Emotional Support Animals for Survivors
Emotional Support Animals or ESAs have been critical in supporting people who have survived trauma and individuals experiencing mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety in managing their symptoms. ESAs can also be a crucial part of a survivor’s journey in healing and managing symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This post will explore the ways in which support animals assist survivors, how to designate a pet or animal as an official ESA, and guidance on including pets in protective or restraining orders.
What is an ESA?
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD), “an emotional support animal is any animal that provides emotional support alleviating one or more symptoms or effects of a person’s disability“. ESAs provide much-needed companionship and relieve loneliness which can sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias. These
are different than “Therapy Dogs” as ESAs don’t necessarily need to have any
training or certifications whereas Therapy dogs are specifically trained to provide therapeutic support at nursing homes, police stations, homes, etc. (Alt, 2022).
Emotional Support Animals or ESAs have been critical in supporting people who have survived trauma and individuals experiencing mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety, in managing their symptoms. ESAs can also be a crucial part of a survivor’s journey in healing and managing symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This post will explore the ways in which support animals assist survivors, how to designate a pet or animal as an official ESA, and guidance on including pets in protective or restraining orders.
However, ESAs have not been certified in specialized training to perform tasks that support people with disabilities. ESAs are also not limited to dogs. Additionally, it’s important to note that ESAs do not have any more right to be in a public/private facility or space as any other pet and are not exempt from any spaces excluding dogs or pets (Governor’s Commission on Disability, 2022).
Service animals (mainly dogs) have received specialized training and certification that exempt them from those rules, as they have been trained to only focus on the task of supporting the owner’s disability and are included in protections provided by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). This is also why it’s important to never interfere with service animals who are actively working, as demonstrated by their vest, as distracting them from their task could potentially be dangerous for the owner.
Emotional Support Animals and Survivors
Service dogs were originally trained to support wounded veterans after WWI when Dr. Gerhard Stalling left his German Shepherd with a blind patient. When he returned he found the dog helping the patient move around which led to Dr. Stalling training dogs for the blind and subsequently opening the first guide dog school in 1916 (Mardon, Steen, Jeremy, & Sui, 2021). In the 1940s, dogs were introduced as a treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD and other psychological conditions (Mardon, Steen, Jeremy, & Sui, 2021). Animals have a long history of being utilized to provide comfort and support to people suffering from psychological or emotional conditions.
Research has shown support animals improve “psychological well-being, emotional functioning, self-esteem, and vitality” (Rodriguez, Greer, Yatcilla, Beck, & O’Haire, 2020). The specific ways an emotional support animal or therapy animal can offer aid to survivors depends on the individual’s circumstances and symptoms. Another way animals are being used to support survivors is by allowing therapy dogs to accompany survivors during court procedures (Dellinger, 2008) which has given survivors more confidence and comfort when giving their testimony.
Police departments across the country are now offering therapy dogs to support survivors and witnesses of trauma. For instance, Willow in Greenland NH and Gadget in Newmarket NH are trained as a therapy dog to support survivors visiting the police station, court, Child Advocacy Centers, and for police officers who’ve experienced trauma. Learn more about Willow here and Gadget here!
Although there is no one proven method of recovering from trauma, historically support structures have been a huge step in a survivor’s path to healing. Companionship from pets is one method of having constant, reliable, and judgment-free support (Dellinger, 2008).
How to Designate an Animal as an ESA
In order for a pet providing emotional support to be designated as an ESA, the pet must be prescribed “as necessary for the owner’s wellbeing” (HUD, 2022). Although designation as an ESA does not provide allowances in public spaces, it does allow the ESA to live in “non-pet” housing.
Locating an ESA, Therapy Dog, or Service Animal:
The EmBark Foundation, founded in Madison, Wisconsin works with survivors to match them with an ESA, funds the adoption, and provides support through the certification process. EmBark’s goal is to “foster a safe and comfortable environment for survivors and their allies”. Find more information about EmBark here.
Assistance Dogs International: A coalition for nonprofit assistance dog organizations to match a dog with an owner that fits their needs.
Alliance of Therapy Dogs: A national therapy dog registry, that assists in certifying potential therapy dogs.
Patriot PAWS: provides service dogs to veterans.
Pawsitivity: nonprofit which rescues dogs and trains them as service dogs specifically for symptoms of PTSD.
Service Animal Resource Hub: This website provides more information about regulations surrounding service animals as well as resources to obtain a service animal.
Hero Pups: This organization places comfort dogs in police departments across New Hampshire to support those impacted by trauma at the police department, court, Child Advocacy centers, and more!
Emotional Support Animals can assist all people impacted by trauma, whether it be a survivor of interpersonal violence, a person who witnesses a survivor’s trauma, first responders, and veterans. HAVEN’s blog will often provide resources for people who’ve encountered trauma—all are welcome here.
If you or someone you know are currently seeking support from HAVEN, and are interested in exploring a restraining order, trained advocates can help offer guidance on including your pet(s) in the order. HAVEN offers support, information, and referrals to anyone impacted by the traumas of domestic abuse, sexual assault, stalking and/ or human trafficking. HAVEN also offers support groups, emergency shelter and housing assistance, safety planning, and in-person support for survivors at court, at hospitals, at police departments, and at Child Advocacy Centers. Survivors can access HAVEN advocates 24 hours a day 7 days a week for support through our hotline 1(603) 994-SAFE . Not comfortable using the phone? You can now connect with a confidential advocate Monday-Friday 9 AM – 4 PM through our online chat line via https://havennh.org/ Reach out at any time, HAVEN is here to help.
Dellinger, M. (2008). Using dogs for emotional support of testifying victims of crime. Animal Law Legal Center. Retrieved from https://www.animallaw.info/article/using-dogs-emotional-support-testifying-victims-crime
The Dog People. (2020, May 12). Therapy dogs: All about canine companions for survivors of abuse. The Dog People. Retrieved from https://www.rover.com/blog/therapy-dogs-canine-companions-survivors-abuse/
Dogedit. (2016). Karl the Deaf Courthouse Therapy Dog Helps Kids Testify. photograph. Retrieved from https://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/karl-the-deaf-courthouse-therapy-dog-helps-kids-testify.
Elassar, A. (2019). Illinois Lab sworn in as support dog for trauma victims. Meet Hatty, an Illinois county’s first comfort dog helping child sexual assault victims. photograph, CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/02/us/cook-county-comfort-dog-sexual-assault-trnd/index.html.
Governor’s Commission on Disability & NH State Government, Service Dog FAQs (2022).
HUD. (2022). Assistance animals. HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Retrieved from https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/assistance_animals#:~:text=An%20assistance%20animal%20is%20an,animal%20is%20not%20a%20pet.
independencececil. (2018). Service Animal vs. Emotional Support. photograph.
Mardon, A. & Steen, Jeremy & Sui, April. (2021). History of Service Dogs.
National Service Animals Monument. (2022). Safety. HHonoring Our Nation’s Service Animals & Their Handlers. photograph, National Service Animals Monument. Retrieved from https://nationalserviceanimalsmonument.org/.
. pinterest. photograph, OneTigris. Retrieved from https://pin.it/rc7VZvU.One Tigris Apollo 09 Tactical Harness
Taylor, J. (2022). How Veterans Benefit From a Calming Relationship with Service Animals. photograph, Mount Pleasant Magazine. Retrieved from https://mountpleasantmagazine.com/2021/pets/how-veterans-benefit-from-a-calming-relationship-with-service-animals/.