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Support animals provide comfort to their companions

By Lia Yereslove October 13, 2022

A rise in physical and mental health awareness and a simultaneous increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depressive disorders—exacerbated by the pandemic and demographic changes, the World Health Organization reports—have encouraged many to seek out emotional support animals (ESA) for comfort and companionship.

The University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School defines ESAs as animals that provide therapeutic benefits to people experiencing mental health and psychiatric disabilities; their presence alone helps to mitigate symptoms including poor sleep habits, low energy and a persistent feeling of loneliness. Unlike service animals, which become certified after undergoing specialized training to assist individuals with disabilities, emotional assistance animals can receive official recognition if their owner obtains a letter from a licensed mental health professional explaining their need for an ESA.

In Pennsylvania, 69-year-old Joie Henney has an unusual ESA: an alligator named WallyGator. Wally acted as a companion for Henney and cheered him up when several of his close friends and family members passed away in 2017, as per The Washington Post. More recently, the alligator visited a local retirement home in York, SpiriTrust Lutheran, to entertain seniors and accompanied Henney to radiation therapy treatments following his

prostate cancer diagnosis.

Kayla Choi art

Schools in particular have experienced an uptick in requests for support animals, which alleviate stress, provide reassurance and enable students to take a break from their heavy workloads. Online publication Inside Higher Ed states that Washington State University’s Access Center handled two to three requests in 2011. Now, it receives 60 to 75 requests per year. After the addition of Bear, a one-year-old sheepadoodle, to their support team this school year, University High School in Waco, Texas, noticed that the dog’s calming and friendly presence encouraged students working through trauma to open up about their challenges—the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.

“I have worked with horses for 12 years and I have learned that you need to stay in the moment and concentrate on the horse. Spending time with animals helps you put aside your worries temporarily and take a break. Additionally, research shows that moving your bodies while interacting with your support animals benefits both your physical and mental health,” Tori Bohnett, a Certified Horsemanship Association Master at Garrod Farms, said.

Support animals offer a myriad of mental health benefits, but regulations surrounding their classification can present barriers for their owners. The American Disabilities Act grants service animals the right to public access to stores, restaurants, hotels and airplanes; however, the act does not include ESAs as they lack proper training. The Mercury News reports that on Sept. 27, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 774, changing the existing rule requiring unhoused people to establish a 30-day relationship with their emotional support dog before acquiring certification to access homeless shelters with their ESA. Still, the law applies only to dogs—awnd individuals experiencing homelessness often have cats and other animals.

As steps are taken to facilitate the documentation process and ease restrictions regarding support animals, more people may opt to find an ESA to cope with mental health struggles.


About the Contributors

Lia Yereslove

Staff Writer

Lia Yereslove is a junior at Leland High school, and proud to be one. She is a new staff writer on the Leland Charger Account and cannot wait for readers to see what this incredible newspaper has in store.

Kayla Choi


Kayla Choi is a junior at Leland and an artist for journalism. While constantly listening to music, she enjoys drawing and sleeping

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