The Benefits, Frauds, and Uses of Emotional Support Animals
Lauren Guss | July 20, 2022
The common phrase of “a dog is a man’s best friend,” may be more accurate than perceived. Emotional support animals, or ESAs, provide specific therapeutic emotional remedies to a variety of caregivers, most commonly those with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, autism/Aspergers, and other emotional and psychological disabilities and illnesses. Even those with loneliness can benefit from an ESA by their side. These animals can be dogs or cats, or any domesticated animal, but are most commonly dogs. Although service dogs, psychiatric service dogs, and ESAs all play a role in helping humans in their day-to-day lives, the difference between the three can determine whether or not certain rights are awarded to each owner concerning their beloved friends.
Cynthia K Chandler, author of Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling, explains after reviewing research on psychophysiological and psychosocial benefits of the positive interactions between an animal and its owner, including relaxing and calming effects, anxiety reduction, minimizing loneliness, alleviating depression and increasing social engagement. (Chandler, 2015). Additionally, caring for an animal requires a routine that many with mental health disorders would benefit from as they implement structure, balance, and purpose into their lives (Ph.D Sutton, Positive Psychology, 2021).
The Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA, defines service dogs as animals that are “individually trained to perform specific tasks and to work with people with disabilities,” (Reisen, American Kennel Club, 2021). These companions assist their owners with disabilities such as epilepsy, blindness, mobility issues, or deafness. Additionally, psychiatric service dogs, or PSDs, are covered in ADA’s service animal rights, as they help those psychiatrically impaired perform everyday tasks. However, emotional support animals are not included in this definition due to their lack of legally required training for tasks to aid those in need. They still have the right to live in homes that don’t allow pets though, but are becoming restricted from flying due to mass amounts of untrained animals in the plane cabin. ESAs can also be refused access into indoor facilities and stores by privately-owned places unlike service animals.
Unfortunately, if an owner chooses to register their pet at an official organization for emergencies, the process of acquiring such accreditation is increasingly insecure. ESA letters are required to bring animals into planes or residencies that don’t allow pets, but these can simply be bought off of knockoff marketplaces that aren't official. There is even no government involvement in the process. However, there is an official guide on how to ask for an official ESA letter from a Licensed Mental Health Professional, or an LMHP, who can prescribe an ESA on the ESA Registration of America’s website.
Additionally, the lack of need for these therapeutic animals to be trained or evaluated may put the owner as well as the general public around the animal in danger, and even the animal itself. Especially with the increase in “official” service vests for their animals and fake documents for sale, the American Kennel Club (AKC) and many other organizations point to the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program to evaluate the temperament and capabilities of an animal to be suited for working as an ESA.
In conclusion, although there are many fraudulent companies for certifying your pet as an ESA, do not be afraid to ask your doctor or LMHP for help if you feel as if an ESA is much needed due to a mental or psychological disability or illness. If restricted from accessing an ESA letter, many other options exist to assist those in need of therapeutic remedies, such as medication, psychotherapy, and support groups.