What an Emotional Support Animal Actually Is

Emotional support animals (ESA) are constantly in the news. Does anyone remember the woman who tried to bring an emotional support peacock on a flight?

Pet owners are always trying to pass off their pets as ESAs to bypass laws and requirements. They make a mockery of the true need for ESAs. My ESA has saved my life countless times. And I’m not exaggerating.

Before I rescued Phoebe, my friends joked that I knew more dogs on our college campus than people (true). On my worst days, the only thing that made me smile was seeing a dog. I realized an ESA might be what I needed. A dog wasn’t going to cure my depression, but it would undoubtedly bring relief.

I rescued Phoebe nearly two and a half years ago while a senior in college. She was a neglected boxer mix who was missing small patches of fur from malnourishment and untreated allergies.

She was a dog who needed a lot of love and care, and I needed a purpose in life. I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder around the time I adopted Phoebe. My emotions, thoughts, and life were too much to handle. I isolated myself in my bed. I missed classes, parties and everything else a 21-year-old is supposed to do.

Phoebe forced me to get out of bed because she needed to go outside. She forced me to eat because I had to go to the kitchen to get her food. She forced me to drive to the dog park because she needed a place to run. She added structure and routine.

On the days my anxiety was high or I couldn’t stop sobbing, she’d jump in my lap and put all her weight on my chest. This is a task some service animals are taught to help their owners who need help calming down or dealing with sensory overload. Note: ESAs are not service animals. Phoebe wasn’t trained to have this response. She does it instinctively.

When I had suicidal thoughts, she kept me here because she needed me. I still struggle with my mental illness, and Phoebe is by my side through it all. She makes me laugh when happiness seems impossible. She quite literally pushes me off the couch when she needs to go potty.Phoebe is my dog, but she’s also a lifeline. I used to roll my eyes at the bumper stickers that asked: “Who rescued who?” But it’s true. I rescued her and she rescued me.

I didn’t get Phoebe to have her in a no-pets apartment. Believe me, my landlords were horrible people who tried to get rid of her, and I had to fight like hell. I wouldn’t have tried so hard if I just wanted a pet, especially when I was moving out in a few months.

I didn’t pass her off as an ESA when I signed my new lease because I didn’t want to pay a pet deposit. I haven’t told an airline she’s an ESA so I can keep her in the cabin. She isn’t a loophole in the system.

She’s an ESA because she helps me function in day-to-day life.
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