Companionship and Love
There is plenty of research to support that having a pet is helpful in maintaining a happier and healthier lifestyle. As indicated on the Advance Recovery Systems website: “interaction with animals is associated with several health benefits in humans. Studies have shown that owning a pet can change the body’s stress response…Owning a pet is also associated with lower cholesterol and increased physical activity…and lower rates of obesity.”
It’s no wonder that scientists, physicians, therapists, and others in the medical field are using animals to assist in treatment plans for those with behavioral and mental health conditions, as well as substance abuse disorders. Dogs seem to be the most popular animals used to help manage or treat these conditions. There is a difference between service animals and emotional support animals. According to the American Kennel Club, “service dogs have been trained to perform specific tasks for individuals, and…are usually granted access…anywhere their owner goes. Emotional support animals do not require any specific training, although owners should make sure they are well-trained in public. ESAs [Emotional Support Animals] are not [often] granted access to establishments such as restaurants or malls…”
However, those with ESAs are given some rights, such as the chance to live in otherwise non-pet-friendly housing under the Fair Housing Act, and as indicated by the U.S. Department of Transportation: “…under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)… any animal that assists persons with disabilities by providing emotional support…” is allowed on airplanes but proper documentation must be required of passengers. The pet needs to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to an individual with a disabling mental illness. A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist must determine that the presence of the animal is needed for the mental health of the patient. Sometimes these dogs are allowed in courtrooms to offer a calming presence to young children or to trauma victims; sometimes they are allowed in nursing homes to provide comfort to residents who may not have much company, and sometimes they may attend therapy sessions or group meetings in a rehabilitation center where they can help ease anxiety and depression.
Outside of medical or professional settings, emotional support dogs can still deliver many benefits to those in recovery from substance abuse disorder. ESAs often live with their owner and can serve as wonderful companions. By creating a caring relationship with an animal, individuals learn more about themselves, how to interact positively with others, how to provide and receive reciprocal affection, and how to regain a sense of purpose. This is important during the transition from a rehabilitation center to a sober living house, and especially to living independently while maintaining sobriety.
Daughter’s House is Rage Against Addiction’s first sober living house, and House Manager Karen Mackey has an emotional support dog of her own who serves as the unofficial mascot to the other residents.
How did you and Shadow end up together?
A friend in recovery told me that her dog accidentally had puppies and asked me if I wanted one. I told her no, but after I saw his picture, I quickly changed my mind.
What helped you decide to get an emotional support dog?
My life was turned upside down. Everything I knew was gone, and all I was left with was Shadow. At 3 and a half years clean, I checked myself into the psych ward because I was so overwhelmed with the changes in my life. I finally got some answers and solutions to my mental health issues and knew getting Shadow registered as my Emotional Support Animal would only help me more.
What kind of training or experiences does an emotional support dog need to qualify?
They need to know basic commands and be housebroken and obedient. They are different than a service dog, which needs a lot of training!
What type of qualifications does someone need in order to own an emotional support dog?
A diagnosis of a mental illness is required and needs to be signed off by a doctor in order to register your animal. If your dog brings you any sort of alleviation from the illness, then he can probably qualify.
Do emotional support dogs need to be certified and/or registered? If yes, where?
Yes, they need to be registered. There are many places that can do it; we went through the US Dog Registry to get Shadow’s certification.
Are there places where emotional support dogs are not allowed?
Emotional support animals are legally allowed to live anywhere with you, even places with “no pets” as a part of their lease. They are allowed to fly with you, in the cabin of the plane. They are not service animals, so they are not allowed in public places that don’t already allow dogs in general.
How has Shadow helped you?
Shadow has helped me in a lot of ways! When he was 3 months old, he was hit by a car in front of my house. He spent 3 days in the hospital and came home with pulmonary contusions and nerve damage in his front right shoulder. The doctors had hopes that it would fix itself, but nerves can take up to a year or more to heal. He spent 2 months dragging around a dead leg before he had to have an emergency amputation because his paw was dying. Through all of that, in his short tiny life, he was the happiest puppy. His loving and caring nature never once dimmed. He’s shown me what real perseverance is. He’s shown me patience. He has always had a special connection with me, and it’s only deepened as we’ve gone through life’s difficulties together.
What advice do you have for someone who is not at all familiar with the need for such a special service?
Definitely look into it! I couldn’t imagine going through the changes in my life I’m going through now without Shadow by my side! Remain open-minded that the calming nature of a dog can truly help you live a more peaceful life.
Please visit the U.S Dog Registry to find out more information about Emotional Support Dogs.
We Do Recover
I am writing about my brother because I am so proud of him. He recently celebrated 4 years of sobriety after a 15-year war with alcohol addiction. We were very close growing up. He is 2 years older than me but we had many of the same friends and experiences as kids and young teens. When he left for college, I was starting my junior year of high school so I expected we’d grow apart.
