“He does great. He doesn’t just help me, but when I have him, people have come up to me and have told me stories about how Perry reminds them of their pets, and they’ve petted him and walked away smiling. It’s a really good feeling,” shares Lo Opseth, a woman who is legally allowed to bring her furry companion almost anywhere.
Opseth is a happy owner of a six year old Shih-tzu Bichon named Perry, who is a companion to her every day while she works and runs errands. Perry is a registered Emotional Support Animal, who is legally allowed to accompany Opseth to places where they are not normally allowed, most notably on planes.
“I’ve always had high anxiety and I also grew up with dogs. My first trip without Perry was about a week and I was just really uncomfortable and irritable,” says Opseth.
Her ESA is registered mainly to help her with anxiety, especially when flying on planes.
“I know a lot of people ask me how I fly with Perry because they want to take their pet with them, but I explain that Perry is registered and there’s a lot of paperwork and requirements you have to go through. I leave it kind of vague so they can research and see if it’s really right for them,” states Opseth.
“I didn’t know there were ESAs, I thought there were only service animals,” says Opseth, who learned about ESAs when she met a guy who had an Emotional Support Animal with him.
Opseth did her own research and finally decided it was the right decision for her to register Perry as an emotional support animal.
Emotional Support Animals (or ESAs), therapeutic animals, or assistance animals are registered companions whose purpose is to provide psychiatric comfort for a mentally ill person. ESAs are not the same as service animals and do not have the same legal rights, but there are many similarities between the two. Both are legally protected to an extent and both provide assistance to someone for a specific disability.
Service animals, a term which legally only applies to dogs, can be allowed anywhere as long as the owner has proof that they are legally registered. Service animal registration also involves a specific level of individual training in order to teach the dog how to correctly help the person with a disability (almost always a physical disability) such as a blind person who might have a seeing-eye dog.
Emotional Support Animals, on the other hand, can be any domestic animal and do not require any specific training; but they are also more than pets. ESAs provide calm and comfort for one who might live with anxiety, PTSD, severe depression, or any other mental illness that is severe enough to cause an issue for the person in their everyday life.
In order to obtain legal registration for an Emotional Support Animal, you must find an ESA registration website, pay a fee, and have a “prescription” from a health professional such as a therapist or medical doctor.
Oftentimes, ESAs attend therapy sessions with their owners, but they are not allowed in pet-free buildings, with the exception of living quarters. A landlord cannot turn away a renter because of an Emotional Support Animal, and college dorms must allow students to have ESAs if they provide all the correct legal registration.
According to Opseth, most public places in Bozeman are pretty good about accommodating for ESAs. Opseth says she never brings Perry into restaurants or other large stores.
Scientists have found that ESAs can provide a lot of help for those with mental illnesses. They can help with those who are suicidal by sensing when the person is feeling suicidal and trying to comfort them and they can try to help ease anxiety attacks. They can also provide constant companionship, warmth, and even break the social barriers that people with mental illness face.
Opseth says she has experienced many of these benefits, especially when she’s on a plane or away from home.
“If I do decide to leave him home for the day, I find I’m looking over my shoulder to check on him and he’s not there and it makes my heart a little sad. Just knowing he’s there brings me comfort,” says Opseth.