By Howard Chusid, Ed.D, LMHC, NCC
Over the years of practicing Counseling Psychology, I have been asked to write letters in support of patients maintaining an animal in a condominium. The laws of most condos preclude having animals, for many reasons. People are afraid, they don’t want the mess, or they are not interested in hearing the barking. However, even with all these negatives, having an animal is a comforting feeling and assists the patients in achieving a “calm,” which is desperately needed by many.
Animals have been shown in scientific studies to produce a number of good health goals in those who maintain them. This can result in lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, better mental health, decrease in anxiety and depression maladies, decrease in stress, in post traumatic stress, in personality disorders, phobias, etc. An animal can give humans so much more than just companionship. All around emotional/mental support the reason that many people have emotional support animals.
Dogs are incapable of criticizing, judging or voicing their opinions. They snuggle up next to you even if you smell like poop. Two reports describe the medical benefits of pets. According to a 2013 white paper from the American Heart Association “…owning a pet, particularly a dog or a cat, is associated with decreased cardiovascular risk factors.” The November 2015 Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research published research showing “pet therapy programs have been shown to be effective in helping improve socialization abilities, lower blood pressure, and combat loneliness.” (1)
From the perspective of the Housing Board, having an emotional service animal comes under the federal rubric of American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under ADA guidelines, in order to be considered an Emotional Support Animal, the owner must have a diagnosed psychological disability or condition, such as an anxiety or personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), ADD/HD, depression, or other mental health disabilities.
For legal purposes, emotional Service Animals (ESA’s), are considered companions offering mental emotional support, in addition to at times being trained to recognize other specific symptoms and occurrences.
Regarding ADD/HD, an Emotional Support Animal is able to provide support of a different kind. Children who suffer from ADD/HD have many kinds of physiological and mental health manifestations. So, creating an organized system works well. We can tell someone how to do it, or we can do it with them and have them follow a schedule. When it comes to animals, they need to be walked and fed on a timely basis. Therefore, we create a schedule which must be followed. Once our ADDer starts to maintain a schedule, it tends to carry over to other things, and that is what we are anticipating.
One symptom of ADD/ADHD is difficulty with staying organized and planning ahead. Adopting a dog requires the owner to maintain a schedule: the dog needs to be fed, walked and played with on a regular basis. While the idea of creating a schedule seems like a tedious task, it can actually create a pleasant distraction from the everyday stresses that work and school often cause. It could even help with memory and forgetfulness: if you forget to feed him, the pup is going to find a way to let you know! (2)
For those with the hyperactivity component, a dog provides the ability to walk, run, chase, swim, or any of the other activities that maybe applicable. My dog swims with the grandkids. They love being in the pool with the dog, and the dog appears to love all the attention. It is a symbiotic relationship; one which we all enjoy. As to the hyperactivity component, after the swim, both dog and kids are tired, the only question is who is going to sleep first. Physiologically speaking, serotonin levels increase, depression and anxiety decrease, and our children feel and interact better.
One of the benefits of having an animal is that you get “love.” A dog doesn’t scream at you for doing something that is wrong, there are no recriminations, they are happy when you come home, sad when you leave, and really do care about you. Look at the stories we read of animals who protect their owners, who save their owners at times of danger, who even protect their charges with their bodies when necessary. Dogs, in particular, are loving and caring. When children grow up with dogs, they learn not to be stingy, not to be non-caring and learn to give compassion and love to someone/thing else. Learning comes in many forms, but the best way to learn is to actually, do. Dog ownership allows a person to take the responsibility and therefore, take the chance of loving something. For children and adults with ADD/HD who grew up as the “person who never did things on time, didn’t succeed, always screwed up, never got it right,” having a dog gives them the opportunity to not only succeed, but to get love in return.
Howard Chusid, Ed.D, LMHC, NCC is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, a National Certified Counselor, and a Board Certified Professional Counselor. He also has ADD himself. Dr. Chusid is also a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family and Circuit Civil Mediator and works with divorcing couples with special needs children. http://www.Thehelpingplacefl.com