The pandemic hasn’t been easy. It has impacted large populations of people from all walks of life, from children to adults. Even our dogs have been affected, as changes in routine stemming from families spending a lot more time within the home can lead to confusion and stress. But it’s not all doom and gloom, as our trusty pets have actually proven to be key in maintaining our mental health throughout the pandemic.
In fact, studies have shown that owning a pet is linked with better overall mental health and reduced loneliness during periods of lockdown. It’s no surprise – dogs, for example, have been used as a source of therapy for many years.
If you feel like you’re struggling due to the pandemic, an emotional support dog could be a great help. These dogs are legally seen as crucial to supporting your mental health, so they come with some special benefits that may make it easier to travel and find accommodation. If this sounds like it could help, read on to find out everything you need to know!
Pandemic Puppies are the Newest Adoption Trend
A lot of us have already felt that a pet could be helpful, as there’s been a huge increase in pet adoption inquiries. The ASPCA’s Los Angeles and New York City foster programs saw a 500% increase to the usual number of foster applications between March and April in 2020.
Naturally, this has resulted in fewer pups in shelters, which is great! However, there are still concerns as to whether these pooches will simply end back up in shelter once the pandemic passes. After all, many of us have found ourselves with much more free time than the norm. Once our working hours begin to rise once more as the pandemic passes, some families may find themselves without the time to continue caring for their puppy.
Adopting a puppy should never be a rash decision, even if you think it could be a great benefit to your mental health right now. You need to consider not only the factors of your current situation but the future too. If you’re unsure whether an emotional support dog would be a good fit for you, consider some of the following questions:
- Can I financially support a dog? – In a situation where many families are already feeling the financial strain, would you be able to budget the necessary money to feed and accommodate a puppy?
- Will I have the time to care for a dog, now and in the future? – While you may have plenty of time to care for a pup right now, will you be able to in the future if you and your family return to full-time work?
- Am I able to put in the time to raise and train a dog? – Raising a puppy comes with challenges. You may need to train and socialize the pooch yourself, as many trainers are either closed or fully-booked to deal with the increased demand.
Would a dog be a good fit for me? – Dogs aren’t a great fit for every family or person. There may be issues with very young children or other existing pets, or you may lack the ability to properly care for your pooch every day.
Benefits of Companion Animals
There have been many studies into the positive effects pets have on their owners. If you do decide to take on a dog during this stressful time, here are some of the benefits that you may experience:
- Eases Anxiety & Depression: Pets have been shown to help relieve stress, lower anxiety, and comfort those who are upset.
- Reduced Loneliness: It’s been shown that many of us are able to create strong, lasting bonds with our pets. Having the companionship of a pet closeby can help us feel less lonely, even when human contact is lacking.
- Keeps you Active: During quarantine, it’s very easy for us to just sit around at home all day. This isn’t good for us physically or mentally – a companion animal can give us a reason to go outside and get moving every day.
- Gives a Sense of Purpose: Some of us may have felt that we have lost purpose, due to losing a job or from being unable to take part in hobbies. Raising and caring for an animal is a fulfilling responsibility that can fill this gap.
- Lower Blood Pressure & Cholesterol Levels: The companionship and love of our pets can help reduce stress, which comes with plenty of health benefits.
Breeds that make the best Emotional Support Dogs
It’s important to realize that not every breed makes a good emotional support dog. Some breeds may be far too hyper or could be a challenge to train. You should have a good, hard think about what you’d like from a pooch, and try to find a breed that is known for those qualities. You can use the suggested breeds below as a starting point!
- Golden Retriever: The Golden Retriever is one of the most popular family dogs across the US, and it’s for good reason. It’s an incredibly trainable, calm, and outgoing breed. They’re also energetic, which can help get you out into the world!
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: These lovely pups only require light exercise each day. For the rest of their waking hours, they’ll be content to snuggle up close to their owner. They’re intelligent and very eager to please.
- Chihuahua: If you’re looking for something small and sweet, you can’t go wrong with a Chihuahua. They’re filled with character, tending to get heavily attached to their owner. They’re also easy to travel with, thanks to their portable stature.
Do you need a Therapy Dog?
While many of us may benefit from a pet during this time, emotional support dogs are meant for those who clinically need such animals. This means that you can’t just get a pet and designate it as your emotional support animal – you need a licensed medical professional to prescribe one.
