Therapy pets: a step toward mental health?

By Delaney Temple

Some may not understand the difference between emotional support animals and service animals, or even realize that there is a difference. Service animals are usually dogs that are “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability” according to the Americans with Disabilities Act website under “Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals.”

On the other hand, patients will have an emotional support animal for therapeutic reasons: to help relieve depression, anxiety, or certain phobias. However, these animals are not trained to perform specific tasks to aid a disability. Individuals who suffer from PTSD, ADD, autism, or learning disorders can also qualify for emotional support animals.

In order for a dog to qualify as an emotional support animal they must have basic training and be under control at all times. Since Emotional Support Dogs, orESDS, are permitted entrance into most public spaces, excluding restaurants and markets, they must maintain a composed demeanor so as to not disturb the public. ESDs are allowed on airplanes and “no pets” housing and apartments. Dogs of any breed or weight can qualify as an ESD.

Photo by Alex Hays

Although emotional support animals are often dogs, other animals that may provide the love and support that a patient needs are ferrets and parrots. Ferrets are sociable, easily transportable, and easygoing. They will burrow into their owners clothing, comforting them when they are in need of emotional support. Ferrets can also be trained as service animals and can be trained to remind their owner to take medication, notice and prevent harmful behaviors, and wake up their owner.

Parrots are good emotional support animals because they can talk to their owner. Once they are trained to note when the patient requires their support, they can utter simple phrases such as “calm down,” “you’re okay,” and “breathe.” They can even prevent an emotional or violent episode by preemptively noticing warning signs. Parrots can also alert their owner of events that may trigger an emotional response such as someone coming to the door.

Emotional support animals of any breed are an enriching aspect in many people’s lives.


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