We all love our pets. Whether you’re a cat person or a dog person, everyone knows the comfort of coming home after a long day and being greeted by someone who’s overjoyed to see you (or, if you own a cat, insert ‘marginally interested to glance at you’). Either way, we love them and they mean a lot to us. But for some people, pets are more than just pets, and they come to offer far more to their owners than just a friendly presence. This type of animal is known as an emotional support animal, and its popularity is growing.
First off, an emotional support animal (ESA) is very different than a pet. ESAs are more like companions that provide a specific therapeutic benefit to those with mental or psychiatric disabilities. They are usually dogs, but cats or other smaller animals like rabbits, can easily be signed up. A list of disabilities that might constitute or benefit from an emotional support animal include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorders or bipolar disorder. The emotional support animal doesn’t require any specific training, the idea behind the movement being that the presence of the animal is enough to combat certain symptoms of the disorders.
But if the difference between ESAs and regular, run-of-the-mill pets is clear (although no one in their right mind ever thinks their own pet is ‘run-of-the-mill’), the difference between ESAs and other service animals might not be so easy to understand. Take, for instance, a therapy dog. Some people might think that the two terms for rehabilitation animals are interchangeable, but that’s not actually the case. Therapy dogs are specifically trained to provide psychological therapy to people other than their handlers/owners. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to instruct you to lie down on their couch, but it does mean that they’re of gentle temperament, friendly and easy-going, and are used to dealing with a lot of people all at once. They do ‘rounds’, visiting places like hospitals, schools and nursing homes, providing a number of therapeutic benefits for the patients or residents.
On the other hand, there are emotional support animal laws that require them to undergo any extensive or specialized training. The basic gift of companionship is what they bring to the table and they are a huge benefit to their owners. They are assigned and stay with one owner, as opposed to dealing with a large number of patients at once, and are usually allowed to live and travel with their owners, even if the residence or establishment has a ‘no pets’ rule in place. Concurrently, they can even travel with their owners, provided that they have obtained an emotional support animal letter that permits them to do so. Though they’re classified as different jobs, the basic task of both therapy dogs and ESAs are the same; the comforting of people with psychiatric or physical disabilities. Sometimes simple companionship goes a long, long way.