This means the medical professional must believe that you have symptoms that may be alleviated or reduced from the presence of an emotional support dog. For example, if you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, a therapist may prescribe an emotional support animal to help reduce these symptoms.
An emotional support animal may not be appropriate for minor or short-term problems. However, if you find that you are suffering from long-term mental health issues that are being exacerbated by the pandemic, you may benefit from an emotional support animal. You should ask a licensed medical professional if this option would suit your particular needs.
Service Dog vs Therapy Dog
- Service Dogs: Service dogs are specially-trained to help perform essential tasks for their owner. They often work with the physically disabled, but they can help support mental health too, by performing trained behaviors to calm or comfort someone who is having a mental health crisis.
- Therapy Dogs: Therapy dogs are trained to give comfort and support to the general population. They have been used to help anxious children get through school, in hospitals to help patients deal with trauma, and more.
- Emotional Support Dogs: Emotional support dogs are similar to therapy dogs in function, but they only work to support their owners. They also do not require special training – any dog can be designated as an emotional support animal.
How to Adopt an Emotional Support Dog
To get an emotional support dog, you will first need an ESA letter. This is a letter that can only be written by a licensed medical professional, such as a doctor, social worker, or therapist. The letter will include their professional letterhead and signature, clearly explaining why you need an emotional support animal.
It’s important that you seek an ESA letter from a medical professional who is actively treating your symptoms. Many online sites offer the ability to buy ESA letters after just a short consultation with an online therapist – however, these may not be legally binding and could land you with huge fines and perhaps even jail time.
For that reason, you should avoid quick and easy ways to buy an ESA letter online. Always bring it up with a medical professional who is actively working with you! It may take longer, but the potential benefits far outweigh the time and effort spent.
The Adoption Process
- Step One: Speak to a licensed medical professional who is currently treating you. You may bring up the idea of an emotional support dog and discuss whether it would be an appropriate option for you.
- Step Two: You’ll be assessed to see whether you’d be eligible. This may take place immediately or over a few appointments. If the medical professional believes it could help your symptoms, you will receive a paper copy of an ESA letter.
- Step Three: With the ESA letter, you are now eligible to adopt a pet that will be legally seen as your emotional support animal. You can look in shelters for an appropriate pup, or even contact a breeder if you wish.
How to Register an Emotional Support Dog
As there is no official registration database for emotional support dogs, registration is not necessary. If you have an ESA letter, it will state that you require an emotional support animal. There is no need to designate a specific pet. This allows you to get an ESA letter before you actually adopt, or designate an existing pet as your emotional support animal.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to bring a copy of your ESA letter along with you and your doggo to prove that it is an emotional support animal. You will also need to make sure that you get a new letter each year to ensure that you can continue to receive the benefits. If your letter is out of date, your pet will no longer be legally seen as your emotional support animal.
Benefits of Owning a Registered Therapy Dog
An emotional support dog doesn’t enjoy all the legal benefits of a specially-trained service dog, but they do get some special allowances when it comes to housing and travel.
Firstly, a landlord cannot legally deny tenancy because of your dog, even if they enforce a no pets policy. As it’s an emotional support animal that is crucial to handling your mental health, a landlord must reasonably work to accommodate your pooch. They are also unable to charge pet fees. However, there are exceptions to this rule – for example, if your pooch poses a threat to other tenants, they can still deny tenancy.
Some airlines also allow you to fly with your emotional support animal in the cabin at no extra charge. It used to be legally required that all airlines work to accommodate emotional support animals, but this was unfortunately amended in December 2020. It’s worth noting that employers are also not legally required to accommodate an emotional support pet.
Remember, you will need to show your ESA letter if you’d like to take advantage of these benefits. This is why it’s crucial you have a real one, as a landlord or airline may question the validity of the letter.
Keep Your Emotional Support Dog Healthy with PetPlate
We hope this article has informed you about emotional support dogs and helped you come to a decision on whether one would be necessary for you. If you feel like you need the legal benefits that an ESA letter brings, it may be worth bringing it up with your doctor or therapist.
Regardless of whether your pup is an emotional support animal or not, it requires a great diet to remain healthy and happy. That way, they can help you stay happy and healthy too! PetPlate only uses human-grade organic ingredients – our fresh meals are bursting with all the nutrition your pooch needs. Take a look now!