Coping Strategy: Emotional Support Animals

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs): Definitions

ADA covers service animals, not emotional support animals. Use the link to FAQs for more information.

The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) offers this summary about their view of service, emotional support, and therapy animals. This post explains their definition of Emotional Support Animals.

This article is a resource guide defining ADA guidelines and handler responsibilities for working with service, emotional support, and other types of therapy animals.

Why share this now?

Gale.

Plain and simple. Gale is my emotional support cat. I worked with my medical and mental health providers to prepare for and be ready to care for a pet who would also be my emotional support animal for many years. The mental health counselor and I agreed on a timeline. Then she wrote the letter prescribing or supporting my decision.

I shared that with building management and informed the adoption agency too. The agency didn’t require a copy of the letter, so I did not provide it for them. But they were extra careful in helping me select a cat for adoption. They answered as many questions as possible and offered resources for me to find answers on my own too. No pressure to adopt; in fact they said that they prefer I not adopt Gale if I felt in any way uncomfortable during our meeting.

Gale's letting me cover her up
I don’t understand why she does this, but my human likes swaddling me in blankets as I nap.

As for the rest of it, I’m still learning to cope with the challenges of interacting people and making myself understood with cat/pet world terminology. It’s scary and rewarding at the same time.

Last time I tried this, I was not as prepared to face the unexpected challenges of having to communicate and interact with so many different kinds of people. This time I am up for the challenge. And Gale is helping with that too.

I am not going to encourage or discourage you if you decide to adopt or purchase an animal for therapeutic reasons.

I will ask you to read the literature provided in the links and also check in with yourself. Consider your lifestyle, current challenges, financial situation, support system, current goals and successes too. Then start talking about this with important people in your life. Get opinions and feedback from their perspective; listen, use what’s useful, and put the rest away for now.

Because taking responsibility for another living being is a big challenge and a bigger change.

Positive Changes

Gale has me moving more than ever. I even started a regular routine of moving meditation, stretching and light exercise 2x a day thanks to her. She’s so funny and does cat stretches with me sometimes. Other time she watches me from a comfy seated position or distracts me with a tail slap and head butt.

We eat regular meals together. And I’m learning that talking to people is not as scary as I thought. Neither is asking for help. I own my anxiety and how that interferes with communication, so make sure the people I talk with understand that as much as they can too.

Gale in her bed
Hmm…this bed isn’t so scary and evil after all. And I get to keep my new blanket

And sleep! Amazing how a furry friend can help with sleep. I’m not talking about cuddles or hugs – Gale didn’t start accepting or asking for cuddles until a few days ago – but having a welcoming/comforting presence in my space. She likes to sleep on my feet at night. And once in a while we sit together and watch tv or read.

But I also feel safer living in my apartment with her. Gale is an excellent guard cat. She hears things I miss or ignore and watches the door when people get too close outside. And she notices when my neighbors upstairs make noise or do annoying things before I do so I can prepare for whatever they do.

Her best quality, though, is being able to read environmental and emotional changes; then cope with them without too much stress. Gale has met almost all of my alters and doesn’t get upset with the switching as much. Instead, she walks away, changes position, or vocalizes to let me know a change occurred.

Last time I tried working with a puppy. That didn’t work because of my physical limitations. This time, with a cat and 8 years perspective, we are learning to get along and live together with lots of fun and shenanigans.

I’m looking forward to having Gale around for at least 10 more years 🙂 and hope she feels the same way about me.

One Month (almost) Anniversary

Gale took over my chair
This chair is mine now. Maybe, if you give me enough head and cheek scratches, I’ll share.
  • September 21, 2020 is our first month anniversary living together. I’m excited because we’ve been through a lot in our one month tougher.
  • Fire alarm that required me to put her in a carrier a week into living together.
  • 2 long trips out of the house; having to trust Gale not to destroy the apartment while I was out.
  • Mild panic attacks my side as I got used to her food/living/sleeping/litter box requirements, worked, and did chores.
  • Lots of stress on Gale’s side having to cope with being stuffed into a carrier and then outside in the dark/cold night with flashing lights and strangers after a few days living together.
  • Gale getting scared of all the strange noises in the new apartment.
  • Gale running and hiding every time her human makes a sound or body language/hand gesture that scares her.
  • Gale feeling torn between curiosity and distrust in her new environment and with her new human.
  • Gale testing her human by clawing at furniture and then looking to see what she will do.
  • Gale’s confusion when her human doesn’t do more than yell, make a loud sound or spray water at her.
  • Both of us adjusting to living and working together.

Honestly, I’m surprised we survived all that without anyone (my alters and I) getting bitten or clawed.

Do you have animals in your life? Are they grounding and comforting too? Or something else? Share stories in the comments if you like.

Thanks for reading.

5 thoughts on “Coping Strategy: Emotional Support Animals

  1. Evolution of complex physiological adaptations could be driven by natural selection acting on behavioural traits. Consequently, animal personality traits and their correlation with physiological traits have become an engaging research area. Here we applied a unique experimental evolution model – lines of bank voles selected for (A) high exercise-induced aerobic metabolism, (H) ability to cope with low-quality herbivorous diet, and (P) intensity of predatory behaviour, i.e. traits shaping evolutionary path and diversity of mammals –and asked how the selection affected the voles’ personality traits, assessed in an open field test. The A- and P-line voles were more active, whereas the H-line voles were less active, compared those from unselected control lines (C). H-line voles moved slower but on more meandering trajectories, which indicated a more thorough exploration, whereas the A- and P-line voles moved faster and on straighter trajectories. A-line voles showed also an increased escape propensity, whereas P-line voles tended to be bolder. The remarkable correlated responses to the selection indicate a common genetic underlying mechanisms of behavioural and physiological traits, and support the paradigm of evolutionary physiology built around the concept of correlated evolution of behaviour and physiology.

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