From Best Friend to Therapist: Emotional Support Animals

From Best Friend to Therapist: Emotional Support Animals

(Chloe Reichel)

By Chloe Reichel

 It turns out pigs can fly. And turtles and dogs, but maybe not peacocks or hamsters. As some household (and exotic) pets receive promotions to more clinical roles as emotional support animals (ESAs), companions that run the gamut from furry to scaly are popping up increasingly in unexpected places.

The U.S. Department of Justice writes that emotional support animals “provide comfort just by being with a person,” distinguishing them from service animals, which are “trained to perform a specific job or task” and have special protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

ESAs, however, do enjoy some accommodations. The federal Air Carrier Access Act has provisions for emotional support animals, which may fly with their owners provided there is adequate documentation (e.g., a note from a licensed health care professional) and/or sufficient notice. There are some restrictions, primarily size-related, on which animals are allowed to fly.

Disabled people with emotional support animals are protected in the realm of housing under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

These accommodations have met controversy in some places. At the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the question of whether college campuses must comply with the Fair Housing Act’s accommodation for ESAs ended up in court in 2013, where it was decided that the Act applies to student housing.

Some critics suggest that the designation is misused by people who might not have a genuine emotional need for an animal companion. Websites promise “hassle free emotional support animal registration” (for a fee). Vests and accessories emblazoned with “Emotional Support Animal” are readily available for purchase online.

Research Roundup

Public Perceptions of Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, and Therapy Dogs
Schoenfeld-Tacher, Regina M.; et al. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2017. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph14060642.

Professional Veterinary Programs’ Perceptions and Experiences Pertaining to Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals, and Recommendations for Policy Development
Schoenfeld-Tacher, Regina M.; Kogan, Lori R. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 2017. DOI: 10.3138/jvme.0116-003R.

Emotional Support Animals, Service Animals, and Pets on Campus
Von Bergen, C.W. Administrative Issues Journal, 2015. DOI: 10.5929/2015.5.1.3.

University Counseling Centers’ Perceptions and Experiences Pertaining to Emotional Support Animals
Kogan, Lori R.; et al. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 2016. DOI: 10.1080/87568225.2016.1219612.

The Role of Pets in the Lives of College Students: Implications for College Counselors
Adams, Aimee S.; Sharkin, Bruce S.; Bottinelli, Jennifer J. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 2017. DOI: 10.1080/87568225.2017.1299601.

A Revised Taxonomy of Assistance Animals
Parenti, Lindsay; et al. Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development, 2013. DOI: 10.1682/JRRD.2012.11.0216.

The Power of Support from Companion Animals for People Living with Mental Health Problems: A Systematic Review and Narrative Synthesis of the Evidence
Brooks, Helen; et al. BMC Psychiatry, 2018. DOI 10.1186/s12888-018-1613-2.

Patient Benefit of Dog-Assisted Interventions in Health Care: A Systematic Review
Lundqvist, Martina; et al. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2017. DOI 10.1186/s12906-017-1844-7.

Animal-Assisted Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Literature Review
O’Haire, Marguerite E. Journal Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2013. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-012-1707-5.

Cat and Dog Companionship and Well-being: A Systematic Review
Islam, Azharul; Towell, Tony. International Journal of Applied Psychology, 2013. DOI: 10.5923/j.ijap.20130306.01.

Ontological Security and Connectivity Provided by Pets: A Study in the Self-Management of the Everyday Lives of People Diagnosed with a Long-Term Mental Health Condition
Brooks, Helen; et al. BMC Psychiatry, 2016. DOI: 10.1186/s12888-016-1111-3.

Potential Benefits of Canine Companionship for Military Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Design and Challenges for a Randomized, Multi-Site Clinical Trial Comparing the Use of Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs in Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Saunders, Gabrielle H.; et al. Contemporary Clinical Trials, 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.cct.2017.08.017.

Criminalizing Fake Service Dogs: Helping or Hurting Legitimate Handlers?
Lee, Tiffany. Animal Law, 2017.

Supporting the Adoption of Legislation Criminalizing ‘Fake’ Service and Emotional Support Animals
Campbell, Kayla. Journal of Animal and Environmental Law, 2016.

Source: Journalist’s Resource