When my family adopted our sweet dog, I knew that she would become a part of our family and no matter what circumstances arose; we would never leave or forsake her. I lied. Wait…I take that back, I didn’t actually lie because that would indicate that my actions were to create a deliberate or intentional falsehood. That was certainly not the case, but nevertheless, it doesn’t change the fact that we had to leave our girl behind when we moved. Our life took a turn that none of us could have anticipated. When I learned that I would not be able to take our dog, I was heartbroken (and still am, a year after leaving her). We were moving to a university campus that does not allow pets. I tried to pursue other options, like purchasing or renting a house in the area, but came up short in my efforts. After grieving my loss and crying…A LOT, I came to terms with the situation. Thankfully we have an incredibly compassionate family and our aunt agreed to “foster” our girl for the time that we’d be away at college (approximately 4 years). In our travels back to Pennsylvania this past June, we were able to reconnect with our girl and it was so wonderful to know that our girl did not hold a grudge against us for leaving her (in fact I bet she’s happier now because she’s getting spoiled rotten)! When we had to leave her (again) it brought back those original emotions for me. And I cried…a lot…again.
As I’d surf through Facebook, there was no way to avoid the cute pet memes or funny pet videos that flooded my newsfeed. It seemed as though everyone in world had their pets by their side. I missed my girl. I needed my girl. My dog was my drug and I was addicted. Amidst my sadness and despair, I started looking for a loophole to the university’s rule. I am a play-by-the-rules kind of girl…so it was a big deal that I had become so cunning. While talking with a friend, she informed me that she was looking into an ESA for her son. Being oblivious to this term, I went home and started my research.
ESA stands for Emotional Support Animal. According to servicedogcentral.org, “An Emotional Support Animal is a dog or other common domestic animal that provides therapeutic support to a disabled or elderly owner through companionship, non-judgmental positive regard, affection, and a focus in life.” Okay, so does this mean every pet can be deemed an ESA?!? No…read the first part of that description again. There are certain criteria that the owner must meet in order to have their pet designated as an ESA. While the majority of people receive love and emotional support from their furry friends, the designation of emotional support animal is only applicable to pets that have been prescribed by a licensed mental health professional. The article went on to say, “If a doctor determines that a patient with a disabling mental illness would benefit from the companionship of an emotional support animal, the doctor write letters supporting a request by the patient to keep the ESA in "no pets" housing or to travel with the ESA in the cabin of an aircraft.”
The article pointed out that “having a diagnosis of a mental illness, by itself, is not sufficient to qualify a person for an ESA unless that illness is so severe it disables them. Only a judge can truly determine whether a person is legally disabled. However, a doctor can probably make a medical determination of a person's disability and on that basis prescribe an ESA. To qualify as disabled under federal disability rights laws, a person must experience substantial limitations on one or more major life activities because of their mental illness.”
This discovery gave me the initial feeling of disappointment because I do not qualify; therefore my search to get my fur-baby back will have to continue. Despite my selfish ambition, I couldn’t help but feel a great sense of joy. I am extremely grateful to know that such a thing exists. Pets are such a blessing and the benefits of sharing your life with them aren’t just emotional. Studies have shown real health benefits for those living with pets, including:
- lower cholesterol
- lower blood pressure
- lower triglyceride
- reduced stress levels
- reduced feelings of loneliness
- better mental health
- increased activity & more opportunities for exercise
- more time spent outdoors (for dog owners especially)
- more opportunities for socialization
So whether or not you qualify for an ESA, know that the bond shared with a pet is special and don’t ever take it for granted! I think a great way to conclude this blog is with the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley. “The psychological and moral comfort of a presence at once humble and understanding—this is the greatest benefit that the dog has bestowed upon man.”