Everyone who owns a dog knows how they have an innate ability to lift your mood, or de-stress you after a long day. Okay, it’s probably fair to add that dogs aren’t inherently de-stressful, as they can cause their fair share of chaos now and again. But largely, their presence is a simple and welcome addition to their owners’ lives, who usually give as much as they get when it comes to affection. It’s a two-way street; the well-worn phrase ‘a dog is a man’s best friend’ is not without precedence. But some people require the companionship of these tried-and-true companions more than others, and that’s where emotional support animals come in to the picture.
These people are sufferers of mental disabilities, and part of their therapy can include owning an emotional support animal, an animal specifically designed to relieve their owners’ psychological symptoms with their mere presence and companionship. They don’t require any training, and can be assigned to a patient with relative ease. Although the evidence and research is, as ever, tough to quantify when it comes to mental illnesses, disorders that can be alleviated by an emotional support animal include depression, anxiety, bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorder. We’re going to look at the last one on that list, especially in relation to war veterans, and discover exactly how sufferers of PTSD can benefit from a loving companion.
The perfect animal for this specific task is a dog, as dogs as a species naturally have the instincts and temperament that can help treat the illness; though it might be easy to wonder just how the simple presence of a dog can be of use to a veteran suffering from PTSD, when so many other more traditional remedies seem to falter. Primarily, the animals help with drawing out the isolated personalities of people afflicted with the condition, by requiring praise and attention, helping the patients engage with something emotional. A prime and persisting feature of PTSD is emotional numbness; the emotional support animals can provide simple yet effective first steps when it comes to tackling that specific symptom.
It’s important to differentiate between service dogs and emotional support animals; service dogs are highly trained and perform very specific functions for their owners, where ESAs are untrained and utilised for their pure companionship. The presence of a dog can also help calm patients down if they awaken after a nightmare; typically, the ESA will sleep near their owner, so they are ever-present in case of night terrors. This feeling of constant companionship also helps patients overcome feelings of paranoia or loneliness; if they are able to forge a bond with their new animal friend, they start to feel like part of a team or unit, and appreciate the idea that someone’s looking out solely for them, with the unconditional love that only a dog can provide.