Sunday, January 8, 2012

Emotional Support Animals (aka Tuttle gets a cat :))

This post I've been meaning to write up for the past week and have been being distracted from it every time I go to start. The distraction is rather straight-forward - she's 11 pounds, just over a year old, and a brown tabby :).

Earlier this year, I heard about Emotional Support Animals, since that point jonored and I had been looking into the possibility of me getting an ESA. When I was younger I functioned far better in many ways because of the pets. When I went to college, me not having a pet had a huge affect on me. My inability to identify my own emotions suddenly because far more of an issue; not knowing when I'm slightly upset means that its far more likely to hit very upset. Stress has started affecting me far more. I've been having many more meltdowns and shutdowns. I have been getting even more needy with attention from jonored because of being lonely with others not having time for me (as they actually do things like work and I'm still unemployed and am unable to drive.)

So, I started researching ESAs. Animals often help the people they are around, even by just be there and acting the way they normally do. Emotional Support Animals are animals which reduce the impact of their person's disability by acting as a pet does, rather than requiring special training like a service dog does. Rather than going out in public like a service dog, they stay at home, and only have rights when it comes to housing, flying on airplanes, and possibly a few other very specific situations.

The main right than an ESA has is that they are allowed in pet-free housing (or if there is a fee to have a pet the fee must be waived). How this works is rather straightforward. A physician or licensed mental health worker must write a letter for the disabled person stating that the person is disabled and should have a cat, dog, or whatever sort of animal in order to help with their disability. This allows for the request of letting this person have their ESA with them be a request for accommodation. As long as its a reasonable accommodation, (so you can't have a dog that barks all night and keeps everyone else up), then denying the accommodation is discriminating against the disabled, which is illegal. (However, the person is fully responsible for keeping the animal well behaved and all damages that it does).

This does require the person to be disabled. This can't be used to let a random person take their pet into an apartment that doesn't allow pets. Simply someone having an anxiety or depression diagnosis isn't even enough, because its built around the person being disabled, not simply having an impairment. However for those of us who are disabled it can mean a lot.

So, we went through this and talked to my doctor and she'll write up letters whenever I need her to. She specifically has stated on multiple occasions that she thinks I should have a cat.

On December 31st, we got me a cat. We'd been looking at a kitten the week before but found out we'd not be able to get it, then went and looked at the local cat shelter, and ended up coming home with a kitty.

She's a nice cat. Just over a year old, very playful, very alert, and surprisingly good at learning not to scratch things or not to sit on my computer (though she's still working on those). She also is crazy in certain manners like how she'll meow at you to come and stand in the kitchen with her so she doesn't have to be alone in the room while she eats. We named her Kitty Ada after Ada Lovelace (Kitty is her title, in place of Lady)

We've definitely already seen situations that she's helped me. If either of us are upset she comes up and meows very clearly saying "You're supposed to be petting me, not moping, cheer up and pet me already."

She also helps me regulate my emotions and identify when I'm upset. When I'm upset she'll come up to me, and her being there helps me not become more upset. In these situations I'm unable to go out of my way to try to regulate my own emotions because she's identifying them before I am.

However, probably the most relevant situation, is that she has already shown that she can prevent meltdowns. I get depressive meltdowns - didn't when I was younger but between not having animals around and dealing with much higher stress I started getting these. I also get shutdowns. Despite the fact that shutdowns tend to last longer than meltdowns, I find them easier to deal with. I was faced with something that is a huge meltdown trigger for me and managed to hold it off until I was around Ada. I sat down and she came up next to me and I started petting her. Somehow she managed to cause me to disassociate in a positive way, externalize my being upset, and just have me sitting there thinking "I have a kitty." I also lost speech for 3 hours, but I didn't have any sobbing fit. It was very good of her.

I'm definitely glad we went through and got me a cat. Some things will be harder now, but she's definitely helping me as well.

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