An Open Letter to Emotional Support Animal Skeptics

Dear Emotional Support Animal Skeptics,

Lately I’ve been seeing some literature circulating the internet regarding Michigan’s apparent laws to crack down on, “fake service animals”. Of course, rather than just reporting on the new legislation, these articles also include opinions that are nowhere based in fact. The bottom line is that I should not have to justify my service animal to you. He is prescribed to me, just like your everyday medications. But if it’ll help others who are struggling to find validity, I’ll justify my service animal until this stops. So here’s my ESA journey:

Not only did I grow up surrounded by animals, but I grew up an absolute animal freak. From being the, “freaky horse girl”, and handing out crocodile hunter valentines in elementary school; to pursuing primatology as a hobby and a study in college. Animals have been able to give me a sense of validation and community that humans did not. Throughout my life I have been made to feel different than others and have often been excluded. Animals and animal lovers came into my life with zero judgement, only love. Animals were my comfort, and that’s okay.

As I developed, I went from being a slightly socially awkward elementary schooler, to a socially anxious twenty-something. While leaving home and moving to a university with a totally different social culture than I was used to was jarring, it wasn’t my breaking point. Yes, I was homesick, yes I missed my dog and bunny. But there was something more.

I began to battle serious bouts of depression. Not showering for up to four days at a time. Skipping classes to lay in bed. I felt as though something had completely stolen my purpose, my light.

Then, in my sophomore year, I went through some very traumatic events that left me utterly broken and alone. I was beyond depressed. I was looking for any way out, and I just couldn’t find it. I would have panic attacks in the shower, I wouldn’t sleep at night. I lost almost all of my friends, I just couldn’t function normally. I couldn’t, “just live with” my anxiety and depression any longer.

Then, I was doing some research on the internet about natural ways to combat anxiety and depression, as my battle with medications wasn’t very productive, and though for many medication does work, I was still skipping classes, meals, and showers.

I came across an ESA website. ESA, meaning, “Emotional Support Animal”. I had felt like a concrete brick had been lifted off of my heart. This was the answer I was praying for. With this new information about ESA’s in mind, I sped through my junior year and just couldn’t get this idea out of my head.

Senior year proved to be a little better, better living arrangements, completely new friends, and a new hobby. But as I watched a lot of my friends and their dogs, I still felt that concrete brick on my heart. It just wasn’t going away. I was holding onto that trauma two whole years later.

So, after wearing my parents down, they agreed to the idea of an emotional support animal. I finally felt free! My psychiatrist was more than supportive, having dogs of his own, he understood the value in caring for another life. He happily prescribed me an ESA and I was elated to finally be getting the answer to my prayers!

After much research, I decided that the Great Dane would be the perfect breed for me. With my anxiety, I knew couldn’t properly care for a high energy dog. So, we contacted a breeder who raised his Danes around children and other animals, it was the perfect fit! I picked up my Hank at just six weeks old, and I can’t remember feeling more elated in my entire life. Hank saved me, he has given me a higher sense of purpose. Even on my dark days, he has forced me to get out of bed, go for a walk in the fresh air, and interact with other humans (even if it’s just at the dog park). And while he is still in training (he’s 9 months now), I can promise you that he is better behaved than many dogs (and most children) we come in contact with on our daily adventures.

The bottom line is that Hank has been the answer to my prayers, and I (as well as any other person with an ESA) should not have to justify that to you. My Hank was prescribed by a licensed psychiatrist, so just because my condition isn’t visible on the outside, it does not mean that my service dog, or my experiences, aren’t valid. Frankly, I’m shocked and hurt that I had to become so vulnerable and share my battle with mental illness just so that others will become a little more compassionate towards those with service animals. There’s so much wrong with our world, and if your biggest concern is my 125 pound teddy bear, you’ve got it a lot better than most.

Sincerely,

A 20-something and her Great Dane just trying to figure it all out.

