Emotional Support Dog

Emotional Support Dogs Australia - The Complete Guide

Every dog owner can agree that there’s something satisfying about sharing a life with a dog. They aren’t called a human’s best friend for no reason.

But for people with certain mental conditions, they can be even more than that. Dogs can provide them comfort and help to deal with challenges they face on an everyday basis. These dogs are emotional support dogs, and to find out how your pooch can become one if you’re living in Australia, read on!

Two emotional support dogs wearing vests

Are Emotional Support Dogs And Assistance Dogs The Same?

Before we get into emotional support dog registration in Australia, let’s tackle another term regarding dogs that aid humans with certain disabilities, which is an assistance dog. While emotional support dogs and assistance dogs both help humans deal with everyday struggles, they’re not the same.

An assistance dog is a dog that has gone through EXTENSIVE training to assist a person with a disability. Their rights and roles are defined by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

Assistance animals are not pets. Rather, they help a person with a disability to participate in everyday activities. For people with sight conditions, these dogs are often called “guide dogs.” But, assistance animals can be trained for other roles, too. For instance, they can aid people with hearing impairments, physical disabilities, medical conditions such as epilepsy or diabetes, as well as mental disorders such as anxiety, PTSD and suicidal attempts. They also need to meet certain hygiene and behavioural standards.

Emotional support animals aren’t recognized by Australian law, so the definition is rather vague (1). These animals provide emotional support to a person through different mental conditions, but they’re not trained to do that (2). Instead, their pure presence provides comfort and company.

“For someone with depression, having a support animal can give the person hope and a sense of purpose,” - Jessy Warner-Cohen, PhD, MPH, health psychologist,Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

In practice, assistance and emotional support animals differ by their public access rights. This means that assistance animals can go to different public places and forms of transportation. Their owners need their aid in these places and denying them these rights would be discrimination.

Owners of emotional support animals, on the other hand, don’t have such rights. An emotional support dog is considered just a companion dog in Australia. And while the support they provide can be crucial for a person’s ability to properly function from day to day, they’re not trained for the job. For that reason, they’re not granted access to public spaces and transport.


How To Make My Dog An Emotional Support Dog In Australia?

You may be wondering “how can I register my dog as a companion dog?” Well, considering that emotional support dogs aren’t recognized by law, there are no registrations or other kinds of certification. Basically, they’re treated as any other pet, and as such, usually can’t go to places other assistance dogs can. But, you may be granted access with your emotional support pooch to certain places, and here’s how.

Understand The Benefits Of An Emotional Support Dog

Just because the law doesn’t recognise emotional support animals, it doesn’t mean their benefits are negligible. Just their presence can help people dealing with physical or mental disorders cope with their everyday life.

However, it needs to be clear that an emotional support dog cannot be the cure to certain mental conditions. Still, it helps a long way with dissipating symptoms.

Contact A Therapist Or A Doctor

In countries like the USA, emotional support dogs are recognised by the law. However, for owners to be able to take their pooches in no-pets-allowed public places, certain regulations apply. First, an owner must have a mental disability that is certified by a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional. Then, they need a letter from that professional, stating that a dog, or any other animal for that matter, can help alleviate one or more symptoms they’re experiencing due to their disability.

As you already know, there are no laws that regulate having an emotional support dog in Australia. In other words, no-pets-allowed rules apply to your companion too. You can’t take them on public transport, to a restaurant, hotel or hospital. Then, there are also no-pets-allowed housings.

But don’t get discouraged too soon. Just because these places aren’t legally obliged to allow you to take your pet there, it doesn’t mean they won’t. In fact, there’s a good chance they’ll be willing to meet your needs. This brings us to the next point.

Get A Recommendation Letter

A recommendation letter from a licensed mental health professional plays an important role in allowing your emotional support pooch to accompany you to certain no-pets-allowed public places. One thing needs to be clear - this document has no legal effect whatsoever. It’s basically what its name says it is, a recommendation. Still, these letters are often considered good enough proof for having an emotional support dog by your side.

