A very interesting dimension of the human-animal relationship is emotional support animals. Basically, emotional support animals are those animals that are blessed with the natural ability to provide comfort, joy, peace, serenity, and companionship just by being with their owner.
More precisely, an emotional support animal (ESA), also known as a support animal or an assistance animal refers to a companion pet animal that, according to medical professionals, is able to provide certain benefits to a person with some form of a mental or emotional disability. Typically, these animals are dogs, but cats, as well as other pets, can quite effectively accomplish the task.
Recently, the trend has grown increasingly popular with specific support needs of persons with mental health concerns. Emotional-support animals are proven to alleviate at least one aspect of the disability just by their mere presence as well as non-judgmental positive regard and affection for the person.
What Animals Are Emotional-Support Animals?
Most commonly, dogs and sometimes cats are used for the purpose. Some other animals such as peacocks, monkeys, pigs, miniature horses, ducks, and monkeys have also been reported to serve as emotional support animals.
Emotional Support vs Service Animals
If you are wondering how to distinguish between emotional-support animals from service animals, below points might help to make the distinction:
Service animals are specifically trained for the intended assistance to their owners while emotional support animals need no such training. They provide support and calmness naturally through their mere companionship and presence.
Being properly trained, service animals provide assistance to people with disabilities in order to perform some typical tasks. For example, they might be trained to press buttons, walk them safely through streets, etc.
One category of service animals is the psychiatric service animals that are trained to provide assistance to people with psychiatric conditions. Such service might include reminding the person to take medicine as well as stopping them from self-harming.
On the contrary, emotional support animals provide their owners with a sense of companionship through which they derive some peace, relief, and joy. It ultimately serves to improve their mental, emotional, as well as physical health in some way.
Legal Status of Emotional Support Animals
As regards to whether people are generally allowed to take their emotional support animals with them into public places or not, well, this varies from country to country and state to state. Similarly, specific guidelines need to be followed if you need to take your ESA with you during travel and flights.
What Advantages Do Emotional-Support Animals Have
Emotional-support animals have been found to extend physical, emotional, and mental health benefits to their owners in the following ways:
They are a major source of support to people who are alone, making it easier for them to deal with their loneliness, and more so when they go through anxiety and depression.
It has been proved by research that animals can provide mental health benefits through their companionship to their owners. They are able to positively affect the mental health of their owners, through the emotional bonding and creating connection, as well as offering support to such people during a crisis.
Just by being with the animal and petting it invokes relaxation and peace of mind as well as elevates the mood. This trait of ESAs makes them quite beneficial for people with anxiety.
These animals are a good form of companionship for people dealing with difficult situations such as traumas.
They have also been found to cause improvements in the physical health of such patients. This, they achieve in ways such as stabilizing respiration rates, lowering of blood pressure, and also to support in bearing and coping with pain.
Overall, they also serve to add a sense of purpose to the lives of their owners. Sharing of unconditional love and companionship is mutual and thus, very fulfilling for the owners.
The trend of keeping ESAs has been on the increase over the recent years and along with that, there exist many fraudulent websites that claim to provide online ESA documentation letters. But for a support letter to be genuine and acceptable, it needs to be issued by a licensed mental health professional.
People who are considered eligible to qualify for emotional support animals have confirmed neurosis or psychosis.
Few of the disorders qualified for ESA support include anxiety and depression, panic attacks, learning disorders, sexual disorders, Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD), mental retardation, bipolar disorders, motor skills disorders, cognitive disorders and substance-related disorders, etc.
Controversies About ESAs
The increasing trend of ESAs has also generated some major controversies.
Despite being evidence-based and supported by research, some mental health experts are still against the idea. They relate their stance to the fact that ESAs are being overused these days.
The number of ESAs has grown enormously. In California alone, their number showed an almost ten-fold increase just over a decade.
Also, there is the trend of some people misusing ESA letters to get waivers in the extra fee they would have to otherwise pay along with the airfare and also to get the leverage and justification to keep their animals in rented homes.
Airlines report lots of trouble with regards to safety and peace of other passengers because of such increasing number of ESAs. More and more people are taking their pets with them during air travel, just by providing a letter that this is their ESA.
Therefore, airlines are considering some additional rules and restrictions in this regard.
Other businesses and public places are also facing many such challenging situations as these ESAs are not trained and can pose a threat to others.
Such increasing demand for ESA support documentation places therapists in a dilemma, thus raising some ethical concerns overall.
There have emerged many commercial services that purport to issue ESA documentation, most of which their authenticity cannot be verified.
Emotional-support Animals might genuinely be a source of big comfort, support, and companionship to their owners but a clear distinguishing needs to be made. If ESAs are not being trained, they might become a potential threat for others in public places.
Scams and frauds that are being run in the name of ESAs definitely call for some checks and balances and there need to be more strict laws and their implementation.
According to Josh Cobbe, the admin of petdogplanet.com, most important is to ensure that only those who are genuinely in need of emotional support animals are issued the support documentation. Misuse of such documentation needs to be discouraged strongly.
Licensed therapists need to be much more vigilant and careful while issuing support documents.
It calls for a strong ESA mechanism too to ensure that the laws are not broken and those who are breaking the laws are punished.