The Truth About Emotional Support Dogs

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of internet hate directed towards Emotional Support dogs (or ESAs) and their handlers. Some arguments come from the uneducated masses, while others come straight from the mouths of service dog users, who seem to hold a certain disdain for ESA users. A lot of the “facts” being thrown around frustrate me because of how untrue and biased they are. So for today’s post, I’d love to separate fact from fiction when it comes to ESAs and their users.

The Truth About Emotional Support Dogs

What authority do I have on this? Well, I was clinically diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in June of 2016. This mental disorder causes me to struggle with severe anxiety and panic attacks. After realizing that my dog, Luna, grounds me in reality when I’m having anxiety and helps to calm me down, I decided to register her as an emotional support dog. (One argument that I constantly see is how there is no “official” ESA registration site, but I would like to point out that this site was also recommended for my cousin’s ESA dog by the U.S. Army). Luna’s presence is meant to be calming for me, and so I often take her places with me to minimize public panic attacks. Now that we have this all established, let’s take a look at what’s true and false about ESAs.

Luna shopping

 

TRUE: ESAs are not trained to complete specific tasks

While service dogs, such as hearing and guide dogs, must go through extensive training, emotional support animals do not have to meet the same requirements. Luna does not perform functions that service dogs do, such as opening doors, guiding, or alerting me to sounds. I am fully aware that she does not have that training, and I respect the hard work and stamina that goes into making a great service dog. While virtually any dog that comforts their mentally ill owner can be an ESA, service dogs are a selectively chosen group. I will never try to pass Luna off as a working dog when she isn’t actively completing tasks for me.

FALSE: ESAs are completely untrained

I fully believe that if you are going to be taking your ESA into public places, they need to behave themselves. This means that they shouldn’t be barking, going to the bathroom, or doing anything that disturbs others around them. Luna in particular is pretty chill in most public situations; I just need to work on her barking when she sees other dogs (she isn’t aggressive; she just wants to go play). As the owner and handler, you have a responsibility to have your dog trained, even if it isn’t for tasks.

TRUE: The ADA only protects ESAs when it comes to fair housing and airport issues

According to the law, emotional support dogs are allowed to accompany owners onto planes and must be accepted into no-pets housing.

FALSE: ESA handlers that take their dogs into other pet-friendly establishments are purposefully abusing the law

While the law does not give full access to emotional support dogs, many stores will still allow well-behaved ESAs access. Our local WalMart allows me to shop with Luna. I am not trying to take advantage of or to abuse the law by doing so. My mental disorder is something that does deeply affect my life, and having Luna with me genuinely helps.

TRUE: There are many people that lie about their pets being ESAs in order to take them everywhere

Sadly, since it is fairly easy to lie and say that your pet is an ESA, many people do so. This is wrong. While there isn’t any specific criteria that an ESA must fit, the one criteria that the user must fit is this: the user must have a psychological disorder that affects their life and warrants having an ESA. I have a letter from my counselor that states that my OCD affects my life and that Luna helps with my anxiety. Therefore, even if your pet brings you comfort, they are not an emotional support animal unless you have a psychological disorder that requires their presence to mitigate the effects of anxiety and/or depression.

FALSE: Everyone with an ESA is just an overly emotional pansy who is abusing the system

Mental challenges can be just as debilitating as physical ones. If you try to argue otherwise, you have never been the recipient of a panic attack that leaves you unable to function or of a similar psychological problem. Believe me, my ESA is not some millennial security blanket; she genuinely helps to reduce the life-altering anxiety that I face. While there are people who fake having ESAs, not everyone who uses one is faking it. This is a belief I have seen pervading in service dog users. I am sure that the people I have heard from are great people, but they tend to over-generalize ESAs and their users. They lean towards the belief that all ESAs are scams and that most are not well-behaved. Here’s the thing: when people cart around fake and disobedient “ESAs”, they’re not just making legitimate service dogs look bad – they also reflect poorly on genuine emotional support animals and their users. If we want unprejudiced access rights for both service dogs and real emotional support dogs, we users need to stick together instead of drawing a line in the sand.

FALSE: Since ESAs don’t complete any tasks, there is nothing special about them

Emotional support animals may not complete work-related tasks, but they develop a strong bond with their owner, and it takes a certain type of temperament to calm their user during an anxiety attack. I firmly believe that at this point, Luna is the only dog who could calm me as much as she does.

FALSE: ESAs distract service dogs

Service dogs are trained to ignore all distractions, including other dogs. Therefore, this isn’t a legitimate argument. If my ESA is distracting a service dog, then that service dog has not been properly trained. While a fake or misbehaving ESA could be distracting to be both people and other dogs, my well-behaved little Luna is not causing any service dog to neglect their duties.

 

In conclusion, emotional support animals are not trained for specific tasks, but their presence genuinely does help their mentally ill user. The law only states that they can go onto airplanes and stay in no-pets housing, but some stores do give them access anyway. Additionally, fake emotional support animals damage the reputations of genuine ESAs and service dogs alike.

I hope this clears up some of the confusion about emotional support dogs. I shall leave you with a picture of me and my Luna.

Luna

Now it shifts to you! What else would you like to know about ESAs? 

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