“There are two primary choices in life: To accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” Dr Denis Waitley

In an ongoing series to highlight the success stories of Emotional Support Animals in the United States, I hope to be able to initiate some change in the U.K. in terms of legalising Emotional Support Animals.

Not everything has gone perfectly in the United States, as you’ll see, but the benefits and successes far outweigh the negatives. In a unified effort, change can happen in the U.K., people will clearly see the importance of addressing mental health issues, and hopefully, in the end, animals can be a part of the healing process.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Anatole France

It is a known fact that coming home to a loving animal can instantly turn a dreadful day into a few free moments of bliss…

People all over the world turn to all kinds of animals to provide them with comfort, joy, and relaxation. And, it is not just dogs and cats that offer this type of joy to people. It can be fish, iguanas, hamsters, guinea pigs, snakes, birds, you name it!

The American Pet Products Association conducted a National Pet Owners Survey in 2017-2018 that showed that more than sixty-eight per cent of American households owned a pet. That is equal to about 85 million families.

85 MILLION! And that is just in the United States alone!

Nine out of ten Americans consider their pet to be a member of the family. Half of all these pet owners even admit to talking to their pet! I guess it’s always easier to have a conversation when you can always be right and not have back talk, right?

If anyone who owns a pet reads the above, none of these statistics should come as a surprise. So, why is it important or even newsworthy? Let’s take a look at another staggering fact in the United States.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States, or roughly 43.8 million people, experience mental illness.

The number of people is just about half the number of people who own pets. The same number is true for youths as well. 1 in 5 youth (13-18 years of age) suffer from a mental illness. These numbers are simply staggering and continue to be on the rise year after year.

“Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.” Kinky Friedman

Understanding the Numbers

The ramifications of these numbers are scary:

  • Many people with mental illness will have serious mood disorders that will lead to hospitalisation.
  • Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions.
  • Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, primarily due to treatable medical conditions.
  • Students who attend Special Education classes in school are more likely to drop out than any other group.
  • More than 90% of suicides come from people who have mental illnesses.

It is such an overlooked part of our society. It is hard to imagine what is going on in each other’s brains. It is way too easy to say that someone is being overly dramatic or making their feelings up for attention.

Undoubtedly, people may exaggerate at times how they are feeling to garner up that attention they are seeking, but more times than not, people are asking for help and we are missing the signs.

Life is too short to ignore ANY sign.

One potential way to begin the healing process, which is gaining strength in the United States and around the world, is with Emotional Support Animals.

“When I look into the eyes of an animal, I do not see an animal. I see a living being. I see a friend. I feel a soul.” A.D. Williams

Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Animals

Before digging into the nuts and bolts of the benefits of an Emotional Support Animal (ESA), it’s extremely important that we distinguish the difference between ESA’s and Service Animals.

Service Animals fall under the American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA). This is defined as any animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a disabled person.

The ADA prohibits people from asking any probing questions about their disability to anyone who owns a service animal.

The most significant difference is that service animals must be trained and CAN NOT be excluded from any public place.

Emotional Support Animals, on the other hand, do not need to be trained.

Their primary function is to help ease the pain of a mental or emotional disability through companionship and affection.

These animals do not fall under the American’s with Disabilities Act and can be excluded from most public places. They are, however, recognised by The Fair Housing Act as well as the Air Carrier Access Act.

There are expectations from both Acts in terms of documentation needed to show proof that these animals are here, in fact, to serve a purpose for the individual.

“When the world around me is going crazy and I feel like I’m losing faith in humanity, I just have to take one look at my dog to know good still exists.”

Can’t Every Animal Be Considered An Emotional Support Animal?

The short answer is yes. Most people purchase animals to live in their home knowing that it should be a benefit to the everyday lives of those living in the house. To be able to obtain the “benefits” that come along with ESA’s is a little bit trickier.

In order to define your beloved animal as an official ESA, you will need to go through a series of steps.

The mental or emotional disability needs to be defined, and you need to connect with a licensed mental health professional for a diagnosis. They will then determine, through a series of assessments, if your animal qualifies.

Mental health professionals need to be able to determine that your diagnosis substantially impacts a life activity. In essence, they need to make sure that the system is not being taken advantage of.

Physician’s today, with more research being done, are expanding on their list of possible diagnoses to help patients qualify their animals.

These diagnoses can include:

  • PTSD
  • mild to severe anxiety
  • agoraphobia (fear of being outside of the home)
  • aerophobia (fear of flying)
  • depression
  • general anxiety disorder
  • stressed-induced situations
  • and social shyness

As you can see, some of these are very vague and would need to be more clearly defined in order to have an ESA, but it is a start for physicians.

Ultimately, having an ESA can lead to increased sociability, a self-esteem boost, a feeling of more comfort, a decrease in symptoms, and an increase in motivation.

This is extremely important for people who feel a lack of motivation and sense of purpose. Animals provide that sense of purpose to make you want to get up and out of bed each day.

They rely on you to be fed, led outside, and provide them with the companionship which you seek yourself.

They will not judge you, will not get mad at you, and even will not look at you differently for doing something wrong.

They just want to be loved and show their unending love back to you.

These animals provide a purpose for you to get up and conquer the world each day.

In part II of this series, we will explore the benefits of positive social interaction with pets as well as look deeper into the roles The Air Carrier Access Act and The Fair Housing Act has on promoting the mission of the importance of Emotional Support Animals.

Animals are truly more than just a pet. They offer the world so much more than we will ever appreciate!

“It’s not what we have in life, it’s who we have in our life that matters.”

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