The few times he came home though, he seemed withdrawn and we chalked it up to the stress of starting college. It wasn’t until a whole year later that we realized he had a problem. He showed up belligerent, intoxicated and looking terrible. He argued with our mom and punched a hole in the wall because she asked him to stay for dinner. He left in a fury but returned about 2 days later, still looking and acting the same. I could see that his eyes lost their happiness. The guy in front of us was my brother but was not him at the same time.
After a really rough time at home, he went back to college and didn’t come home for another 6 months. When he showed up again, he looked even worse. After many arguments, he admitted to us that he drank every night, sometimes alone and often times with friends. He dropped 2 of his classes and was barely hanging on to the other 2, and he had been through 3 jobs. He was arrested 5 times for driving while drunk (I don’t know why he didn’t spend much time in jail for this) and his license was suspended. He wasn’t living in a dorm-like we thought; he was bouncing between friends’ houses instead and at one point, lived on the street. We were all shocked at how quickly this happened but we remembered that alcoholism ran in our family; my father’s cousin is still struggling with it and his uncle died from liver complications due to drinking for 40 years straight.
Long story short: it took Jasen 3 stints in rehab for it to finally stick. He found a sponsor, a therapist, and support meetings after he completed his first “graduation” (at rehab #3). He religiously attends many meetings a week, speaks with his sponsor on a regular basis, and attends therapy sessions once a week. He currently cannot go anywhere where there is alcohol. And he lives with our parents. He hopes to get a place of his own soon. I see how my brother perseveres each day to live his best life. It’s not easy. But he wakes up each day, has a job he loves, and is thinking about going back to college. His sobriety may be hard work most days but it’s given him back to us. He looks so handsome, and that awful belligerence is gone, and in its place is the carefree, smart, goofy, athletic, and kind man that was behind it all along. I pray for him each night; I ask God to keep him on the right track because I love him so very much.
Written by: Jessie (DelVey) Kennen (Oakland, MD)
*Please be aware that some policies, locations, programs, and contact information have changed due to COVID-19 protocols. Maryland’s current orders by Governor Hogan are located here. *
Ashley Addiction Treatment: An inpatient treatment center that personalizes clinical programs based on individual needs. Located in Havre De Grace, MD. Please visit here or call 800-799-4673 for information about online and in-person meeting services.
Celebrate Recovery: a local support group for those with addictive behaviors. Located in Bel Air, MD, and Joppa, MD. *Online meetings are still available.*
- Mt. Zion Church in Bel Air, MD: Please contact email@example.com.
- Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, MD: Please register here to join.
- (Postponed: The group is usually held at Mt. Zion Church at 5:45 pm on Thursdays and at Mountain Christian Church at 6 pm on Fridays.)
GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing): A local support group for those who have lost someone to addiction. Located in Bel Air, MD. *Online meetings are still available.*
- Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- (Postponed: The group usually meets at 7 pm on the 2nd Wednesday of every month at Mt. Zion Church in Bel Air, MD.)
- The private national Facebook group is still available. Please visit here to ask to join.
The Klein Family Harford Crisis Center: A clinic that provides immediate care for mental health and addiction. Located in Bel Air, MD. Please visit here or call 410-874-0711 for information about online and in-person meeting services.
Loving An Addict: A local support group for family and friends of those in active addiction. *Online meetings are still available.*
- Please contact email@example.com for more information.
- (Postponed: The group usually meets every Saturday at 7 pm at Mt. Zion Church in Bel Air, MD.)
Psychology Today: A national online database of mental health-related articles and of therapists listed by state. Please visit here to search in your area.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services national online database of mental and behavioral health, addiction, and veteran’s treatment centers listed by state. Please visit here to search for services in your community.
We serve locally but think globally. For counseling, or for addiction, substance abuse disorder, or mental illness treatment, please contact your area’s health department, county government, hospital, or law enforcement agency.
Rage Against Addiction Programs
Daughter’s House: A local sober living house designed to assist women who are transitioning from substance abuse treatment. Click here to visit the Facebook page.
HALO (How to Live Without Our Addicted Loved One): An online grief support group. Click here to ask to join the private Facebook page.
RAA ABC (After Baby Care): A program that provides newborn-care items to mothers in recovery. Please send monetary donations to:
Rage Against Addiction (Rage ABC)
P.O. Box 1
Forest Hill, MD 21050
Rage Club: A program offered for children who are touched by substance abuse disorder. Click here for future events.
Rage Against Addiction Team
Wendy Beck Messner
Founder and Executive Director
Chairman of the Board of Directors
Recovery Coach and Daughter’s House Program Director
Family and Recovery Resources and Support
Rage Against Addiction
P.O. Box 1
Forest Hill, MD 21050