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Why My Emotional Support Animal Is Not Simply a Cat

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When most people think of treatment for a mental illness, they automatically think of the various forms of medication doctors prescribe. This is what society has taught the world to expect, that this is the only means of treatment to help “fix” those who have a mental illness. But this isn’t the case.

My whole life I have struggled with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) before also becoming depressed during my sophomore year of high school — though it steadily grew worse until three years later when I found myself having suicidal thoughts. I was on medication and had been talking with people, both medical professionals as well as friends who had been in similar situations as me. However, it was the beginning of my sophomore year of college that I truly found myself finding a way to get help.

A week before my sophomore year of college started, I received an email from my new RA, a girl I had befriended that past year, alerting all her residents that she would be having an emotional support animal living with her in her dorm that year. I was confused by the term. I knew my friend had her own problems with mental illness, but never had I heard the term “emotional support animal.” When I thought of animals and health problems, I only thought of dogs that would help guide those who were blind or dogs I had seen assisting people with other disabilities. Animals to help those with metal illness never crossed my mind.

Going into that school year, I started talking with my friend, hanging around her room with her and her young dog. Over the first month or so, I started noticing a difference in myself that I felt my medication had never provided me with. I stopped struggling to stay awake as much during the day and I actually wanted to hang out with my friends and socialize, going out to dinner rather than just skipping meals to simply lay in bed. I found myself feeling more alive than I had in over a year.

So I started to do more research into my university’s policies while also starting to volunteer at a few local animal shelters, spending as much time with those animals as I could. My friend had told me her dog had been bred specifically for the purpose of being someone’s support animal, so I started to think that had to be the case with all emotional support animals. However, that wasn’t the case.

I learned for an emotional support animal, it could any animal — it could be one I simply adopted from a shelter, no training at all. As I volunteered with the animals at the shelters, I found myself always being at my best in the days following those trips, always eager to return once the “high” I received from the animals started to wear off. In particular, there was one cat at one of the shelters I found myself bonding with, a young orange tabby named Bullet.

While he was often referred to as “moody” by my friends that volunteered, I found him to be sweet, always coming over and sitting in my lap as soon as I entered the room he was kept in. This became more common when I found myself more anxious, whether it was from an upcoming exam or a family issue that had arisen — this being common since I was hours away from any of my family.

This is when I started to reach out to my university’s student accessibility services office, trying to learn the process I would need to undergo to be able to have an emotional support animal with me in the dorm. I wanted to be able to adopt Bullet, to be able to take him with me to my college dorm, to be able to have him there when I was anxious or depressed, on those days I didn’t even want to get out of bed. Sadly, issues with my doctor arose, making it impossible for me to adopt Bullet.

I lost hope of being able to find another cat or dog I could connect with as well as Bullet. Soon enough summer break began and I had given up any chance of being able to have an emotional support animal, believing I would have to just continue my volunteer work every other week. However, that all changed after my grandmother and I took a trip to the local animal shelter back home.

There I ended up meeting a small two month old kitten, amongst other cats of various ages. While my grandmother and I played with several other cats in the shelter, the small black and white kitten caught my eye, trying to get me through the bars of her cage. So, I got her out and later that day I found myself adopting and naming her Meeko, finding her curious personality similar to that of the raccoon sidekick in the Disney classic, “Pocahontas.”

That first night I had Meeko I found myself stressed, having found myself facing issues with my financial aid for the upcoming school year. I felt like pulling out my hair when she jumped into my lap and laid down on my keyboard, refusing to move until I was relaxed. For nearly twenty minutes, Meeko stayed put and helped me calm down and relax, seeming to wipe away the stress that had been weighing down on me for weeks.

While in my experience, medication and therapy had done little to nothing to help me deal with my anxiety and depression, Meeko’s presence had done so much for me within just the first day of having her. This positive and comforting effect only grows with every passing day since I brought her into my life. While some of my friends and family look at her and only see a kitten, I look at her and see a friend, someone who truly seems to understand me. She’s not simply a pet, but an emotional support animal — or as I prefer to call her: the key to my life.

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Photo via contributor.

Originally published: July 11, 2017
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