By: Sam Bowman
Emotional support animals (ESAs) are more popular than ever. As of 2019, the National Service Animal Registry had nearly 200,000 support and service animals listed — up from just 2,400 in 2011. While some animals are used to help people with disabilities, many are purchased and adopted to help with emotional support, especially for people who struggle with anxiety, bipolar disorder, or depression.
There’s no denying the mental health benefits of having a pet, but is an emotional support animal really suitable for you?
Let’s dig a little deeper into what you can expect from an emotional support animal, and some of the pros and cons you should consider before you decide to get one.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal? Support and service animals often get confused for one another, but they’re two very different things. Animals who have received specialized training and are able to perform very specific tasks can be considered service pets. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, don’t necessarily need any formal training. Most often, their owners train them.
According to the ADA, emotional support animals are supposed to help with:
● Certain phobias
You don’t necessarily need a prescription, or even a recommendation from a doctor or therapist to get an emotional support animal. You can certainly talk to a trusted provider about the benefits, but they don’t need to write a letter. However, keep in mind that emotional support animals don’t have legal public access. The only places legally required to permit them are aircraft and housing units.
If you’re really struggling with your mental well-being, consider talking to your therapist about a psychiatric service dog, instead. While a service dog isn’t considered a pet, it can help you if your mental health disability is reducing your quality of life. You can also bring a psychiatric service dog with you in just about every public place since they have the right certification and training.
Is an ESA Right for You?
Before you decide to adopt an emotional support animal, keep in mind that even the best-trained pets still require a lot of work, time, and care. If you already own a pet, you can likely get them certified as an ESA if you want to bring them on airplanes, etc. If you’re deciding to get a pet for the first time, make sure you weigh out the pros and cons.
The biggest benefit is undoubtedly a boost to your mental health. It’s been shown that pets help to reduce anxiety and depression, ease loneliness, and can encourage you to live a healthier, more active lifestyle. Having a pet around can make a big difference in how you feel. For many people, that’s worth all of the time and effort it takes to raise one.
Some of the potential drawbacks to consider are the cost of raising an animal, the time it takes to train them, and the preparation you’ll have to do to get your home ready. However, depending on your perspective, getting ready for a pet and putting in a lot of work to care for them and train them can be good things. Not only will those actions serve as healthy
distractions, but they can offer you a sense of purpose that makes it easier to fight back against depression.
If you struggle with your mental well-being and you believe a furry companion would help, bringing an ESA into your life could be a great decision. Talk to your doctor or therapist to see what they recommend, make sure you’re ready for the responsibility of a new pet and get ready to meet your new best friend.