Here at Darwin Dogs, we love guest blog posts! We firmly believe in sharing information, and that education is meant to be shared and utilized by us all. Regan Brown’s thoughts on companion animals is one such example.
You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.
- William S. Burroughs
Mental health care is slowly gaining ground in Western society. People are more able to openly receive the treatment they need without fear of judgment from others. Of course, we haven’t hit the point of acceptance we as a society should. People who struggle with their mental health are too often accused of faking their symptoms or lying to get what they want. One of the hottest topics for the ongoing debate about mental health care is companion animals.
A companion animal is defined as a pet that provides some form of health benefit for their owner. As these animals are considered a “prescription” of sorts, they are granted legal rights other pets may not have. For example, a companion animal has the right to live with the owner, regardless of the residence’s policies.
If you have a pet and have attempted to move to a rental home, you may have considered exploiting this companion animal policy. If you think this is an acceptable action, continue reading.
People who legitimately use a companion animal have a health concern. Most often, that concern is related to mental health though animals can certainly benefit physical health as well. These animals provide stress reduction in people with anxiety, depression, and other common mental health problems. Dog in particular are known to reduce depression, encourage physical fitness, and provide comfort when their owner is having an episode. In short, these pets are needed for the overall wellbeing of their owners.
Now let’s say you own a dog that, of course, you enjoy and would like to live with. You call up your doctor and easily acquire a tentative diagnosis for depression or anxiety which is all you need to provide your pet companion animal status. You laugh about how easy it was to work the system and spread the word to your friends.
A few of your friends in similar situations also decide to get their pets companion animal status. Then they tell their friends, pleased with this new trick. Suddenly hundreds of pets are now considered “companion animal” when in actuality their owners have no health issues whatsoever and have merely decided to utilize a law to their benefit.
A woman who suffers from severe anxiety and chronic panic attacks shows up to an apartment manager’s office, clutching a companion animal letter. Her dog stays close to her side, occasionally offering up a comforting nudge or lick. Simply entering the office and greeting a stranger already has her chest tight and palms sweaty but the presence of the dog beside her keeps her steady. The manager scoffs and accuses the woman trying to get her dog into a pet-free apartment with no good reason. The manager knows this because he’s dealt with “people like her” before.
You recline in your new apartment just a few doors down from the manager’s office. Your lease was signed a few months ago with a companion animal letter attached. You wear a smug grin for having finagled your way into this beautiful, pet-free apartment alongside your “companion animal”. He lies out on the floor, fast asleep, offering you no comfort, no depression relief, and is unlikely to spring to your side if you were to have a panic attack.
Meanwhile, outside your building, the woman and her dog have just stepped over the threshold. She drops down into a hunched ball, trying to slow her rapid breathing. Her dog puts his paws on her back, the pressure working to control the panic attack induced by the manager’s harsh, unsympathetic response to her condition. She will go on to repeat this process again and again with several other apartment managers, because all of them have seen too many people like you.
When people take advantage of progressive laws that allow a person to tend to their mental health, suddenly those with genuine illnesses cannot be taken seriously. If you spoke to five people who claimed to have anxiety and one who actually had it, how likely are you to believe that one person? Not very.
Before you abuse a policy for personal gain, take a moment to consider how your actions affect those the policy was put in place for. Don’t call your dog a companion animal just to put an apartment manager in a legal bind. Take some extra time and find a pet-friendly alternative because you have the luxury of living life without mental illness.
Regan Brown is a content writer and pet parent with a vested interest in social issues. She spends most of her time crocheting and keeping Thistle, her Chihuahua’s, Instagram up to date but plans to pursue a Master’s in Heritage Tourism. With her Bachelor’s in Anthropology complete, she and her dog are currently in the process of becoming world travelers.
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