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Emotional support animals: making the best decision

By Kylee Weber
On October 5, 2019

Photo Illustration by Kylee Weber

We all know and love emotional support animals (ESA) and some think that this is the solution to their problems. However, there are many factors — from self-evaluation, to certification, animal care and more — to consider before seeking out an ESA. 


Before weighing the pros and cons of having an ESA, it’s important to understand that there are several types of emotional support or service animals. A majority of these animals are dogs; dogs have the capability of calming many nerves within the human body, according to Animal Legal and Historical Center.

But just because dogs are great doesn’t mean there aren’t other emotional support and service animals you can get. For example, emotional support animals can be dogs, a pony, snakes, fish; whichever animal makes you feel comfortable and safe with your given situation. I’m here to tell you the pro’s and con’s of having an ESA and how to get one of these animals.



There are several positives of having an ESA For example, you come home to a happy animal every night and you can’t help but get a smile on your face because they are so excited to see you. Many animals develop a connection with their owner from the beginning, very much how we have that “love at first sight” when we see our animal for the first time. I am going to continue to reference to dogs because they are the most common support and service animal. 


Dogs begin to sense our emotions, sometimes before we can even react to them; some can be trained to react to specific emotions, just like a service dog. The difference between a service dog and an emotional support dog is very simple. Service dogs are trained for specific tasks that the owner may need on a day to day basis. An emotional support dog does not need specific training and specifically is there to help to somewhat relieve anxiety, depression or the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Emotional support animals will be by your side and be family when you feel like  you don’t have anyone. They allow you to feel some sense of happiness on a day-to-day basis. I have known several people with an ESA and they talk about their animal as if it is a member of their family, which it is. The owner feels a sense of calmness when their animal is near; having that animal to love, cuddle and take care of allows us to push away all our overwhelming tasks and thoughts and focus on this happy creature sitting in front of us. You would be surprised by how happy you are falling asleep next your little animal or taking care of this adorable creature day-to-day.



It may be hard to believe, but there are some negative to getting an ESA. One, it is a hassle to get your animal certified as an ESA; there are several steps involved, including  obtaining a psychiatrist or therapist recommendation. If you don’t feel comfortable seeking out a recommendation , your best bet is waiting until you have your own living space and getting a dog as soon as possible. If you live in the dorms and you’re not certified to get an ESA, another option is to volunteer at an adoption shelter or play with a friend’s dog when you are feeling down and need something to cheer you up.

The next con: many believe that an ESA is a solution to all of their problems. The reality is, it’s not. Taking care of animals is time consuming and can be very stressful. You have to groom them, feed them, play with them and give tons of  time and attention. It is very much like having a kid: it’s adorable at first, but with dogs we have late-night barking or noises will induce some anxiety as well. 


Deciding if you want or need an ESA is a big decision and an even bigger commitment. It takes time and thought; consider talking it over with family members, or a therapist, and see if that would be something that could be beneficial to you.


How To Certify:

The first thing to do is to establish your mental health; is an ESA the right thing to do? Are you going through a temporary rough patch or are you “emotionally disabled,” as many mental health physicians say?


After doing this self-evaluation, you need to make an intake appointment with a mental health physician and talk about what is making you feel the way you are.


Then, you begin talking about treatments and if an ESA is actually the right medication to have. (Yes, an ESA is considered a type of mental medication to those who need it).


Lastly, if you and your mental health physician decide an ESA is the best route to go, the physician must give you a written letter to certify this animal. Much like a prescription, certifying an animal involves doctors’ orders.


 Admitting that you need an ESA is not a weakness. Admitting that you need a happy smile to come home to everyday is difficult to do, but once you are able to admit that, you will look forward to coming home and playing with your new pet, who is also your prescription. An ESA or service animal is an amazing tool to have and can make your life a lot easier. Just be sure that it is what your mind and body need; weigh the pros and cons carefully, then make your decision. 


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