Think about everything you have heard about emotional support animals. Landlords hate them because they have to allow them to live with the tenant. Airlines hate them because they have to allow them onto airplanes. Even more, passengers on airplanes often roll their eyes when someone walks on their plane with their emotional support emu. But is it really the ESA that they hate or is it something else? Usually they hate them because they have to deal with the animal’s crappy behavior that may also affect the health and safety of others.
If you ask many people why they cringe at the term “emotional support animal”, more than likely it is because they have either had a bad encounter with one or have heard of a bad encounter with one. Typically ESA certification letters are so easy to get, that the animal doesn’t even have to be well behaved in public to qualify for one. You can literally hop onto some random site today and pay enough money to meet with someone for 30 minutes, answer a few questions and get your letter sent to you. So, how does this happen so often? I thought ESAs were supposed to be beneficial for owners and others around them?
One of the goals of Wags for Wellness is to make sure that our clients don’t just get a dog to help with their mental health and stop there. We want to make sure that our clients receive the proper education and training that is required to be a responsible dog owner. This requires several things. First, we work with the client to make sure they are emotionally and financially stable enough to own a dog. This involves financial counseling and therapy. Then, we want to make sure that the client selects a dog that matches their personality and activity needs. Not all dogs will be good for someone, and it is so important that you don’t just rush out and pick up any dog just because it’s cute.
Finally, we want to make sure that that client enrolls in and completes AT LEAST a basic obedience course with their new dog to create that bond and trust. Ideally, passing an obedience course that involves a good canine citizen curriculum would be best. This would ensure that the dog isn’t only well behaved with its owner, but also well behaved in public spaces. Once we are able to see that the dog is actually creating a therapeutic addition to the client’s life we would certify it as an emotional support dog.
Of course this process takes longer than your typically one hour interview over the internet, however putting in the time and effort to do it the right way will prevent putting other people in the public at risk for becoming uncomfortable or even worse, injured. Our goal would be to educate the client on what type of behavior is acceptable in public, and to pay attention to their dog and manage it when in those situations.
I want to make sure that we are doing this so that ESAs stop having a reputation for being misbehaved in public. I also want to prevent dogs from being abused by owners that do not know how to take care of the dog. In many cases, these incidents can be easily prevented just by offering a little training and education to make the entire process easier for everyone involved.
Do you have any experiences, bad or good, with emotional support animals? Tell us about it below!