*I would also like to add that ESA’s aren’t the only service dogs facing scrutiny. I just happen to have an ESA and therefore can speak on that experience. However, there are also dogs out there helping our brave men and women of the armed forces cope with PTSD and other traumas from their experiences. There are also medical alert dogs that are trained to alert when their human is about to experience a multitude of health problems such as seizures, and diabetic episodes. As I said before, NOT ALL CONDITIONS ARE VISIBLE! If you ever have questions about a service animal, most handlers would rather you just ask us!*

 

 

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So You Think You Want A Great Dane

So, like me, you’ve done all the research, watched all of the tutorials, ¬†and you’ve found yourself wanting a Great Dane puppy; now what?

I had spent my childhood around larger dogs, as my family had always had Golden Retrievers. I was looking for something that was, like me, a little on the quirkier side. Great Danes are known for their massive size, mine being only sixteen weeks old and already over fifty pounds (to put this in perspective, he already weighs more than half of me). However, the Apollo of the dogs is probably best known for their gentle nature and sweet disposition. So, in February of my senior year in college, I threw my best friend in the car and drove over an hour to a breeder to check out his pups. When I first saw the whelping box full of thirtten (yes, THIRTEEN) little black puppies, there was Hank, only three weeks old, already seven pounds, and sitting on his sister’s head. Yep, that one would end up coming home with me just three weeks later.

Now, I know many experts recommend keeping pups with their mother and litter mates until at least eight weeks of age, but bringing Hank home at six weeks was arguably the best decision I’ve made so far. As it turned out, his six week birthday and my spring break coincided perfectly, so I was able to bring him home with me and spent my entire week long break training and bonding with him. By the time I brought him back to school with me, he was completely potty trained. For those of you that struggle with math, yes, he was potty trained before he was eight weeks old.

While bringing him home at six weeks was the best decision I made, giving up on crate training after he was potty trained was the worst. None of my childhood dogs were crate trained, so I didn’t think it was all that important. Well, as per breed standard, Hank has terrible separation anxiety. No crate + separation anxiety = four pairs of my underwear, and one pair of bikini bottoms completely destroyed. Only dirty underwear though, apparently clean underwear isn’t as fun. I get that they will cry, and I know it hurts to hear your baby cry when you leave them, but you will be so glad you stuck with the crate in the long run. Since he was not crate trained, he slept in bed with me from eight weeks of age to sixteen weeks of age. Unless you want to share your bed with a massive lap dog forever, just don’t go there.

Those are my two biggest recommendations, get your pup as early as possible to ensure proper bonding, and keep up with crate training. One of the other things I wish I would have known, Great Danes are so sensitive in every aspect of life. It took Hank a very long time to warm up to playing with other dogs at the park. He was afraid of anyone and everyone, as Danes the biggest babies. DO NOT give up, your Great Dane will weigh up to 200 pounds one day, so they need to be socialized. Period. They also have the most sensitive tummies, so do your research and don’t cut corners on their food. I had Hank on a regular puppy food with premium protein, and I was told to switch him to large breed food immediately. Well, Hank wasn’t about it and his stomach would not hold onto any food that was put in it. So, Hank was on boiled chicken and rice for three agonizing weeks before finally being put on a (very expensive) prescription Royal Canin GI food to help with his tummy. After that whole ordeal, I switched him to the Royal Canin Giant Breed puppy food. THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE between a large breed and a giant breed dog, so I would stick with Giant breed food. It’s expensive, but he loves it and it sets well on his tummy. He also has the most sensitive skin EVER. In fact, he currently has to wear a shirt to keep him from scratching a rash that covers his entire stomach. The vet claims it was something that he picked up in the environment, which means that he’s just hyper-sensitive, like every other Dane. My point is, Great Danes are very high maintenance, but worth every penny!

So, think twice before getting a Great Dane. You will never experience a love like you will get from your Great Dane, but be prepared to spend a lot of money on veterinary care and food. They will love you with all they have, but be wary, they can develop severe separation anxiety because of this. Stay strong in your crate training, and you will thank me that you have your own space. In the end, though they have a short life span, a Great Dane is for life. They will get VERY big. They eat A LOT of food. They are prone to health issues. But, you will never find a love like you’ll get from a Dane.