Note: this article got a bit of a rewrite on March 7, 2018. Hindsight being what it is, I wasn’t able to do justice to the awesomeness that is an emotional support animal due to my own medical needs. ESAs can be a real and tangible support network for people suffering from all sorts of illnesses. In fact, support animals in general don’t have to fit the typically strict requirements for therapy or service animals, meaning they’re within reach for many people that don’t have money or the requirements needed to get service animals.
The weekend of my major breakdown, I got a new ESA. I had had pet rats for emotional support animals before, but my last one passed away around a year ago. Given my mood, when a breeder contacted me out of the blue saying she had a lone little boy, I jumped at the chance. Meet Franklin. He’s incredibly adorable and my new ESA. He’s a special friend and an added responsibility, but for me he can also bring an amount of comfort. We learned a few years ago that I am one of those that gains strength from having an ESA, and I’m particularly fond of rats.
Emotional Support vs Support
Chances are good you’ve heard of emotional support animals at some point in time. They’re remarkably common, and can be protected under law for those with recorded medical need (although, keep in mind that the legal loopholes may make it too much work). Technically you only need a letter from your medical provider stating the ESA is necessary for your health, but that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. In my case, my apartment required a massive mountain of paperwork certifying my need, that the pet was healthy, and additional insurance in the event of my animal attacking another resident (meant for dogs, I’m sure, because the only way my rat is attacking anyone is if they’re stupid enough to come into the house, go to his cage, and stick their hand in it).
What many people don’t realize is that there is more than just emotional support animals. For some people, they simply have support animals, a companion to get them out of bed on the hard days. Franklin brings me emotional comfort, a grounding when I’m anxious. Skittles, on the other hand, forces me to get up and play. She’s my energy on the days when I can’t manage much. I know if I can get downstairs, I can lay on the couch and she’ll do all the work until I get annoyed enough to actually wrestle. I wouldn’t consider her an emotional support animal though because she tends to be more of an emotional drain right now. Puppies are exhausting, after all!
So what type of animal makes the best ESA?
That really depends on you and what you need! Some people seek an animal that will force them to get out regularly for walks, so a dog is a great choice. Some prefer an animal that is unique and high energy, like a ferret. Others like an ESA that is highly independent and thus enjoy a cat. I, on the other hand, am a rat person. For me, they’re the perfect blend of dog and cat in personality, highly trainable, and not terribly expensive to care for. They also fit perfectly in my sweater pocket, meaning I get cuddles as we wander the house getting stuff done.
What matters most is finding a pet that supports your emotional needs. While Skittles is not a great ESA for me, someone that gets joy from running or a sense of accomplishment from training might find a dog like her perfect! The biggest suggestion I could make is make sure to really get to know your new emotional buddy. After all, if they’re supposed to be emotional support, you should get to know their personality well.
And Now, Meet Some of My Previous ESAs!
Pocket pets, so named because they fit in one’s pocket, are really my favorite. Rats, in particular, are social enough to want and need cuddles and play time, but also independent enough to self-feed and such. For those that simply want love, they’re a great choice, but for those that want more interaction, they’re also quite trainable. As an added bonus, my boys have also reminded me to eat well when I’m down because their favorite treats are usually spinach and carrots. In the end, though, it’s about finding the pet that you connect with, and that you have the ability to care for!
Do you have an ESA? If so, what kind and what do they do for you?