The Science Behind Having a Support Animal and How They Work

A United States Marine police officer, Sarah Smith, had an anxiety disorder that medication didn’t seem to relieve. One faithful trip to a pet store united her with an African Senegal parrot she named Zoboomafoo. As Smith and her new pet parrot clicked immediately, she discovered how beneficial and comforting having an emotional support animal can be. Smith says that her animal companion gives her a boost of confidence to get through crowded stores, drive in the rain or dark, and accompany her on flights.

The Science Behind Having a Support Animal and How They Work

The Benefits an Emotional Support Animal Can Offer

Zoboomafoo was certified to travel with Smith and be her ESA thanks to a letter from a mental health practitioner. Smith shared that her pet parrot is very intuitive and can tell when she’s feeling unsettled or about to have a panic attack. He responds by providing a distraction, sitting on her shoulder, giving kisses, and encouraging whistles until her heart rate returns to normal and her anxiety is under control. Research was published in 2018, in the BMC Psychiatry that supports what Smith and Zoboomafoo have discovered. Pets can provide a great deal of emotional support to their owners and help those with different mental health conditions.

The Science Behind Having a Support Animal and How They Work

They Are Not the Same as Service Animals

As many people started seeking emotional support from animals, it’s become necessary to formalize the process of certifying an emotional support animal. Jefferey Younggren, a psychologist and clinical professor from The University of New Mexico’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, has published research to help formalize this process. There’s a clear distinction between emotional support and service animals because service animals are trained to do specific tasks whereas emotional support animals aren’t. The rights of emotional support animals vary from state to state, but getting them certified and obtaining an ESA registration and identification card and vest is possible.

The Science Behind Having a Support Animal and How They Work

According to the National Service Animal Registry, over 200,000 animals have been registered already. The criteria includes that the pet is not a nuisance in public and that its presence alleviates the symptoms of the owner’s emotional or mental disorders.