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The World of Service and Emotional Support Animals

As Jane Kehoe ‘19 plays with her dog, Georgie, their love for each other is visible. Jane rescued Georgie after she found her in some bushes, and there was evidence of her being abused and abandoned. Today, Georgie is still mistrustful of strangers because of her past, but Jane has shown her how to be happy and playful again. Jane’s currently in the process of turning Georgie into an ESA, an emotional support animal. For Jane, this means that when she’s in public places and needs a distraction, her dog would be there for her to occupy herself with.

Emotional support animals are extremely important and beneficial to mental health. Therapy animals, which are a type of emotional support animal, are trained in providing comfort and psychological therapy for people other than their owner. The Alliance of Therapy Dogs, one of the largest national therapy dog organizations, states that these dogs “visit hospitals, schools, hospices, nursing homes and more. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to interact with a variety of people while they are on-duty.”  

Dana Hall students know first hand how interacting with animals can improve their mental health. Last year, the student council had the company Barn Babies bring baby animals in blankets to the school to provide students with stress relief from exams. Ms. Hamel, who worked with the student council on this project, said that they got “such a great response from kids” because it was fun to “allow the kids to hang out with little babies, like the goat in a diaper.” Student council is already trying to bring the company back to Dana this spring.

As an emotional support animal, however, there would be limitations to where Georgie can go and what she can do because she’s not a service animal. Emotional support animals, like Georgie, also don’t need official training, but Jane has had Georgie professionally trained to walk off leash, stay until she gives a release command, and be well behaved “in new environments and high traffic and high stress environments.” Currently, she’s assimilating Georgie to public places so she’ll be used to all the noise, scents, and people that come along with it. The last step is to get your doctor to sign off, which Jane has gotten.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a civil rights law under the United States Department of Justice aimed to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities, and they legally define the terms of a service animal. Service animals must be dogs or miniature horses, and they are specifically trained in providing a form of aid.

Unlike emotional support animals, whose mere presence provides comfort, a service animal has been trained to provide help to its owner. There is a huge variety of jobs they can have, such as detecting seizures, helping their owner deal with PTSD, or reminding someone to take their medicine. YouTuber Molly Burke is blind, and her guide dog Gallop helps her move around unfamiliar locations.

For those with psychiatric or mental disabilities, there are psychiatric service animals that take specific action when dealing with their owner’s disability. An example would be a dog who can detect anxiety attacks and either prevent or lessen the harmful impact of them.

Professionally training a service animal can be extremely expensive, at times costing up to $25,000, according to the American Kennel Club, an organization recognized for their information on training, breeding, and taking care of dogs. In order to combat this expense, many organizations, such as the Seeing Eye or the Assistance Dogs United Campaign, provide financial aid or free service dogs. Another cheaper option is to have an owner train their service dog without outside help, but this can be more challenging.

While the training process may be difficult, service animals and their owners do have legal, protected rights, such as accompanying them in public. These anti-discrimination laws stated in the ADA do not apply to emotional support animals, however. If a restaurant or a shop asks a person to remove their emotional support dog, the owner has to comply. A major problem arises here because service animals are not legally required to wear identification, and their owners do not have to provide documentation of their animal if asked to. This enables people to often disguise their emotional support animals, or regular pets, as service animals for the benefits that come along with it. To prevent this, the privileges for service dogs, such as allowing them on airplanes and in restaurants, have become much stricter.

Regardless of the legality and the rules, there’s no denying how helpful and loving animals can be. Anybody who sees Jane wrestle with Georgie can tell that emotional support dogs and service dogs, like Georgie and Gallop, have a place in society because they’re wanted and needed—they’re truly man’s best friend.