Service animals have proved helpful to people for a very long time. Whether it is dogs who help the blind or other animals who can tell if an allergic substance is nearby and quickly remove it, service dogs are powerful and can provide not only a functional life for their owners but can sometimes prove the difference between life and death. In recent years emotional support animals have also grown in popularity. These animals are not ‘service animals’, this means they are not trained to do something for their owner. Instead, they provide emotional support which means their presence can cause someone who suffers from an emotional or mental disorder to calm down.
In recent years these animals have begun to be recognized as incredibly important. Studies increasingly show the dramatic impact that these animals can have on their owner’s life and while the role they play may not be as obvious as a service animal, it may be just as important. Increasingly countries are starting to recognize the importance of these animals and are bringing in new laws to support them. Many airplane companies now allow passengers to bring on emotional support animals if they have the proper documentation. In America, the laws tend to vary state by state but they are increasingly becoming more open to these animals.
While many service animals are dogs because they can be highly trained, emotional support animals come in all shapes and sizes. Recently one woman shared her story of her own mental disorder and how her animal helps. Sarah Smith is a marine police officer, a job that comes with a high level of stress. As someone who suffers from anxiety, her disorder was threatening her livelihood. If she couldn’t solve it she would likely have to leave her job. She tried many forms of medication but none seemed to help. However, one day when she visited a pet store she found a parrot that was pretty unique. Sarah and the parrot had a strong bond and she found the animal’s presence to be incredibly comforting. She now relies on the parrot to help her when she is faced with an anxious task – like driving in the rain or facing a huge crowd in the store. Her parrot is so special that he will actually pick up on when Sarah is getting anxious and start to distract her by giving her kisses or whistling.
In America, over 200,000 animals have now been registered as emotional support animals. To be registered an animal must not be a nuisance in public and it must help with the owner’s pre-existing emotional or mental disorders. One of the bad parts of this growth is that many people are taking advantage of it. So many stores and places of business don’t allow pets for a variety of reasons, yet they do allow service and support animals. While service animals were difficult to fake there have been numerous stories of people putting a jacket on their dog and claiming it is a support dog. This type of activity is terrible as it may lead to someone who actually relies on these animals being refused in the future because the animal that actually wasn’t a support animal acted badly.
If you run a business make sure you check the documentation of support animals as you are doing the owner of that animal a disservice by assuming they need it and then allowing frauds to take advantage of the system. By being diligent we can ensure that the people who need help are receiving it. Support animals are a fantastic resource and we should ensure that they are being supported in the right way.