Sierra Martin

@sierra-martin-1 | contributor
I am a 26 year-old young-professional who became seriously ill my senior year of college. I have been struggling with my chronic illness, debilitating migraines, and search for a diagnosis all while attempting to move forward, going on 7 years now. It’s been a long hard journey, but I have learned much and gained significant insight into suffering with chronic illness and pain, dealing with un-supportive family and friends, and even the pros and cons of having an emotional support dog. It’s not easy; but that just means you have to look a little harder for the humor and silver linings (one of favorite songs btw!) Life will knock you down. It is just how many times you are willing to get back up, and the attitude you have with it.
Sierra Martin

The Differences Between Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs

With the increasing use of, and attention directed towards, emotional support animals on the internet and social media, there has never been a greater need to lay out the difference between emotional support dogs and service dogs. This article serves to help explain what separates the two and where we should go from here. Emotional support animals, or ESAs, and service dogs are incredibly important and useful tools for those with all kinds of disabilities. This article will mostly focus on and reference the use of dogs, as that is where most of the confusion between the two lies. Besides their titles themselves, the first key difference lies in their actual job function. A service dog is for those who 1) require assistance with doing a certain activity; and / or 2) must be alerted to an illness such as diabetes, seizures, and more. In contrast, an emotional support animal does as its name implies, providing a calming influence, comfort and joy. Those who have emotional support animals do not necessarily have a mental illness; however, it is perhaps one of the biggest assumptions attached to emotional support animals. Many people with ESAs have chronic illness and chronic pain, something which can be difficult to deal with, and may contribute to depression. This leads to the second point, which is the stigma sometimes attached to the owners. People with service dogs, especially those with a visible disability, are usually viewed as legitimate handlers with “real” health issues. However, owners of emotional support animals are often seen as fakers or using it for free pet airfare, looping back to the constant misconceptions of mental vs. physical illness. The third area where we can see the differences in treatment is the rights of the animals and owners. Only a few rights apply to both ESAs and service dogs. These are 1) the protection clause under the Fair Housing Act, which allows them to have their animal in no-pets housing, provided they have the proper documentation; 2) the animal may fly for free on airlines, provided they have documentation present and can behave properly. Service dogs, by contrast, are allowed anywhere with their handlers, including restaurants, stores, public transportation and any businesses, and may not be asked to provide identification. The fourth difference is how a person obtains an emotional support dog or service dog. In the United States, there are no national government registries for either emotional support animals or service dogs, and any that claim to be are scams. However, many organizations and businesses will provide their own documentation for you, or accessories such as vests, leads, and patches for both ESAs and service dogs. There is only one way to legally and officially acquire the documentation for an emotional support animal — a letter from either your doctor or psychologist stating your need for the emotional support animal. The animal can be one you already own or have access to. The animal should have basic obedience and behave properly when in public. If the animal is a dog, the most common and easiest way of having proof of this level of obedience is by passing a Canine Good Citizen test. It is also possible to get a trained emotional support dog, but they are not as common and can be expensive to find, usually with a waiting list. For service dogs, most training organizations require a doctor’s letter stating your need for a service dog. Medical documentation is also required for no-pets rental housing and air travel, but other businesses cannot require it. The most common way to get a service dog is by finding one from a group or organization who has already trained one. This may involve high costs and/or a waiting list. Some people with dog training experience choose to train their own service dogs; these dogs have the same access as those trained by an organization. Sierra and Rose. I am thankful that my experience has been much more pleasant and easier than many others. Thanks to the encouragement of my doctors and therapist, I got a puppy that I have been training as a support dog, as well as a possible service dog in training. As of now we don’t know what my health is going to bring, and we still don’t even know my full diagnosis, but there is a high probability of me needing a service dog in the future. I worked for a professional dog handler and taught advanced obedience to our 4-H dog project participants for many years. The end result of this “experiment” has been incredible. She has just turned a year old, and is already fairly advanced in her obedience, and is a wonderful support dog. She is almost always by my side, my little shadow, constantly watching me to make sure I am OK. She has incredible instincts and always knows when I am upset, if I am not feeling well or if I am in pain. She is a living embodiment of the saying “man’s best friend,” and I honestly don’t know what I would do without her. After getting Rose, I have become more attuned to the world of disabilities, accessibility, judgments, and of course emotional support animals and service dogs. To my surprise and sadness, I discovered that a lot of the judgment of emotional support dogs was coming right from our own disability community. With the recent increase of people  abusing the system so their pets can fly for free, or to get out of pet fees for housing, there needs to be more accountability. Additionally, we as a community need to be more supportive of service dogs and emotional support animals. Those who need them are dealing with a variety of issues, many of which we can’t see, and to pass judgment is exactly what we ask those around us not to do to us. Emotional support animals are an incredible and amazing tool we should be utilizing to help people, but we can’t begin to do that unless we start embracing them more and stop judging them so much. Emotional support dogs are not service dogs, and we need to continue to separate the two. Nevertheless, service dogs and emotional support animals are critical issues which need to examined and discussed more. The question remains, who else is willing to speak up about this? For more information: What are the differences between a service dog, an emotional support animal and a therapy dog? Frequently Asked Questions About Service Animals and the ADA We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by contributor.

