Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Susan Crowley


Susan Crowley


Gretchen Peacock


Scott Deberard


Aubrey H. Fine


Sara Boghosian


Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are increasing in prevalence and awareness, though not all the publicity and attention have been positive. Many people, including housing officials, persons with disabilities, health professionals, and the general public are confused about the roles and rights of ESAs. Misunderstandings, lack of awareness, and fraud have led to dangerous and inappropriate situations for humans and animals alike despite overwhelming evidence of powerful therapeutic benefits of the human animal bond.

Three studies provide insight into various perspectives involved in ESA partnership experiences and development. Each study provides a theoretical, quantitative, and qualitative approach, respectively, to explore the interactions between persons with disabilities, animals, health professionals, and policymakers/enforcers. Special attention is given to animal welfare, professional involvement, and protecting rights of persons with disabilities. Study I provides a decision making framework that helps health professionals make thoughtful and ethical ESA determinations and facilitate compassionate and competent conversations with clients about ESAs. Study II explores of the current contexts of ESAs in the Unites States. Understanding more about ESA partnership situations and behaviors can focus efforts for education and research that can best support safe and effective ESA partnerships. Study III shares the narratives of three students with ESAs on a university campus and highlights the interactions between persons with disabilities and university setting policy and policy enforcement.

A greater understanding of each stakeholder and their impacts on each other could reduce fraud, animal welfare concerns, problematic ESA behaviors, and disability discrimination. Awareness, education, and compassionate dialogue may be the key to using the powerful human-animal bond to help better support persons with disabilities and their animal partners.



Included in

Psychology Commons