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.
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!*