This kind of recommendation letter is usually written by psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. While your family physician could potentially write this letter, mental health experts are a better choice, for two reasons.

The first reason is that they have a good insight into your condition. They’re specialized in mental health and can understand better your needs, including those of having an emotional support pet.

Secondly, because animal-assisted therapy is a form of psychotherapy treatment. That’s not to say your family doctor couldn’t know about this kind of therapy. But in general, mental health professionals are more acquainted with the matter.

Use Your Letter

Having a recommendation letter won’t automatically allow your pooch to go to certain public spaces. To avoid awkward situations, you should always request access to these places, by phone or mail.

Related: Service Dog Vests Australia.


Benefits Of Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals are more than just pets. Their connection with humans provides different benefits, to both mind and body.

Lower Stress Level

Some studies have shown that interacting with animals can decrease cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress-related hormone produced by adrenal glands. Among other things, it manages how your body uses different nutrients, regulates blood pressure and boosts energy levels.

Mental Health Improvement

Holding and petting a dog makes people feel less lonely and anxious. And not just that. Taking care of an animal gives people a sense of purpose, as they’re caring for someone that depends on them (3). This is especially helpful for those with mental illness. Caring for an animal companion keeps their mind off those things that make them anxious. Plus, it motivates them to go out and stay active.

Increased Physical Activity

Mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, often hold people back from doing physical activities. It’s hard to not get out of bed in the morning when your pooch is waiting for a stroll around the neighbourhood. And as you probably know, physical activity bumps up the production of endorphins in your brain.

Decreases Feelings Of Isolation

People cope with illnesses in different ways. Often, it makes them feel alone. Luckily, emotional support animals can help. They can’t respond, but they prove to be pretty good listeners. They stand by your side, no matter what.


Final Thoughts

Under Australian law, emotional support animals are considered pets. They don’t need to meet any set standards, but for the same reason, they don’t have legal rights other types of service animals do.

Yet, the support they provide is undeniable. They help people coping with mental conditions to take part in everyday activities and live their lives like everyone else. For that reason, we can only hope Australian legislation will see the need to protect the rights of emotional support dogs and their owners.

FAQ

Can you pet an emotional support dog?

Yes, you can. In fact, behaviours like cuddling and petting are what helps with reducing negative symptoms of a mental disability. On the other hand, assistance dogs should never be pet, as touch is a way of distraction that can prevent them from aiding their human. The same goes for talking or making sounds at the dog.

Where is an emotional support dog allowed?

Considering that emotional support dogs are characterized as pets, you can take them places where other pets are allowed, too. For other locations, like hotels, malls or other places with a “no pets” policy, you can apply for access by enclosing a recommendation letter.

Is there a breed restriction for emotional support dogs?

Any dog can become an emotional support dog, regardless of breed, size or age. In fact, emotional support animals aren’t limited to dogs either. Almost all types of domesticated animals can serve as emotional support animals, cats, mice, birds, horses, hamsters etc. But, if taken to public places, the animal must be easily managed and not harmful to other people.

References
  1. April 22, 2017“ Are ESAs Protected In Australia?” Emotional Support Animals CO. https://www.emotionalsupportanimalco.com/blog/are-esas-protected-in-australia/
  2. Gibeault, S. February 24, 2021. “Everything You Need to Know About Emotional Support Animals” American Kennel Club. Retrieved July 10, 2021. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/everything-about-emotional-support-animals/
  3. Mammoser, G. September 4, 2018. “What Do Emotional Support Animals Do Exactly? For Those in Need, A Lot” Healthline. Retrieved July 10, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/what-do-emotional-support-animals-do-for-those-in-need
Vedrana Nikolic

Vedrana Nikolić is a professional writer, anthropologist & dog lover with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology. Currently pursuing a Masters degree in Semiotics studying the communication between animals and humans. Vedrana is able to use her expertise to analyse and review dog products and write informative posts on canine behaviour and training.

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