Every dog owner knows the joy of having a dog; they give us companionship, love, and care. Dogs are known as man’s (and woman’s) best friend. However, for people who face emotional and physical challenges, the presence of a dog can be significant to their daily life. Dogs offer support and comfort, helping people living with issues that affect their lives, such as mobility, blindness, deafness, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
I am happy to welcome Cody Oelker from US Service Animals.org as a contributor to this week's blog. He reached out to me with the idea of a guest post on Emotional Support Animals, and together we created the post you see here. We hope you enjoy the read, and if you or someone you know would benefit from an Emotional Support Animal, we encourage you to speak to a mental health provider about having such a companion.
Most of us recognize guide dogs which help blind people and service dogs help those with limited or no mobility. Other types of animals assist people who experience emotional trauma. Those can be dogs, cats, rabbits, even guinea pigs, which are also used as therapy animals, visiting schools, libraries, hospitals and nursing homes.
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) provide emotional support and comfort to their owner in the form of affection and companionship. Although all dogs are emotionally attached to their owner, to be legally considered as an emotional support animal, the animal needs to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person living with a mental disability. A therapist must examine the person and decide that the presence of an Emotional Support Animal is needed to ease anxiety and help him or her focus on life.
Benefits of an Emotional Support Animal
ESAs help ease anxiety, depression, and certain phobias. These special animals provide many mental and emotional benefits to people living with disabilities. They are intelligent creatures that psychologically impact their owners by offering reassurance and companionship. Other benefits of having an Emotional Support Animal in your home include the following:
If you’re experiencing any form of mental or emotional challenges, then you may want to consider an emotional support animal. These four-legged furry companions offer so many benefits to their owners, including helping reduce stress, anxiety, depression; serving as a faithful companion; and giving the owner a sense of purpose while experiencing unconditional love. Talk with your counselor, therapist, or psychologist to learn more about how to obtain an ESA and the benefits you may experience by having one.
Her golden eyes beckoned me, like a sultry look from Brigitte Bardot. I cautiously approached. She extended a slender front paw between the bars of the cage, as if to shake hands – certainly to vie for my attention. Her round face and lavish, orange and white fur gave her the appearance of royalty. “You’re a princess,” I murmured as I softly stroked her outstretched leg. I then reached between the cage slates to scratch between her ears and under her chin. The diminutive cat responded with a low purr and a subdued ‘mew.” She didn’t belong behind those bars, so I paid her bail and took her home. Her previous owners gave her the name “Ama.” No one knew what it meant or had ever heard such a moniker. A unique name for a princess-like cat. Loving and quiet, Ama settled into her new life with grace and tranquility. Her best friend became a cocker spaniel named Sam, whom I had adopted from the same shelter a year previous. They often cuddled together on the couch by the fireplace. Sam and Ama shared a composed camaraderie, rarely, if ever, spatting over space, food, or attention. If Garfield and Odie had never quarreled, Ama and Sam could have been their stand-ins.
So starts a short story I wrote a few years ago about this sleek, amber-eyed kitty I adopted in 1990; the tale is part of my book Tail Tales. I mentioned Ama in last week’s blog, and since June is Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month, I wanted to talk more about cat adoption and other programs which help cats – and how we can get involved.
Why do cats make great companions? Here are a few reasons:
Ama and I shared life for more than 15 years; she passed in 2006 at nearly 19 years of age. Both she and our mutual dog friend Sam came from the Bozeman, Montana humane society, adoptions that strengthened my resolve to always provide a home for rescued pets.
Every year, more than three million cats enter animal shelters across America. Many are stray, and sadly, only about 5% are reunited with their owners; nearly 1 million cats that come into shelters are killed due to lack of reclaiming strays and lack of cats adopted. This month shelters and rescues around the United States promote cat adoption and reuniting with owners since June is designated as Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month. In addition to the strays and the owner relinquishments, this time of year is known as “kitten season,” when pet adoption organizations become overwhelmed with mamma cats and their babies. Spaying and neutering are critical to keeping cat populations down. Additionally, the numerous community cat situations (also known as feral cats, those living in cities, suburbs, and rural areas on their own) adding to that feline overpopulation, the need for Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs is rampant.
There are several ways we can help:
By helping organizations and programs that help cats, you are helping kitties in need – and making special friends in the process.
I reached my hand between the slots of the cage bars. I knew I shouldn’t, but her amber eyes beckoned. She rubbed her small, round, reddish head against my fist. Her dainty purring, barely audible, captured my heart, and she came home with me later that day.