Sierra Martin

The Differences Between Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs

With the increasing use of, and attention directed towards, emotional support animals on the internet and social media, there has never been a greater need to lay out the difference between emotional support dogs and service dogs. This article serves to help explain what separates the two and where we should go from here. Emotional support animals, or ESAs, and service dogs are incredibly important and useful tools for those with all kinds of disabilities. This article will mostly focus on and reference the use of dogs, as that is where most of the confusion between the two lies. Besides their titles themselves, the first key difference lies in their actual job function. A service dog is for those who 1) require assistance with doing a certain activity; and / or 2) must be alerted to an illness such as diabetes, seizures, and more. In contrast, an emotional support animal does as its name implies, providing a calming influence, comfort and joy. Those who have emotional support animals do not necessarily have a mental illness; however, it is perhaps one of the biggest assumptions attached to emotional support animals. Many people with ESAs have chronic illness and chronic pain, something which can be difficult to deal with, and may contribute to depression. This leads to the second point, which is the stigma sometimes attached to the owners. People with service dogs, especially those with a visible disability, are usually viewed as legitimate handlers with “real” health issues. However, owners of emotional support animals are often seen as fakers or using it for free pet airfare, looping back to the constant misconceptions of mental vs. physical illness. The third area where we can see the differences in treatment is the rights of the animals and owners. Only a few rights apply to both ESAs and service dogs. These are 1) the protection clause under the Fair Housing Act, which allows them to have their animal in no-pets housing, provided they have the proper documentation; 2) the animal may fly for free on airlines, provided they have documentation present and can behave properly. Service dogs, by contrast, are allowed anywhere with their handlers, including restaurants, stores, public transportation and any businesses, and may not be asked to provide identification. The fourth difference is how a person obtains an emotional support dog or service dog. In the United States, there are no national government registries for either emotional support animals or service dogs, and any that claim to be are scams. However, many organizations and businesses will provide their own documentation for you, or accessories such as vests, leads, and patches for both ESAs and service dogs. There is only one way to legally and officially acquire the documentation for an emotional support animal — a letter from either your doctor or psychologist stating your need for the emotional support animal. The animal can be one you already own or have access to. The animal should have basic obedience and behave properly when in public. If the animal is a dog, the most common and easiest way of having proof of this level of obedience is by passing a Canine Good Citizen test. It is also possible to get a trained emotional support dog, but they are not as common and can be expensive to find, usually with a waiting list. For service dogs, most training organizations require a doctor’s letter stating your need for a service dog. Medical documentation is also required for no-pets rental housing and air travel, but other businesses cannot require it. The most common way to get a service dog is by finding one from a group or organization who has already trained one. This may involve high costs and/or a waiting list. Some people with dog training experience choose to train their own service dogs; these dogs have the same access as those trained by an organization. Sierra and Rose. I am thankful that my experience has been much more pleasant and easier than many others. Thanks to the encouragement of my doctors and therapist, I got a puppy that I have been training as a support dog, as well as a possible service dog in training. As of now we don’t know what my health is going to bring, and we still don’t even know my full diagnosis, but there is a high probability of me needing a service dog in the future. I worked for a professional dog handler and taught advanced obedience to our 4-H dog project participants for many years. The end result of this “experiment” has been incredible. She has just turned a year old, and is already fairly advanced in her obedience, and is a wonderful support dog. She is almost always by my side, my little shadow, constantly watching me to make sure I am OK. She has incredible instincts and always knows when I am upset, if I am not feeling well or if I am in pain. She is a living embodiment of the saying “man’s best friend,” and I honestly don’t know what I would do without her. After getting Rose, I have become more attuned to the world of disabilities, accessibility, judgments, and of course emotional support animals and service dogs. To my surprise and sadness, I discovered that a lot of the judgment of emotional support dogs was coming right from our own disability community. With the recent increase of people  abusing the system so their pets can fly for free, or to get out of pet fees for housing, there needs to be more accountability. Additionally, we as a community need to be more supportive of service dogs and emotional support animals. Those who need them are dealing with a variety of issues, many of which we can’t see, and to pass judgment is exactly what we ask those around us not to do to us. Emotional support animals are an incredible and amazing tool we should be utilizing to help people, but we can’t begin to do that unless we start embracing them more and stop judging them so much. Emotional support dogs are not service dogs, and we need to continue to separate the two. Nevertheless, service dogs and emotional support animals are critical issues which need to examined and discussed more. The question remains, who else is willing to speak up about this? For more information: What are the differences between a service dog, an emotional support animal and a therapy dog? Frequently Asked Questions About Service Animals and the ADA We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by contributor.

