Editor's Note: When it comes to shopping online for emotional support animal services, buyers had better beware. Over the past two years, we've shopped ESA products and have been burned more times than naught.
Enough is enough we said, we're going to do business the old-fashion way -- with respect, honesty, and transparency from the very start.
Take a moment and learn why we we're highly motivated to do things differently.
My name is Chaz Stevens, and I'm the founder of ESADoggy.
I'm also a nerd. And the proud father of several rescue doggies.
About two years ago, I was hired to develop a Florida-centric website/business selling "ESA letters." As a former engineer with Microsoft and IBM, I knew nothing about emotional support animals nor the mental health business, but websites?
I helped launch Disney.com and Blockbuster.com. Websites, oh that I know.
To me, this project was straightforward -- like my days partnering with eBay Motors to sell boatloads of cars, this customer-facing ESA website would be another portal "selling widgets."
And given that our business location (Boca Raton, FL) is ground zero for the self-entitled, I assumed we'd be selling ESA letters to folks looking to save a few bucks and skirt some pet rules.
Ha, funny how life is sometimes.
About two months into the project, answering the phone I encounter an angry young man demanding to speak with our doctor, demanding to have his cat approved that day, and if that wasn't possible, he'd take his life.
In the IT world, getting "an angry customer" usually means a flashing red error message on the screen. Having zero previous experience interacting with this sort of clientele, the nerd in me thought "wow, I guess something broke in the shopping cart, and I'm gonna catch hell." So, I connect the "angry dude" with a Ph.D. educated Florida licensed mental health professional, aka the Doc, and returned to "coding more widgets."
A few hours go by, and I'm out to lunch with Doc, an utterly amazing caring individual who took the forwarded call.
"So," I asked. "Did you apologize for me."
"Huh," she replies.
Raising her "Spock" eyebrow, Doc laments, "Oh, no... that was a wounded warrior. He was blown up; I mean *boom* blown up during his third tour overseas. Now he suffers from PTSD and major traumatic brain injury. That rage you heard on the call? That's nothing personal, that's just how his brain functions."
"Holy ****, that's horrible," I said.
"You know those 20 men/women vets who take their lives on a daily basis? That fellow was on a short list," said Doc.
And I stopped ... and stared ... and wondered ... and considered my uncles -- young men who valiantly fought in WWII; official tough guys, tough as nails, 1000x tougher than I'd ever been... guys who looked into Hell’s abyss and came back broken.
Just like this fellow earlier on the telephone.
I then realized my "widgets" weren't widgets at all, but instead, my widgets were human beings suffering from significant mental health issues.
Widgets who needed a helping hand -- and since I couldn't do anything for my (long gone) uncles, I would do whatever I could for this generation of broken boys and girls.
"You said yes right? Are we're getting him a kitty? I mean, if that dude needs a kitty, count us in, right" I asked with tears in my eyes.
"Indeed we are," said Doc. "If I can give somebody a doggy, versus a pill, I'm all for that."
And it was then -- though I didn't realize at the time – that I would change my entire life, vowing to make a difference and to help those in need.
Like Emerson said, the purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
So, for the next two years, clients came across our transom, broken beyond belief. Their stories would freeze your heart. Again, even as I write this, I wonder how Doc and her colleagues manage to do what they do, and somehow, still stay sane.
Not to pontificate, but I believe mental health care is a greatly undervalued proposition in today’s environment.
So, when I hear how the ESA business is all BS, I think to myself; you've not heard their tales of woe. Sexual abuse, trauma, abuse, violence, the works. The worst of the worst of the worst, like something from the mind of Wes Craven.
So I got "all in" ... changed my life, decided that I wanted to make a small difference, one client, one letter at a time -- to have it make some difference that I lived and lived well. When folks call you back, once tears on the phone, now smiles … that’s winner winner chicken dinner for us.
I bought out the other owners, and took charge … finally realizing a life’s bucket list of doing it my way, of satisfying my inner calling to help the helpless, which meant leading a team of highly educated, highly trained professional mental health experts in our driven pursuit of changing the world for the better … one little ding at a time.
You know those people in life who will give their shirt off their back? That’s me.
So getting “all in” meant learning about emotional support animals, fair housing, mental health care. We had to build an infrastructure to support over 100 therapists (going to 200+) from coast to coast. We wrote content, and content, and more content.
Every day, for two years, 12-14 hours a day. Without fail.
No need to cry us a river, we’re on a mission.
And perhaps like you've done these last few days -- I scoured the Internet looking at "ESA letter" websites. And during that journey, I bought a ton of letters and leashes, unknowingly dealt with vendors located in the Bahamas and also parts unknown, was peddled worthless certificates, offered bad information, and for the most part, sold a big load of, well, you know.
All of that caused me, as it may have likely caused you, great concern.
I mean, how do you know if they're legitimate?
You now know who owns ESADoggy. You have a name, a story, and a face (albeit a face for radio). Do you know who owns those other sites?
It's been my own experience googling "emotional support animal letter" returns a whole long list of businesses best avoided at all costs. Not only are peacocks now on the airplane, but you also have online vendors categorically breaking the law. From large operations to one-therapist-in-a-shoe, from top to bottom, it's sad to say, but fraud, deception, and manipulation reign supreme -- reinforcing my desire to do business "the right way."
Yeah, I know, that's relative, but around here we always follow the golden rule, donate our time to worthy causes, and when needed, will give our services and letters away for free.
We will be the first in line helping those most in need.
It is how we are wired.
We'll also turn away those clients looking to take advantage of lax Federal guidelines. No peacocks here at ESADoggy.
Our therapists are empowered to say no ... they're *trained and encouraged* to deny letters to "folks who are gaming the system."
That's right from our bottom line.
Our accounting firm likely worries about the profit margin, but I see that as putting our money where my mouth is, insurance of sorts, perhaps an investment in our desire to make ESADoggy different.
So, I will leave you with a few suggestions on how to help you swim thru the foul waters of the online ESA world.
- Call and speak to the vendor -- well, assuming they have a number listed. Do they have a website live-chat as we do?
- Ask them about who will issue the ESA letter. Are they located in your state? Located a reasonable distance from you?
- Ask about their refund policy. Ask about their guarantee. Ask them if they have anything similar to our ESAGuard guarantee -- they won't, it's one of a kind.
As for ESADoggy?
Go ahead, give us a call and ask for me.
Ask me questions.
Ask me about our nationwide network of licensed mental health care professionals. Ask me anything about the ESA business. If I don't know the answer, I'll go and find it, and then call you back and share the intel.
Ask about our love for wounded warriors and first responders.
If you are in dire need of an ESA letter, and don’t have the money, let us know, we’ll help you out.
Yeah, I know, that’s just crazy right?
Ask about the two years I spent researching how to write ESA letters. Ask about the lawyers and housing experts we retained to help develop those letters.
Anyone can write a letter. However, not all letters are the same. Ours just happen to be the best on the planet.