|Charlotte in her traveling cage at a pet social media conference|
It's OK to laugh. Of the few people I've told, I get two responses. Usually a person laughs, then says, "Oh, you're serious?" The second response is a raised eyebrow, a pregnant pause, and, "Ohhhh."
I first heard about Emotional Support Animals from pilots with whom I was sharing a shuttle to BWI airport."How much do you pay for that to fly?" asked one, nodding at my hamster. "Some people get a letter from their doctor, then the animal flies free. Comfort animals, they're called," said another. The pilots chuckled and poked each other in the ribs. I smiled stiffly. The Bad Boys of the Sky thought I was crazy. I sat self consciously with my arms around my hamster's cage as they joked about bunnies, kitties, and silly people who needed comforting.
Fast forward several years. At pet social media conferences I made friends with people with service dogs trained to assist them. Having help is essential for my friends; there's nothing wrong with needing help. I remembered the pilots talking about comfort animals. Would I qualify? According to one source, a person with an emotional disability qualifies to have an Emotional Support Animal.
Emotional disability. Ouch. I was embarrassed that I qualified.
I've worked hard to hide my lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety. A supervisor once suggested that I not be so moody in the office. I wanted to tell him that some days it was all I could do to get out of bed. I hoped my bad days were offset by the times I livened staff meetings with jokes and stories (they weren't). Anxiety caused me to avoid anything that made me fearful. As a result, I rarely made a deadline—and I was in publishing, a deadline-driven business.
My main reason for designating Charlotte as an ESA was so I could fly with her on any airline. The only certification needed was a letter from a licensed medical health professional, which my psychologist wrote. Ironically, when I called airlines, none would carry a rodent—even an ESA rodent!—in the cabin except Frontier Airlines. Thank you, Frontier!
Although it wasn't necessary, I bought a badge and ESA patch for Charlotte's cage. I was worried that someone would question Charlotte and that the official-looking items could come in handy.
So, you ask, what does an ESA do? They're not trained to do anything; their mere presence may be enough to help an emotionally disabled person cope better. When Charlotte pokes her pink nose out of her cage and grasps the the bars with her paws, whatever else is going through my mind goes away. I smile. That's how my Emotional Service Animal works for me.
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• The Differences Between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, and Emotional Support Animals
• Psychiatric Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals: Access to Public Places and Other Settings
• Sunday, September 29, 2013, is the Service Dog Blog Hop, designed to educate the public on the differences between service animals and laws, hosted by service dog Carma Poodale, therapy dog Garth Riley, and Oz the Terrier. Click on the links below to learn more. If you blog about working dogs, join the #SundayServiceDog blog hop!
• My favorite Pomeranian and roommate at pet social media conferences, service dog Pepper