Emotional Support Dogs: What You Should Know

You may have heard the term “emotional support pet” or “emotional support animal” mentioned every now and again in the medical community. But what are they exactly, and who are the people that need them? Here are some important facts about emotional support pets that you need to know:

Emotional support pets exist to provide emotional therapeutic benefit

The purpose of an emotional support pet is to provide relief, comfort, and emotional therapeutic benefit for individuals with psychological conditions or mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD, during moments of high stress that trigger symptoms. Fortunately, they can even help addicts on the road to recovery! The emotional support pet’s presence is meant to ease the owner’s general anxiety, help the owner cope with depressive episodes, and reduce the chances of experiencing a potential panic attack.

An emotional support pet is not a service animal

Contrary to popular assumption, emotional support pets are the not the same as service animals. In fact, they serve completely different purposes! Emotional support pets are strictly limited to providing emotional support. They simply act as companions that stay by their owner’s side during an emotionally overwhelming moment and comfort the owner on command.

Service animals, on the other hand, are formally trained to help their owner with physical tasks that are too difficult to do on their own, such as pulling out a wheelchair for an individual with cerebral palsy or guiding a visually impaired person through a busy crowd. However, like an emotional support pet, service animals also provide emotional stability in conjunction with their physical assistance.

They have specific legal rights and limitations

Emotional support pets have two legal rights: to board an airline with an owner and to qualify as an exception for a “no pets” housing rule. However, they have more limitations that prevent them from accessing public places, unlike service animals, which are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and allowed to be present with their owners at all times. Public areas of accommodation, such as a restaurant or local business, can refuse access to emotional support pets without consequence.

Emotional support pets can be any domesticated animal

As opposed to service animals who are exclusively dogs, emotional support pets can be any domesticated animal, like a ferret or guinea pig—but dogs are considered the primary type of emotional support animal. However, because that is the case, they are required to be housebroken, they must possess exceptional behavior and social skills, and they cannot become a disturbance or threat to the surrounding public.

These requirements have become necessary because a current issue today is the fact that people with a “mental disability” are taking advantage of the idea that their pet can become an emotional support pet, despite its intolerant or poor behavior. Evidently, public areas—especially airlines—have become stricter with their emotional support pet policies because there have been multiple cases in which an unqualified “emotional support pet” jeopardized the safety and comfort of fellow passengers, simultaneously making travel more difficult for individuals with legitimate mental disabilities or conditions.

They require medical identification and registration

Only by a doctor’s diagnosis and approval can a person own a legitimate emotional support pet. In contrast to a service animal, emotional support pets are not required to wear a vest, but it is highly recommended that they do so to be taken more seriously and portray credibility. Furthermore, the identification of your emotional support pet should be on your person at all times to prove legitimacy.

If you are a person who is currently enduring a psychological condition or mental impairment, an emotional support pet could prove to be beneficial for easing and improving your circumstances. Not only do they provide valuable support, but they’re also loyal and reliable companions that stay by your side when dealing with everyday life on your own becomes too difficult. Despite serving the main purpose to supply stability and help you sustain composure, emotional support pets are also unquestionably lifelong best friends.

Trevor McDonald is a freelance content writer and self-proclaimed "Dog Dad". He's written a variety of education, travel, health, and lifestyle articles for many different companies. In his free time, you can find him running with his dog Charlie, playing his guitar or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.

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