LISTEN: Emotional Support Animals Improve Owners’ Lives

By Shelby Russom
Delta Digital News Service

Joshua VanDon sits with his ESA, Keena. (photo courtesy of Joshua VanDon)

JONESBORO, Ark. — People with diagnosed mental illnesses often benefit from emotional-support animals. These registered animals provide emotional support and love, alleviate stress and loneliness, and even ease the effects of mental illnesses to support their owners.

   Kellie Davison of Jonesboro, therapist, and co-founder of Courage Counseling said ESAs are wonderful and help people with mental illnesses like anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. She said she always recommends her clients who do not have an ESA look into getting one.

   As someone with PTSD and anxiety, Joshua VanDon of Paragould said people notice a change in him since getting his ESA, Keena, a four-year-old Belgian Malinois.

   “My wife’s seen first-hand like the difference in myself once I got Keena and you know, having her here,” he said.  

   Maya Saala, an Arkansas State University first-year student from Pocahontas studying elementary education, said she initially did not realize just how helpful having her ESA registered cat, Obi, would be. She said she knew being around him made it easier to deal with her anxiety, but did not realize the extent of the emotional help he provided. Saala said she recommends ESAs to anyone who struggles with mental illness.

Maya Saala and her ESA, Obi. (Photo courtesy of Maya Saala)

   “It’s just one of those things where it’s like, even if you don’t think you could benefit from one, you probably could,” she said.

   Legally recognized as support systems, ESAs can travel with their owners, attend events, go into stores and much more. Davison said this was helpful for her mother, Sarah Simmons, who suffered from anxiety and bipolar disorder.

   “She was able to travel with them and so it helped her get to do a lot of things she would have never been able to do,” Davison said.

   To register an animal as an ESA, an emotional support animal owner needs a letter from their mental health provider stating the owner requires the assistance of the animal. Traveling and entering certain places, as well as living on a college campus with an animal, requires an ESA letter.

   Davison said people should not abuse the ability to have an ESA. She, as well as other therapists, will not give the necessary documents to register an animal as an ESA to just anyone. She said she wants to ensure everyone who has an ESA is someone who truly needs it and will take care of the animal.

   “When I think of an emotional support animal, I think of it as if you’re going to maintain your own mental health, you also need to maintain your dog’s health as well or your cat or whatever animal you’re utilizing as your emotional support animal,” Davison said.