Sunday, October 27, 2013

Emotional Support Animals for People with Chronic Disease

Emotional Support Animals

Guest Blog by Britani Moonbeam Warner 

Living with chronic pain is no fun. Living with chronic pain and emotional problems is almost maddening. Most people do not understand what people with chronic pain suffer through on a daily basis. In fact, it seems that most people lack compassion for those of us who are in pain every single day unless they are going through something similar. Luckily, there is someone who understands what I am going through, and he has four legs. Neville, my dachshund, is my Emotional Support Animal (ESA). The minute I am in pain or feel as if I am about to panic, Neville is right there by my side. 

I could not make it through the day without Neville. Not only do I have interstitial cystitis, a chronic pain disease affecting the bladder, urinary tract, and pelvic muscles, but I have social anxiety disorders as well. Once, I woke in the wee hours of the morning with intense pelvic pain and burning bladder. I tried everything from high doses of ibuprofen, to taking a really hot shower, to chugging as much water as I could without throwing up, but I found no relief. Deeply frustrated, I sat on the couch and quietly began to cry. My precious companion must have sensed that something was wrong because he came quietly out of the shadows, jumped up on the couch, and forced his way into my lap and laid on my abdomen. I immediately felt calm, and the warmth and pressure of his little body slowly soothed my bladder. After an hour or so I was able to comfortably go back to sleep. If it wasn't for Neville, I could have been up all night in excruciating pain.


The Difference Between Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals

Dogs, and other animals too, provide a great deal of love and compassion to those of us that are suffering. Neville has changed my life in his two short years on earth. He has helped heal me in a way no medicine ever could. Unfortunately, because I do not outwardly appear sick, nor am I deaf or blind, I cannot take Neville everywhere I go for comfort, because he is not classified as a Service Animal. 

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are only considered  companion animals for qualifying psychological and psychiatric conditions. They are only granted access on airplanes and in housing that normally would not allow pets. As of 2011, the definition of a Service Animal only included dogs that provide services to his or her owner that the owner cannot do for him/herself such as picking things up for a blind person, or sensing that a diabetic needs to check their insulin. The process for training dogs as Service Animals depends on the situation, but you can train them yourself. As long as the dog can pass the Canine Good Citizen test through the American Kennel Club and can perform a special task for you, they can be certified as a Service Animal. The biggest difference, as you might guess by now, is that a Service Animal can go wherever the owner goes.

So, even though Neville helps to keep me from having anxiety attacks in public, and even though he helps to soothe my painful bladder, he is not granted public access by law, because he is "just" an Emotional Support Animal. I only hope that one day the laws will change to allow myself, and other sufferers of chronic pain to have their companions with them at all times, in all places possible. They are Service Dogs, and they deserve recognition for the love and support they provide. 

PS: Neville is going to be trained as a Therapy Dog. Nothing special is required for him, as he already does the job—he makes sick people smile—we just need to work on a little more basic obedience. He is a hound dog after all!

For more information on support animals check out: 

Emotional Support Dogs
What is the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support animal?

Author, Speaker, Patient Advocate

Helping Yourself Is the First Step to Getting Well

For step by step guidance for creating your own personal interstitial cystitis meal plan, see: Confident Choices®: Customizing the Interstitial Cystitis Diet.

For some basic, family-style, IC bladder-friendly recipes, see: Confident Choices®: A Cookbook for Interstitial Cystitis and Overactive Bladder

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