Have you ever thought about getting an Emotional Support Animal? There’s a lot to consider. It requires time, energy, and money. Managing a chronic illness or disability can sometimes affect our access to these three components of pet care when we experience symptom flares, fluctuations, or setbacks. Ironically, these are also the exact type of life situations that an Emotional Support Animal can help us cope with.
(Also read: International Dog Day: 5 ways dogs can help us deal with depression and anxiety )
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are different from Service Animals. They do not receive specialized training to perform specific tasks, nor do they have the same access accommodations for travel or daily activities. That said, ESAs can greatly impact their owners’ mental and physical well-being by providing comfort, companionship, routine, increased opportunities for socialization, and stress relief.
What is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?
ESAS provide support through comfort and companionship and can help ease anxiety, depression, and certain phobias. They can also enhance their owner’s ability to cope with challenges such as loneliness, grief, and transition periods, which may impact their quality of life. ESAs are not psychiatric service dogs and do not receive the same training or access accommodations.
An ESA is a legal designation. This type of pet must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional. A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist will determine whether the presence of an animal is needed for the individual’s mental health and wellbeing. If you don’t have a doctor, you can use a credited ESA agency to be connected with a clinician who will conduct an assessment. There is an annual cost for recertification as the prescription is renewed each year.
In addition to providing companionship, daily routine and responsibility, owning a pet can improve the quantity and quality of socialization, providing conversation points and facilitating interaction. Petting, hugging, and playing with animals increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which promotes calmness and relaxation. Pet owners also display reduced levels of triglyceride and cholesterol (high levels of which are associated with heart disease).
Things to consider.
1. Personal energy levels. Daily time commitment, fluctuating symptoms that may impact ability to care for an animal.
2. Animal energy levels. Type, breed traits, stage of life, exercise requirements.
3. Expenses. Food, supplies, veterinary care, pet insurance, grooming.
4. Local regulations. Travel and housing rules vary by region.
5. Scope of commitment. Dog lifespans range from 7-18 years. Cats can live even longer and are viable ESA candidates.