Sierra Martin

The Differences Between Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs

With the increasing use of, and attention directed towards, emotional support animals on the internet and social media, there has never been a greater need to lay out the difference between emotional support dogs and service dogs. This article serves to help explain what separates the two and where we should go from here. Emotional support animals, or ESAs, and service dogs are incredibly important and useful tools for those with all kinds of disabilities. This article will mostly focus on and reference the use of dogs, as that is where most of the confusion between the two lies. Besides their titles themselves, the first key difference lies in their actual job function. A service dog is for those who 1) require assistance with doing a certain activity; and / or 2) must be alerted to an illness such as diabetes, seizures, and more. In contrast, an emotional support animal does as its name implies, providing a calming influence, comfort and joy. Those who have emotional support animals do not necessarily have a mental illness; however, it is perhaps one of the biggest assumptions attached to emotional support animals. Many people with ESAs have chronic illness and chronic pain, something which can be difficult to deal with, and may contribute to depression. This leads to the second point, which is the stigma sometimes attached to the owners. People with service dogs, especially those with a visible disability, are usually viewed as legitimate handlers with “real” health issues. However, owners of emotional support animals are often seen as fakers or using it for free pet airfare, looping back to the constant misconceptions of mental vs. physical illness. The third area where we can see the differences in treatment is the rights of the animals and owners. Only a few rights apply to both ESAs and service dogs. These are 1) the protection clause under the Fair Housing Act, which allows them to have their animal in no-pets housing, provided they have the proper documentation; 2) the animal may fly for free on airlines, provided they have documentation present and can behave properly. Service dogs, by contrast, are allowed anywhere with their handlers, including restaurants, stores, public transportation and any businesses, and may not be asked to provide identification. The fourth difference is how a person obtains an emotional support dog or service dog. In the United States, there are no national government registries for either emotional support animals or service dogs, and any that claim to be are scams. However, many organizations and businesses will provide their own documentation for you, or accessories such as vests, leads, and patches for both ESAs and service dogs. There is only one way to legally and officially acquire the documentation for an emotional support animal — a letter from either your doctor or psychologist stating your need for the emotional support animal. The animal can be one you already own or have access to. The animal should have basic obedience and behave properly when in public. If the animal is a dog, the most common and easiest way of having proof of this level of obedience is by passing a Canine Good Citizen test. It is also possible to get a trained emotional support dog, but they are not as common and can be expensive to find, usually with a waiting list. For service dogs, most training organizations require a doctor’s letter stating your need for a service dog. Medical documentation is also required for no-pets rental housing and air travel, but other businesses cannot require it. The most common way to get a service dog is by finding one from a group or organization who has already trained one. This may involve high costs and/or a waiting list. Some people with dog training experience choose to train their own service dogs; these dogs have the same access as those trained by an organization. Sierra and Rose. I am thankful that my experience has been much more pleasant and easier than many others. Thanks to the encouragement of my doctors and therapist, I got a puppy that I have been training as a support dog, as well as a possible service dog in training. As of now we don’t know what my health is going to bring, and we still don’t even know my full diagnosis, but there is a high probability of me needing a service dog in the future. I worked for a professional dog handler and taught advanced obedience to our 4-H dog project participants for many years. The end result of this “experiment” has been incredible. She has just turned a year old, and is already fairly advanced in her obedience, and is a wonderful support dog. She is almost always by my side, my little shadow, constantly watching me to make sure I am OK. She has incredible instincts and always knows when I am upset, if I am not feeling well or if I am in pain. She is a living embodiment of the saying “man’s best friend,” and I honestly don’t know what I would do without her. After getting Rose, I have become more attuned to the world of disabilities, accessibility, judgments, and of course emotional support animals and service dogs. To my surprise and sadness, I discovered that a lot of the judgment of emotional support dogs was coming right from our own disability community. With the recent increase of people  abusing the system so their pets can fly for free, or to get out of pet fees for housing, there needs to be more accountability. Additionally, we as a community need to be more supportive of service dogs and emotional support animals. Those who need them are dealing with a variety of issues, many of which we can’t see, and to pass judgment is exactly what we ask those around us not to do to us. Emotional support animals are an incredible and amazing tool we should be utilizing to help people, but we can’t begin to do that unless we start embracing them more and stop judging them so much. Emotional support dogs are not service dogs, and we need to continue to separate the two. Nevertheless, service dogs and emotional support animals are critical issues which need to examined and discussed more. The question remains, who else is willing to speak up about this? For more information: What are the differences between a service dog, an emotional support animal and a therapy dog? Frequently Asked Questions About Service Animals and the ADA We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by contributor.

