Service, therapy and support animals. Oh, my!

Sometimes, a dog is just a dog.  (Provided photo — Diane Chase)

There seems to be a need to classify pets as Emotional Support Animals (ESA). Aren’t pets there to help us, be our companions, and serve our emotional needs? Even though my dog doesn’t have an official classification, if she weren’t providing some family-level therapy, she would be just another mouth to feed.

Most dog breeds no longer perform the tasks of their original breed. Unless we live on a ranch and need a dog to herd the livestock, owning a shepherding dog is for companionship. My golden retriever isn’t going to hunt and retrieve unless by accident. She is part of our household and provides unconditional love. Rhodesian Ridgebacks aren’t hunting lions in the U.S., and I’m not speaking metaphorically. Animals are fun to have around, which in turn lowers stress. After reading all the definitions for an emotional support animal, I keep thinking, isn’t that exactly what a pet is, a companion to provide support and love? I do see the reoccurring theme that having a pet designated an ESA helps gain access to pet-free housing or travel through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

There are numerous ways animals improve our lives, provide companionship, help handlers remain active, decrease anxiety, and lower blood pressure. I’m not being sarcastic or meaning to be insensitive to handlers in need of the services an animal can provide. I feel those animals with a particular qualification need to be trained for the job by professionals. It should be enough to need your pet because we all crave our animal companions. They are part of our family.

Service animals, on the other hand, are individually trained workers to help with specific issues. There are Guide Dogs for the visually impaired, Signal Dogs for the hearing impaired, and trained Psychiatric Service Dogs to detect the onset of psychiatric episodes. A Mobility Dog may assist in stabilizing its handler. A SSigDOG helps autistic people; Seizure Response Dogs can predict a seizure. There are other classifications of working animals, but these are the most common.

Therapy animals provide people with therapeutic contact in a clinical setting. Many schools, nursing homes, and hospitals allow therapy dogs to ease stress and improve the physical, emotional, and cognitive functions of students or residents. Therapy dogs do go through training to receive certification. The American Kennel Club lists recognized Therapy Dog Organizations on its website.

The qualification for an ESA is a prescription from a medical professional. I believe most people go through the correct pathway for an ESA by visiting their local therapist and receiving a diagnosis. However, I can get a certificate declaring my dog an ESA for a fee and online chat. Pets provide something that sometimes our human companions cannot, a non-judgmental atmosphere. I feel training is necessary to receive any medical classification. Otherwise, aren’t all animals Emotional Support Animals?


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