More than just your average fluffy companion

JONATHAN FROST

Guide dogs are trained to lead the blind around obstacles- this is known to many, but emotional support animals (ESA) might be a new concept to some.

An ESA is a companion that is advised by a therapist, psychologist or other medical professional to help deal with emotional, physical or mental disabilities. They have provento be extremely beneficial to people suffering from depression, anxiety,post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks. ESAs are typically dogs or cats, but are not necessarily limited to these. ESAs are not to be confused with guide dogs, however. Guide dogs require up to fourteen months of training from the age of eight weeks, and are working dogs, therefore being different to ESAs.

Helene Oosthuizen is a fourth year Fine Arts student with an emotional support dog called Lapis. Helene andLapis have been together for fivemonths, and Helene alone has been house and etiquette training Lapis,takingthetimeandeffortdoso.Helenesays her commitment to Lapis “helps her concentrate” both in class and out, learning to prioritise another’s needs before her own.

Lapis makes her less uncomfortable in social interactions and helps prevent loneliness.When asked if Helene had experienceThereis no definitive answer on how or what qualifies anybody to have anESA other than it must be ‘prescribed’ or deemed appropriate by a medical professional for the person’s particular circumstance. Lawfully in South Africa ESAs are not recognised in comparison to other countries such as the US. This means that there are nospecialised laws for ESAs specificallyand, for example, one would not be recognised in court as a valid reason for taking your dog in a ‘no pets allowed’ area. Helene had to get permission from her faculty to allow the dog to come to class with her by showing the proof of Lapis being her ESA from her therapist.

Lapis is also currently not allowed in certain campus buildings such as the Neelsie. The dog must be well socialised for obvious reasons which is entirely up to the owner of the ESA. Flying with your emotional support. A written note from a doctor or mental health professional is required by the airlines that is not more than one year old.”

Photo: Kathryn van den Berg

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