By Janine Mozoomdar
Janine Mozoomdar is a current intern (2021-2022) with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and is excited about learning as much as possible before becoming an RD. She grew up in Los Angeles, CA and earned her B.S.in Nutrition Science at University of California Davis (2020). Janine hopes to be an RD who truly connects and communicates with her future patients/clients and strives to bring positivity, support, and a little bit of fun into the lives of others. Outside of nutrition Janine loves to spend time cooking, reading comics, taking walks, and spending time with her partner and pet gecko.
Many of us love our pets and consider them our family; after all, who could resist such a cute face? Our pets do so much more for us than just being cute; they provide us with companionship and comfort. Our furry friends can be a shoulder to cry on, a nonjudgmental listener, and can cheer us up with their goofy antics.
Emotional support animals (ESAs) are meant to help their owners alleviate symptoms/effects of the owners mental health issues or disabilities. ESAs are allowed the special privilege of being allowed into many areas that are usually pet free zones, such as work or class, and being allowed to travel with their owners on pet friendly airlines.
A few things to clear up,
- Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are not the same as a service animal. Service animals are specifically trained (via rigorous programs) to do work or perform tasks to help aid an individual with their disability. An example of a service animal would be a seeing eye dog, which is a dog trained to help guide individuals with sight impairment. An ESA is an animal which, as the name suggests, provides emotional support and comfort. ESAs do not have to go through a formal training program like Service animals but can still be trained to do specific tasks to help their owners. For those interested in training their ESA, a professional trainer is usually the first choice.
- Although it can be argued all pets provide some form of emotional support, ESAs have to be certified. (more on this found below)
- Depending on the state you live in, laws about where ESAs are allowed vary. For example, in California, ESAs are not allowed in privately owned establishments, such as restaurants, with zero tolerance pet policies.
- Not all ESAs have to be dogs! Although dogs are the most common type of ESA, other ESA choices include cats, pigs, rabbits and even miniature horses! The type of animal chosen depends on an individual’s needs and preferences.
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) can be part of treatment plans for eating disorders (ED). This is a concept that not many people are aware of and is still relatively new. However, it is slowly being adopted by more and more people.
Listed below are a few ways an ESA can help individuals with ED.
Providing emotional support
Research* has found that companion animals can greatly benefit those with mental health issues. Since pets are able to be with their owners almost 24/7, they are able to provide constant comfort, affection, and support, and are perceived to have a “sense” of comfort is needed. Pets are “able to provide a unique emotional support as a result of their ability to respond to their owners in an intuitive way, especially in times of crisis and periods of active symptoms”. Even just contact with pets can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness and provide a source of “physical warmth and companionship.”
Pets can also provide a safe space for their owners, where they can confide and express their thoughts/feelings with no fear of judgement or the worry of being a burden to others. “By providing unconditional positive regard, pets promoted emotional stability through the regulation of feelings, management of stress and helping people to cope with difficult life events”. Although this research was about pets in general, this applies to ESA even more so.
Preventing and interrupting maladaptive behaviors
For someone with an ED, ESAs can be trained to recognize and interrupt their maladaptive behavior such as binge eating, purging, mirror checking, and/or other ritualistic behaviors. ESAs can stop said behaviors by physically getting in the way/blocking their owners or by vocalizing insistently. ESAs could also be trained to alert family members of maladaptive behaviors.
Reminding their owners to perform tasks
ESAs can also be trained to give their owners small reminders to eat a meal/snack or to take their medication. One could also coordinate their schedule around their ESAs. Animals are very routine-oriented and will help their owner keep said schedule. One example could be eating meals at the same time as your ESA; no pet will ever let you forget it’s mealtime!
Serving as a reminder to take care of oneself
Taking care of an ESA can also serve as a reminder to take care of yourself. You will put so much energy into taking care of your furry friend, don’t you and your body deserve that same amount of care too? If your ESA needs food, rest, and socialization, so do you!
How to get an ESA
Although still a relatively new method, ESAs can be part of a successful path to recovery from ED. If you are considering an ESA, talk to a state-licensed mental health professional, such as a licensed therapist. Your mental health professional will work with you to figure out an ESA is appropriate for your ED treatment plan. If deemed appropriate, they will write an ESA letter which legalizes and officiates your companion as an ESA.
Lastly, if you are thinking about getting an ESA, consider adoption! There are so many animals that deserve a great home. With all the animals you would find in a shelter, you would definitely find the perfect fit for you and your individual needs. Consider checking out the SPCA or any other local pet adoption locations before buying from a breeder.
Brooks, H. L., Rushton, K., Walker, L., Grant, L., Rogers, A., & Penny Bee. (2018, February 05). The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: A systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence. Retrieved from https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-018-1613-2