Her name was Ama – a strange moniker, but one she kept for the next 16 years we shared. The year was 1991; the place was the Bozeman, Montana Humane Society. Ama and I experienced five moves in the years between adoption and her passing at nearly 19. Through it all, she remained a friendly feline princess, her luxurious long orange and white coat and her delicate Ragdoll breed features giving her that royal appearance. During the many seasons we shared the household, having Ama in my life during times of stress helped calmed me, providing a quiet, nonjudgmental companionship that helped through the eddies of life.
There are many joys and benefits of living with a cat. Studies show pet owners generally lead healthier lives and have less stress. Here are a few benefits of living with a cat:
June is Adopt a Shelter Cat Month. Rescue organizations often promote this special month with special adoption rates on cats and kittens. Find your princess (or prince) of a cat at your local shelter or rescue group this month and enjoy the joys of living with a cat – just like I did with Ama.
You’ve likely read about or heard about them, one may even live in your home. These are the heroes, superheroes, in fact, but only one that I know of made it onto the TV/Movie screen: UnderDog. What a name – not SuperDog, BatDog, or AvengerDog, the name was UnderDog – not much of a super hero name.
Yet, for those animals who save their humans’ lives, these pets are superheroes, such as the parrot who saved a child from choking and a cat who saved her family from carbon monoxide poisoning. Earlier this year, a German shepherd dog was badly beaten and shot several times protecting a teenager from home intruders; miraculously, the dog survived his injuries, and received a commendation.
From overseas military combat dogs like Layka to cats like Schnautzie from Montana, pets save lives, sniff out bombs and cancer, and find lost children. Hero pets lead the blind, bring smiles to hospital patients, help children read, and give people comfort during illness or grief. Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs travel the country during times of trauma, such as hurricanes and school shootings. Our own pets provide comfort when we’re sick or stressed. A cold nose or warm purr soothes us, making our own pets our own personal heroes.
Every year American Humane presents the Hero Dog Awards, honoring canines who come to the rescue. These superheroes may be police, fire, or military dogs, lead the blind and help the deaf, serve as therapy animals in hospitals, or inspire us with their persevering spirits as emerging heroes. This week, American Humane allows the public to vote for the hero dogs which, later this year, will be recognized for their endeavors and awarded for their heroism. Cast your vote for the Hero Dogs of the Year by visiting this website: http://herodogawards.org/vote/. Voting closes on Wednesday, April 25.
Your dog, cat, ferret, or parrot may not have an award on the wall or shelf, may not have saved yours or a family member’s physical life, but most of us with pets recognize the joy and wonder of having a pet share our lives. Who is your hero pet? Leave a comment about why you feel your pet “rescued” you or, in your eyes and heart, is your hero. And, don’t forget to vote for the American Humane Hero Dog Awards!
Science has proven that having a pet has many health benefits for people, including lowering one’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Some of that is attributed to walking and other exercise activities with a dog. But, what about cats? Does living with a cat benefit a person?
The answer is YES! According to PetMD’s daily Vet Blog, owning a cat also has health benefits. Those include reducing stress levels and blood pressure, which can also help reduce cardiovascular disease. Having a cat can also reduce the risk of depression. Having a furry companion eases loneliness and helps a person unwind and decompress after a rough day at work or school. Cats provide special companionship, and though they tend to be more loners than dogs, cats are also affectionate and playful, helping people not feel so alone and helping them be active, even if it’s just tossing a ball or a catnip mouse across the room. In fact, cat companionship seems especially beneficial to people who live alone or are widowed.
Additionally, a 20-year study found that people who live with cats were 40% least likely to die from a heart attack, and cat owners visit doctors 12% less frequently than non-cat-owners.
Although some people are allergic to cats, exposure to dander and fur in the house can “result in increased resistance to allergens, decreasing risk for allergies and asthma,” according to Health Fitness Revolution.com.
A psychological study showed that children who grow up with pets, including cats, tend to have greater compassion, empathy, and higher self-esteem.
Two different friends have added cats to their homes in the past few years. One adopted an adult male cat, the other obtained a female kitten. Both agree the benefits of companionship, laughter, and relaxation and much more come with living with a cat.
A cuddle with your kitty, a purring lap sitter, or a frisky game of chase the feather chases away the blues and provides fun and laughter. A cat is a wonderful companion, and in its unspoken way benefits a pet parent in a variety of ways.
So, hug your kitty today … and if you don’t have one or are thinking of adding another to your home, adopt one today! June is Adopt-a-Shelter Cat Month, a great time to consider adding a feline friend to your family – there are millions in need of homes, and you can be one of those life-saving heroes. Both you and the cat will benefit.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.