Emotional support animals can do wonders for anyone challenged by living with chronic illness. This is related but a bit different than using a trained service animal. I have both types of assistance animals so I will try to make the difference clear. People with physical or mental disability may find a service animal can perform activities of daily living (ADLs) or assist with expanding mobility. For example, my service beagle Maile helps me walk by pulling me, over riding the neurological disconnect that prevents me from ambulating with a normal gait. This is one of the requirements for qualifications a service animal. The animal must be trained to perform a task or work to assist the individual in some way.
In the case of emotional support animals, the role of the animal is different. Here, the animal is used to satisfy emotional needs counteracting the isolation and resulting depression that frequently accompany illness. My more unusual emotional support animal is a bucking bred cow named Red Baroness. She gives me a reason to get up and get going every day. She depends on me for care. this keeps me active, gives me exercise and gets me out of doors in all seasons.
I can interact, love, and experience physical contact with Red Baroness without any conditions attached. she accepts me as I am, disabled, but still needing regular interaction with other living things. Though I have lost many of my capabilities, I am still valuable in her eyes as a caregiver and companion. This gives me purpose and a sense of being needed.
The definition of “therapy” or “service” animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is intentionally open to interpretation allowing each individual to use animal therapists to compensate for a wide range of disabilities. Emotional support animals are not considered service animals though, because they do not meet the requirement under the ADA guidelines that the animal must be trained to do specific tasks or work for the disabled individual.
The other two requirements to qualify as an service animal according to the ADA are that the person using the animal concerned is disabled, not impaired, and the animal has to be sufficiently trained such that the safety of the public is assured in its presence.
Emotional support animals, though a different type of assistance animal, are still valuable care providers for their owners. So, while I don’t recommend bucking bulls to most folks even as emotional support animals, mine have given me a new lease on life. I don’t expect to take them into restaurants on on planes with me however. They serve me best at home in my pasture.