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Is Your Pet an Emotional Support Companion Animal?

Pearl - providing emotional support to one of our many houseplants (in the form of an expert leaf trim).
Pearl – providing emotional support to one of our many houseplants (in the form of an expert leaf trim).

I can answer this question on my own behalf – YES. and YES.

My 15-year-old parrot, Pearl, and my nearly-2-year-old tortoise, Malti, are two members of my closest support circle.

I work from home, and guess who shares my tiny office with me (it is actually more “their” office that I share with them!).

They come with me to most family events and all Sunday brunches at my folks’ house (where they are pampered and spoiled while I occupy myself by doing the brunch dishes and documenting each occasion with multiple cute photos).

Malti - providing emotional support by displaying "cuteness" while basking on the realistic "grass" rug her grandma bought her.
Malti – providing emotional support by displaying “cuteness” while basking on the realistic “grass” rug her grandma bought her.

In fact, in pondering this question further, I can honestly say Pearl and Malti are vital – essential – in terms of their ability to keep me on an even keel in what often feels like a very uneven-feeling world.

Recently my brother and sister-in-law launched a crowdfunding effort to assist with training a service dog for my three-year-old nephew, FuMing. As it turns out, this is not an easy or cheap undertaking, especially if the child in question is under the age of 12. Tree House Puppies discussed in one of their posts the best dog breeds that would fit the needs of each individual. If you are looking to get one you should definitely read their guide.

So here (and as my perhaps all-time favorite article on the topic clearly details) there is a different between a trained service animal (usually a dog) and a registered emotional support animal, or ESA.

There are many differences.

I think the most critical difference is the training aspect. I learned that service animals have to be formally trained and certified to have that title. In fact, many who go through the process don’t make the final cut (I found this out when a friend of mine volunteered to train a candidate dog for a year, then was able to adopt him when he didn’t qualify in the final round). Learn more about emotional support animal registration in Florida

Emotional support animals, on the other hand, go through no formal training process at the moment. The process to register an animal as an ESA basically involves two parts: a) stating you have an emotional issue or need, and b) forking over some cash. 

Having said that, I would not register Pearl as an ESA, because Pearl reacts to any change in situation or environment with the kind of crazed shrieking that would be described as “colic” in a human child. He – like his mommy – is a homebody at heart, so his job is providing “in home emotional support.”

Malti, on the other hand, is silent – and I mean silent. Tortoises don’t really make sounds, which has its pros and cons. But she is very curious and adventurous and actually enjoys going on outings with me, which will only increase more as she gets older and more confident.

Malti is also surprisingly cuddly for a tortoise. She likes having her shell ridges lightly scratched and soft neck skin stroked. She often seeks me out to play “tortoise tunnels,” where she will head-butt my legs/feet/booty when she wants me to raise the selected area so she can pass by. I know she enjoys this interaction because she sometimes chooses to play with me even when she has a whole yard to explore.

So Malti is a good candidate as an ESA registrant for me, especially in how her presence helps ease the anxiety my introverted nature sometimes causes in more crowded social situations (or any social situations, really).

Today’s Takeaway: What do you think about the service animal versus ESA debate? Is there an animal in your life that you feel qualifies as providing you with significant assistance or emotional support? If yes, would you consider registering that animal as an ESA? 



Is Your Pet an Emotional Support Companion Animal?

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). Is Your Pet an Emotional Support Companion Animal?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 19, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Oct 2019
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