Sierra Martin

Why It's OK That I Need an Emotional Support Animal

In my experience, there are a lot of misconceptions and judgments made about having support dogs. Personally, I constantly have to deal with this, but it has taught me a lot. At the end of the day, though, it is worth it and more. In the weeks leading up to getting my little girl, I had been consistently getting worse health-wise, and I was beginning to spiral into depression. I was in a constant cycle of enormous pain, little to no sleep, using work to distract myself, and stressed from trying to keep myself together. I was breaking from trying to be strong and be OK. I kept questioning if getting a support dog was the right thing, as I was constantly already being judged by people, even my family and friends. My pain management therapist and doctors were encouraging me that I was making the right decision, but I was still hesitant. A week before I was scheduled to leave, I hit my seventh day of practically no sleep, a long day at the office, and just overwhelming pain. I got up from bed to go to the restroom, and my body just collapsed on the ground and I couldn’t move. I lost it. I began sobbing and wanted to scream in frustration, anger and pain. Why was this happening to me? How much longer could I do this? What was happening to me? My roommate and best friend came rushing in and just hugged me and comforted me. She listened to me and cried with me. In that moment I realized that I needed help, that I needed something to comfort me. I had so much together, but I needed something to just love me unconditionally and just comfort me, knowing when I was in pain. I knew then that I was making the right decision. I haven’t once regretted getting my little girl. There is something in the comfort and love of an animal in the midst of my pain, grief and depression that soothes my soul and gives me hope and purpose. I still get questioned and judged by family about why I chose to get her when I deal with health problems. “What if you don’t feel good and you are having trouble getting up? Who is going to take her out then?” Even if I am in pain, or light-headed, or having a migraine, getting up, making it outside, letting her go potty, coming back inside and getting back in bed — yes, it’s painful, but so rewarding. I did something! Despite my health, I managed to do something. And their gratefulness and happiness is reward enough. I know and see many people with health issues who have their animals and depend on them, but don’t necessarily call them support animals. That’s OK! The point isn’t for everyone to do so, but for those who do need to, to not be afraid to do so for fear of being judged. With people who might use “support dogs” as a scam to fly with their dogs free, or do other things, it damages our reputation and increases judgment. I constantly face that every time I try to fly, or even at my old apartment complex. I have severe health issues, and the last thing I want is to cause more issues or to draw attention. So I arrive at this catch-22 where it feels like I can’t win. Those us of who truly need a support animal might be fearful of using one for the potential attention and judgment. If there is one thing I have learned since having Rose, it’s that I have to choose what is more important: taking care of myself, or worrying about what other people think. At the end of the day, taking care of myself has won out, and I am eternally grateful that it has. There is nothing more rewarding or gratifying than having her cuddle up to me when she knows I am not feeling well, or running up to me as I am about to pass out. I may take care of her, but she takes care of me. So I encourage others to seriously look within and ask themselves what matters more: the opinion of others, or what is best for you? And if the answer is what is best for you, then perhaps having an emotional support dog is right for you too. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .