generate a legitimate prescription letter. And a major offender in this type of business? Certapet.
Disclaimer: These are the author’s own personal opinions, and in no way reflect the views of REthority or its partners..
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 there is a service that essentially acts as a support letter factory. The service in question? You guessed it – Certapet.
To test the system, I paid their fee, and with many errors and an incomplete application, I was nearly able to get an ESA. Mind you, I have no condition that would require such a letter.
Read on to learn how Certapet helps tenants and customers abuse Fair Housing laws by partnering with “professionals” to issue ESA letters for a nominal fee.
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.
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.
Unfortunately, owners of companies like Certapet are helping customers game the fair housing system for a profit. They know that these laws exist to protect those who truly need these laws, and offer to help those without a disability or handicap get an ESA letter for a fee.
I compare this to a perfectly mobile family paying a handicapped person to jump the line at Disney World (yes, this was a real scandal). Basically, they are abusing a system designed with good intentions, as you’ll see from my own personal experience with the company.
My Experience With Certapet
As an experiment, I set out to get my very own ESA letter. I consider myself to be morally upstanding, so I had no intentions of using this certificate to actually abuse the Fair Housing system, just as our many tenants do.
However, I wanted to see if the unscrupulous individuals at Certapet would really help me get a certificate. For only $149, they promised me that I’d have a letter in no time. If not, I’d get my money back.
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.
After submitting this application, a therapist from Chicago called me. She is Nebraska licensed, but I think that means very little. Adding a state to a professional license is very easy to do.
I put the word “professional” in quotes because I don’t think a true professional would participate in such an unethical scheme.
During the course of this call, the “professional” told me that the birthday I stated was not the one I listed on my application and that my application was blank. I told her that truthfully, “I just want a support letter.”
She proceeded to explain to me that she has to diagnose me with something, and that she could tell that I was very stressed. She then coached me through the diagnosis process. This included a variety of leading questions 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. The fact that I couldn’t remember my birthday (of course I couldn’t, I made it up on the spot) and 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 be happy to write one, and she’s confident that if I applied again with a little more information (and to make sure to use what she told me), I’d get a letter.
My Thoughts About Certapet
By simply looking at the website, my impression is that the company is designed to skirt a system set up to help those who truly need an ESA. I personally think anyone who makes a service to exploit a system designed to help someone is unethical, to say the least.
They claim 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.” True, but the “professional” that I talked to did everything they could to help me get an ESA letter.
My own opinion is that they are not doing anything illegal. However, I find a abusing a system meant to help those truly in need highly unethical.
Should You Use Certapet?
I don’t think anyone should use Certapet. While you may get a letter, it’ll likely be from a therapist in another state. This “professional” likely has never met you, and will only spend 5 minutes on the phone with you. All of this is to skirt a system meant for good, and I find that highly unethical.