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How effective are emotional support animals?

emotional support animal

There is a steady rise in the number of dogs, cats, birds and bunny rabbits accompanying their masters in flights, no-pet apartments, college dormitories and eateries. Apparently, these are the places where no animals are allowed. But for the sake of lending a cushion to a mentally vulnerable master these rules face a relaxation. These are called emotional support animals.

pet-at-airport.But all the pets following their masters in no-pet entry places do really provide emotional support or are just glorified pets? A distinction between real and fake pets for mental health is hard to locate.

Animals kept for emotional support differ from the usual pets. They are meant to provide therapeutic support to the disabled but do not require any training. Just simply being with the master for his/her mental benefit is enough.  But keeping pets for emotional support – does it work at all?

Allowing pets on the grounds of lending emotional support raises the question of moral values:

turtleA few years back, a New York-based reporter has shown how blurry is the public concept for emotional support animals. She selected 5 animals like a turtle, an alpaca, a turkey, a pig and even a snake and carried them to a fancy restaurant, through airlines security, into a museum and on board in an NYC bus.  All these were done to demonstrate how simple it is to obtain a permission letter from a psychiatrist and ID card just by spending a little money.

One who shams carrying emotional support animals makes it difficult for one who genuinely needs an animal to unlock psychological blocks. Even masters of emotional support animals acting on ethics may have to prove him for nothing. This happens owing to the behavior of people who take advantage of the situation, taking any pet to unauthorized areas under the plea that it is required for emotional support.

The distinction between service animals and emotional support animals:

emotional support animalEmotional support animals have become a gambit under which people break rules in public places where animals aren’t allowed. A pet doesn’t always qualify as an emotional support provider. An Alsatian is an excellent guard dog. It is a service animal but not necessarily it will give you mental support.

So there are grey areas when a service animal can be accepted to give psychological assistance. There are differences as well that tell a service animal from an emotional support animal. A dog and a horse can be a service animal and it can extend emotional support too. A bird or a bunny rabbit can only give emotional support it can never provide service.

The presence of an animal itself is a source of solace to its master. But for a pet to be a service animal, it needs training like guiding a blind master on road or alerting a master with hearing impairment.

Under the Americans and Disabilities Act service animals can go to places with the owner, but animals lending emotional support can accompany their masters lawfully in two places: In airplanes and in their own homes. However, it should be the other way round. A service animal like a horse should have restricted movement. It cannot go anywhere with his master. It can’t be allowed inside a restaurant.

The utility of animals giving psychological support:

emotional support animalAnimals giving psychological support enjoy a premium status in the pet world. But are they necessary? These animals do not possess skills of service animals that can fetch you finite and substantial help.

The psychiatrist, Gail Saltz, the author of ‘The Power of Different’ holds the opinion that the presence of emotional support animals, their warmth and softness are calming and mind-boosting.

Another licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer states animals can help in relieving emotional stress in a way where therapeutics cannot. Their unconditional love and loyalty towards their masters make patients feel loved and cared.

To what extent these animals are effective in providing emotional support is open to question. A study conducted in 2016 in Professional Psychology: Research and practice, it is dubious whether these animals have a specific therapeutic value.

Well, if the presence of your pet can take the gloom of depression and anxieties off you, it is certainly capable of making you tranquil and happy. It is just like your children and has the right to accompany you anywhere. But it is also wrong to feign that you emotionally depend upon your pet and you want to take it to a public place where it is normally not authorized to enter.

A mounting variety of animals coming to rescue of an emotional wreck:

emotional support animalOver the years there have been arguments regarding categorizing pets for mental health. Previously, the number was confined to cats and dogs. Lately, birds have also been addition to the list.

Technically, these animals help people fight off depression. Their very presence and love (without any string attached) help lift the mood of the master. Does it work to keep such animals depend upon the perspective of the master.

The subject of labeling pets for mental health is a delicate issue. According to the licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H Clark, it is a matter to be handled with judgment. While it is alright to recommend a pet to an emotionally weak patient, care must be taken the mute animal is not abused.

The Americans with Disabilities act exists defending the right of people to animals supporting them mentally. The act, however, suffers from shortcomings. Definition of emotional support animals is not very clear.

Psychologists facing a conflict:

emotional support animalPsychologists are often asked by customers to issue approval letters certifying pets be allowed in airplanes and no pets housing. These animals supposedly give mental comfort to owners though how far it is true is debatable.

Here a conflict of interest pops up between professional ethics of psychologist and the customer. This predicament is often buried under heavy fees. He turns blind to the issue, accepts the money and certifies his nod of approval. Seeds of dishonesty are thus sown.

An alternate arrangement could be the issuance of a letter by a neutral third party that the customer requires the emotional support animal. The third party should be a qualified and experienced clinician not involved in the customers’ treatment. The dilemma of whether to issue a sanction letter can be dispensed with by considering the issue as case specific rather than generalizing it.

Whether keeping a pet for emotional support is effective or not entirely depends on the perspective of the keeper. If a person feels emotionally better with a pet and shows signs of improvement, then there is no harm in it.

Regarding travelling with such pets, it is always recommended to check the rules and regulations of the country. If needed, you can get your pet registered with a specified organization or website by paying an annual fee. If you are planning to fly with your emotional support pet, you need to check the airlines’ policy too.

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