Some of you may have been thinking of getting an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). I found some articles on the StrokeNetwork website that might be of interest to you. I noticed that Barb posts an animal related article each month on this site.
The following is from the website StrokeNetwork: http://www.strokenetwork.org
Among humans, emotional support is provided in a wide range of forms: the nodding of a head, a gentle touch from one person, a bear hug from another, or “I love you” from a friend as she says good-bye on the phone. The support that helps a person get through a challenging time can come from friends and/or relatives who provide physical comfort or even just listen to us tell our story.
From animals such as Emotional Support Animals, or even a regular pet, just their presence can provide solace - your cat curled up on your lap may comfort you as well as holding hands with the person seated next to you during a plane’s takeoff and landing.
Because dogs are known for their empathy, they are most often selected as ESA’s. My first dog ever was a black Lab/Newfoundland mix who, although not officially an ESA, sat in front of me and whimpered when I cried, while now, my ESA jumps next to me on the couch and cuddles against me. He especially likes to lick up the side of my neck, sometimes even lightly nipping my earlobes, which, somehow always warms my heart.
Whatever form it takes from either people or pets, emotional support comes from gestures of unconditional love, which is the ability to non-judgmentally respect and empathize with another living being.
Empathy is rare. Empaths are those people who probably were judged “too sensitive,” as they were growing up, people who take on another person’s grief as their own.
An empath would never say, “There, there, don’t cry,” or anything else that disallows another person’s feelings. Feelings, including sorrow, are valid ways of responding to situations, and are best respected by others.
Pets are particularly good at this – at accepting your sorrow and reacting with concern, not disapproval. And that’s what makes them effective Emotional Support Animals - they cry along with you.
To qualify as a legitimate Emotional Support Animal (ESA), you - the animal’s owner - must have a letter from your mental health professional, preferably on his/her letterhead, saying that your pet provides emotional support for you.
Of course, this requirement means you must have some sort of mental health professional, which is common for stroke survivors because approximately half of us experience depression and/or an anxiety disorder. I started going to my psychotherapist for grief counseling, but got my dog to alleviate anxiety that I developed.
Not all mental health professionals have written a letter like this before, so in this month’s column, I will provide a copy of my (not copyrighted) letter, which can be used by your psychotherapist (or whoever provides your mental health care) verbatim:
To Whom It May Concern:
Barbara Polan is my patient and has been under my care since (date). I am intimately familiar with her history and with the functional limitations imposed by her emotional/mental health-related issue.
Due to this emotional disability, Ms. Polan has certain limitations coping with what would otherwise be considered normal, but significant day-to-day situations.
To help alleviate these challenges and to enhance her daily functionality, Ms. Polan has obtained an emotional support animal, specifically Turbo, a 25-pound male Lowchen. The presence of this animal is necessary for the emotional/mental health of Ms. Polan because its presence will mitigate the symptoms she is currently experiencing.
(Mental Health Professional’s Name)
(State license number)
Although my letter includes my ESA’s name and description, that was added simply because of my concern that the reader asking for the documentation not wonder if I was using a different animal’s pet to get away with some sort of fraud – sneaking another, different animal into a place it was not allowed.
Because of that fear, I also bought a picture ID online, which can serve as additional confirmation, but that is absolutely not necessary. The ID also came with a printed certificate saying Turbo is an ESA, but that, I thought, was much less convincing than a photo ID. The hardest part of the process was finding a photo that did justice to his sweet little face to send to the company that produced the ID.
You may have also noted that the letter does not include what the patient’s specific need for the animal is, which is intended to protect the patient’s privacy. That means that my anxiety causing the need for my ESA is not mentioned in Turbo’s letter.