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Tailwaggingjoy dive in the Fascinating History of Role of animals - Emotional Support Animals

Updated: Apr 26

The roles of animals in human society have evolved significantly throughout history, reflecting changes in technology, culture, and our understanding of animals' capabilities.

As societies became more urbanised and affluent, the role of animals expanded, and as we all know, it includes companionship and recreation.

Portrait with a dog
A dog can play an important role in our life

With advancements in training methods and human understanding of animal behaviour, animals are trained to assist people with disabilities or special needs. Service animals, such as guide dogs for the blind or hearing dogs for the deaf, provide invaluable assistance to their handlers.

Recognising the emotional and psychological benefits of interacting with animals, therapy animals are now used in various settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and rehabilitation centres.

So, what are Emotional support animals (ESAs)? These are animals that provide comfort and support to individuals suffering from emotional or mental health issues. They differ from service animals, such as guide dogs for the blind, in that they aren't trained to perform specific tasks. Instead, their presence alone helps alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions.

The type of animal that can serve as an emotional support animal varies widely. While dogs are perhaps the most common choice, other animals such as cats, rabbits, birds, miniature horses, and even reptiles can also serve in this capacity. The choice often depends on the individual's preferences, living situation, and the nature of their emotional support needs.

Girl with a horse
Horses are popular ESAs

The history of emotional support animals can be traced back to the late 20th century when mental health professionals started recognising the therapeutic benefits of animals for individuals with certain emotional or psychological conditions. In the United States, the concept of ESAs gained legal recognition with the passage of the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act. These laws allow individuals with ESAs to live in housing with no-pet policies and to fly with their animals in the cabin of an aircraft without paying additional fees. To learn more about regulations, check out The fair Housing Act

ESAs have been shown to provide various benefits to individuals with emotional or mental health conditions. While the evidence regarding their effectiveness is still evolving, there is research indicating positive outcomes associated with the presence of ESAs. You can refer to this systematic review to learn more:  The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence. Helen Louise Brooks,1 Kelly Rushton,2 Karina Lovell,2 Penny Bee,2 Lauren Walker,2 Laura Grant,3 and Anne Rogers4   

The positive outcomes include:

1.        Reduced Anxiety and Stress: Interacting with an ESA has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress levels in individuals with conditions such as anxiety disorders, PTSD, and depression. The calming presence of the animal, along with physical touch and companionship, can help alleviate symptoms.

2.        Improved Mood and Well-being: Spending time with an ESA can boost mood and overall well-being. Studies have found that petting or interacting with animals can increase levels of oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and relaxation, and decrease levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

3.        Increased Social Interaction: ESAs can serve as social catalysts, facilitating social interaction and reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation. Taking an ESA for walks or engaging in activities with the animal can provide opportunities for socialization and connection with others.

4.        Enhanced Coping Mechanisms: The presence of an ESA can help individuals develop healthier coping mechanisms for managing their emotional or mental health symptoms. Caring for an animal can instill a sense of responsibility and purpose, promoting self-care and motivation.

5.        Improved Quality of Life: Many individuals with emotional or mental health conditions report an improved quality of life and sense of fulfillment as a result of having an ESA. The companionship and unconditional love provided by the animal can offer comfort and support during difficult times.

Cuddly cat
Cats carry serene vibes

It's crucial to recognise that emotional support animals are not a replacement for professional mental health treatment, and their efficacy can vary based on individual circumstances. Anyone contemplating getting an ESA should seek advice from a mental health professional to assess whether it aligns with their specific needs.

You might have read that the increasing popularity of emotional support animals has also raised some concerns, particularly regarding fraudulent claims and the abuse of ESA privileges. It is curious to know that some people have taken advantage of the system by falsely claiming their pets as emotional support animals to gain housing or travel accommodations. This has led to debates and efforts to establish clearer guidelines and regulations surrounding the certification and use of emotional support animals.

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