The power of emotional support animals
Their impact on our mental health & wellness
Dogs have long been referred to as “man’s best friend,” but a dog’s purpose runs much deeper for those who suffer from mental health issues. Similar to the pet ownership boom we have been experiencing in the last decade, Emotional Support Animals (ESA) have been growing exponentially in recent years due to the positive effects they provide those with mental health issues and anxiety.
When it comes to pet ownership, there are a number of proven health benefits for people, including physical, mental and emotional improvements, from enhancing social skills to decreasing a person’s risk of heart attack. It’s for these reasons that mental health professionals have been acknowledging those emotions, and the consequential endorphins they release, to help people who suffer from mental health issues.
“The human animal bond is an incredible gift. The physical and mental health benefits of animals in human lives is well documented,” says Dr. Liz Bales, VMD, “These benefits can be derived from dogs, cats, horses and even birds and fish.”
Dr. Liz explains, “Individuals who live with emotional disorders often find themselves facing physical illnesses as a result of their emotional turmoil. Though most people think of mental health issues as limited to the brain, they can ravage the body too.”
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Emotional Support Dogs provide comfort to their person just by their presence. Providing comfort is not a trained behavior, and therefore, the dog is not considered an assistance (service) dog under the ADA. Emotional support dogs do not have the intensive and specialized training that a service dog receives.
“Emotional support dogs provide comfort and emotional support to their owners. While emotional support dogs do not require any specific training or licensing, they must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional,” explains Janice Costa, Owner/ Founder, Canine Camp Getaway.
In order to qualify for an ESA, you must be certified as emotionally disabled by a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist or other duly-licensed and/or certified mental health professional. There is no legal certification, obedience training or testing that is needed. These professionals must confirm and provide support that the animal alleviates one or more symptoms of an existing disability. The certification should be a formal and appropriately formatted letter, known as an ESA Letter.
Benefits of an ESA:
(An estimated 20% of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have PTSD and/ or depression. The use of ESA has risen dramatically over the years and has provided an important benefit to many within the veteran community)
(Approximately 40 million American adults — roughly 18% of the population — have an anxiety disorder)
(fear of being outside of the home)
(fear of flying)
Janice Costa says, “Unlike service dogs, which have been trained to perform specific tasks for individuals related to a disability and are granted access to all public venues, ESAs may not be allowed in many public venues, though they are provided certain accommodations under federal law in the areas of housing and air travel.”
“It is very important not to abuse this gift. Assistance animals go into places and situations that most animals are not allowed for specific reasons.” Dr. Liz Bales expresses, “The human may be reaping emotional support while inadvertently causing the animal to be fearful and distressed. Not every species or individual animal is suited to tolerating these stresses. Some animals may appear normal but are internalizing their stress. Others may act out and under extreme stress, may even be dangerous to the handler or other nearby people.”
Due to our current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many large changes happening in our world. These changes can negatively affect someone with a mental health issues. Social distancing, government decisions, quarantine, closed businesses, back-to-school stress, etc. has left us all feeling overwhelmed and scared. Fortunately, those who live with an ESA have an advantage to get through these tough times.
Being around a pet in general is great mental and physical therapy. The steady presence of an animal can help people step away from the news and instead relax and focus on their pet. They also encourage us to stay active which is beneficial to our overall health and wellness. Having an ESA during the pandemic has helped owners better cope with their emotions and feel more reassured with all of the uncertainties surrounding the virus.
Therapy and support pets provide incredible benefits to humans with various disabilities. ESAs in particular, are a great way for individuals to create a better life holistically, reducing the need for prescription medications, alleviating physical health issues, and improving the quality of both social and emotional health, all while offering a bonding experience that will last for many years.
Do you qualify for an Emotional Support Animal? Take a free quiz through My Pet Certs: https://mypetcerts.com/pre-qualify.