The Pros and Cons of Owning an Emotional Support Animal

The Pros and Cons of Owning an Emotional Support Animal

Happy Mental Health Awareness Week everyone! Collegiette life is difficult, and is often full of worry and stress. These things, when combined with mental health issues, can make navigating college seem impossible at times. As someone who struggles with their mental health, I thought it was important to take some time to introduce you all to someone who is kind, compassionate, and cuddly, and has helped me through some very tough times… my emotional support animal (ESA) Leonardo diCatrio, aka Leo. He is a six-month-old orange tabby that I adopted from a local shelter, and is the sweetest boy around.

An emotional support animal (ESA) is exactly what it sounds like— an animal companion for someone that’s struggling with mental and/or emotional issues. They have been proven to help those suffering from depression, personality disorders, PTSD, anxiety, trauma, and more by providing constant companionship and love. I am very lucky to attend a university that allows emotional support animals to live in dorms with residents. (#BelleYeah!) Now, you can’t just adopt a pet and bring them to campus; it’s actually quite a process. To get Leo certified as an ESA, I had to have a doctor or counselor fill out a lot of paperwork for Saint Mary’s explaining the benefits he would have on my mental health, and actually prescribe him for me. After this, it can take up to two months for administrators to examine and evaluate the student’s needs, and either approve or deny the request. Luckily, I was approved, and able to bring Leo home soon after I adopted him!

Leo has helped me in a number of ways since he started living with me, and I am so grateful for everything he’s done, but the best way to explain it to someone else is by writing up a pros and cons list.


1. Leo is always there for me. I live in a single in my residence hall, and I can’t pretend that it isn’t nice to know that I always have him to come back to. Most of the time he’s waiting for me at the door, or sleeping curled up on the couch, but he’s always happy to see me.

2. He needs me to take care of him. Sometimes, there are days that I do not want to get out of bed, or be productive in my work during the day. However, Leo never lets this happen. Be it meowing in the morning for food, bringing toys to me so we can play, or perching on my headboard and batting me in the face when I’ve slept too long, he holds me accountable for getting out of bed and being productive. (And no, I’m not joking about the headboard)

3. He makes me laugh, even when I don’t want to. If you’ve never owned a cat, you probably won’t understand this one, but cats are the funniest and goofiest animals around. Leo will be snoozing on my lap one minute, and then be running circles around the room the next. There are times that he moves to stretch out and ends up falling off the bed, or he tried to grab a dangling toy and ended up backflipping. Even at my lowest points, I find myself being distracted by him, and genuinely laughing at his kitty antics.

4. He can tell when I am anxious or beginning to panic, and reacts to it. I swear this kitten has a sixth sense for these kind of things, because there are times that I don’t even realize my anxiety is spiking, and he’s already on my lap, purring and begging to be pet. The constant petting motion keeps me grounded, and as silly as it sounds, his rhythmic purring helps me begin to breathe and calm down. He loves being cradled like a baby, and even though he always starts off the night sleeping in his bed, he moves to mine the second I do.



1. He loves sitting on his mama’s laptop when she’s trying to write. Honestly, I always want to be upset about this, but look at that face. Try saying no to THAT. It’s impossible, and has actually lead me to accidentally turn in a paper with a string of random letters at the end, leftover from him sitting on my keyboard. Oops!

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue, I highly recommend considering an emotional support animal as an option. I wasn’t a true believer in the benefits until I adopted Leo, and I feel so much lighter and calmer with him around. And, if you’re looking for one, adopt don’t shop! There are millions of little guys and gals that are waiting to be rescued, and they just might end up rescuing you too.


Remember to take care of yourselves and those around you, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. I promise that you are going through will come to an end, and Leo and I wish you health and happiness along the way.