When I got Gritz I didn’t realize I was getting an emotional support animal that would change my life.
In fact, she wasn’t even supposed to be mine. The seven-pound Chihuahua-Dachshund mix was given to my roommate after she lost her own pooch. Coincidentally (or not), I was going through a bout of depression. I have bipolar disorder and while I manage most days just fine, when it does hit, it hits hard.
My roommate wasn’t ready for a new puppy. I was struggling to get out of bed. Gritz would come and curl up next to me. I would scratch her chest and belly and she would teethe on my hand, a habit that continues today. She would come lie her head on my chest and lick my cheeks, the first dog to not gross me out by doing so.
I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but somewhere in there, I fell in love with her. So, how can others find similar solace with a furry friend? First, it’s important to understand the different kinds of service animals out there, and what kind of support you need.
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Types of Service Animals
There tends to be a lot of confusion about the difference between service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals. So here’s how it breaks down:
These dogs are highly trained to do specific tasks to accommodate a person with a disability. For instance, they function as “seeing eye dogs” for the blind. They can provide physical stability for someone who suffers from dizziness.
These dogs are also highly trained, but their purpose is a bit different. Therapy dogs provide psychological and physiological support to people other than their handlers. They are typically brought into places like schools, hospitals and other care centers.
Emotional support animals (ESA’s):
Emotional support animals come in all varieties, not just dogs. They are companion animals that provide emotional support to an individual with a disability or impairment.
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Benefits of Emotional Support Animals
ESA’s have proven to have many benefits. Some of these benefits are:
· Reducing stress
· Relieving loneliness
· Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol
· Increasing activity
· Improving mental health
· Faster recovery times from illness or injury
· Having a friend who loves you unconditionally
What is the difference between an ESA and a pet?
Practically any animal can be an ESA. You can also register an animal for ESA certification online.
A huge benefit to having an emotional support animal is that your companion cannot be denied housing. So even if the landlord says “NO PETS ALLOWED,” the law says that ESA’s are not pets and those rules don’t apply. They can also fly on the airplane with you!
More importantly, though, a true ESA is more than a pet. It’s part of your family, your best friend and closest confidant. It gives you a reason to get out of bed, even if it is just to go for a walk. It allows you to experience the therapeutic value of caring for another. It keeps all of your secrets, never talks back, and always takes your side. That’s why I need Gritz, and so many others have their special Emotional Service Dog.
Do you have an emotional support dog? Tell us about your own experience in the comments!
Watch on Z Living: Finding Fido, where photographer and animal behaviorist Seth Casteel hosts plays matchmaker each week between a person and a pooch. Finding Fido will premiere on Z Living in January 2017.