“ESA” stands for “emotional support animal,” which is an animal, usually a dog, that performs tasks to ensure the emotional wellbeing of its owner. ESAs usually help those who suffer from mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder. I’ve had my ESA, my dog Charlie, for about seven years now. When I’m having a tough time, he performs compression therapy (like a hug) and licks away my tears. I think that he thinks that they’re actual injuries, rather than saltwater. He also reminds me when it’s breakfast and dinner time.
When I first came to UofSC, my family and I struggled with a decision on whether or not to bring Charlie with me. There were concerns of how well he’d fit in, the extra burden of his care, as well as how well he’d adjust. We ended up deciding that he could spend the first few weeks with me, and from there we’d decide if it was a good idea for him to stay permanently. After that period, I enrolled him with the Students with Disabilities Center, went through an interview process, and did a fair amount of paperwork.
Since then, many people have asked me what it’s like to have a dog live with me in my dorm. I imagine that it’s much like everyone else’s dorm experience…with a few modifications. I’m the only person responsible for making sure that Charlie gets fed every morning and night. That means that I have to plan his eating times so that they line up with my classes. I also have to let him out every time I feed him, as well as every time I go out for errands like getting lunch. I also let him out when he patiently waits by the door to tell me that he needs to go out ASAP. And to answer your question, yes, I have to pick up his poop every time he goes number two!
One thing that was interesting to me is that when you have a dog, you might as well have an invisibility cloak. I can’t count the number of times someone has said, “Hey buddy!” to Charlie and not given me a second look. On top of that, he’s famous in my dormitory. I can recall an instance when I was letting Charlie go out before class when a group of four girls come up to me saying, “Hi Charlie!” No, they didn’t look at me then either. Long story short, it’s like I’m a groupie to a celebrity.
Yet, there are many people who love Charlie and me. My roommate dotes on Charlie and spoils him like every day is his last. My favorite thing is when she compliments everything he does. For example, she’ll say, “Big stretch! What a good stretch!” every time he stretches. She’s also “teaching” him how to spell. She asks, “Do you want to go on a W-A-L-K?” every time we go for a walk and takes his excitement as proof that he actually knows how to spell.
But there are a lot of other great things about having Charlie around. Having him around keeps my dorm from being unbearably quiet. He also reminds me when I should eat when I’m swamped with schoolwork. He’s also there for me when I’m feeling overwhelmed with my life and just need to let it all out. After all, he is a therapy dog. He keeps a bright, playful attitude that reminds me to enjoy the small things in life, like taking walks in Columbia. When Charlie and I go for a walk, he always puts on the biggest smile.
Another benefit of having Charlie is that he is a great protector for my roommate and me. He protects us when we’re walking in the city and when we are relaxing in my dorm. For example, one night someone walked past my dorm room and jiggled the door knob, probably by accident. Nevertheless, Charlie was up before I even knew what was happening, barking at the door to protect me. Luckily, my door was locked, and this was the only instance something like this had happened.
I know that I am more fortunate than others to have Charlie around. I sympathize with everyone who has to leave their fur babies at home. I want to say that those people that there are actually ESAs at your disposal provided by UofSC. Their names are George and Louie and I highly recommend making time to see them! I know it’s not the same, but ESAs can be very beneficial to your overall wellbeing and mental health, so I think it’s worth a try. I hope that this answers some of the questions that I always get when asked about Charlie. It’s a huge responsibility, but I love him and I’m glad that I’m lucky enough to have him around.