Adopting an ESA with Medical Needs
October 11, 2017 11:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to adopt a dog as an emotional support animal to help with my anxiety and PTSD. I found the most adorable senior dog at the shelter who I really clicked with. However, I am uncertain if her medical needs would make her an unsuitable fit for me.

I spent a lot of time yesterday with a 12 year old dog at the local shelter. She was very quiet and happy, well behaved, knew commands, and just seemed to want a human companion to hang out with. This would be an amazing fit for what I am looking for. However, I noticed that she is on four medications and has a slight limp. Should I not adopt her because of this?

I am more than willing to pay for any necessary medications, vet visits, etc but I have a couple of specific concerns. My biggest concern is that my new apartment building is up a short flight of stairs, and that her slight limping may pose a problem with this.

Also, I intend on visiting my family for the holidays and would be bringing my ESA on board with me in the cabin. She seemed very calm and chill and likely to just nap through the whole thing, but I am uncertain if her health or possible hip dysplasia would make flying a bad idea. I only travel like this once a year.

I am calling the animal shelter today to get more information on exactly what her medications are for, and what conditions she may have. But I wanted to seek the advice of the wonderful pet owners of Metafilter as to whether this could work or if I am better off waiting for perhaps a slightly younger dog.
posted by Malleable to Pets & Animals (11 answers total)
Anecdotal, but I have an ESA for my anxiety. My dog is old (11yo when I adopted him; now almost 13yo), epileptic, arthritic, and also the best thing that ever happened to me.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:05 PM on October 11 [4 favorites]

How large is the dog? Could you carry her by yourself, either up the stairs or through the airport? My concern is more with the airport; if she has to walk a long way between security and the gate, then sit in tight quarters on the plane, it could be rough on her. You'd also want to be sure any health issues she has wouldn't be exacerbated by the flight, and that you'd have a veterinary contact near your family's home in case of any emergent issues.
posted by halation at 12:22 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

Adopting a 13-year-old senior dog was one of the best decisions I ever made. She taught me so much and started me on a path of learning to deal with anxiety. If you connect with her and can afford the medications, please seriously consider giving her a home.
posted by mochapickle at 12:25 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

Do you have any information (or guesses) about the dog's breed? How big is she?
posted by minsies at 12:28 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

Does the shelter know the cause of her limp? Often they haven't had a chance to do a thorough medical evaluation, so they don't know if this is something that will need treatment/surgery, or that will heal, or that's just a permanent condition. When my husband & I adopted our dog, she came with a mystery limp that turned out to be a broken bone -- the shelter warned us before we took her that mystery limp might mean thousands of dollars in repair costs, which it did. We're very happy with our choice, but I'd definitely consider whether you'd be OK with this financially before committing to this dog!
posted by anotherthink at 12:58 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

Just so ya know, my pup was a sweet, quiet, and well-behaved dog upon first meeting too. Turns out she's an insane, house-destroying, whirlwind of love and affection. Get the dog, you'll love them regardless.
posted by coldbabyshrimp at 1:49 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

I have a service dog for PTSD. She's greatly enhanced my life, but I find myself worrying as she gets older about her eventual death. It is hard to lose a pet, it's even harder to go through the grief of losing a pet combined with the loss of one of your emotional supports. I'm not trying to talk you out of it, but I am asking you to honestly imagine yourself during your dog's death, since especially with an older dog, it would happen sooner rather than later. Would you handle it in a healthy way? Do you have other sources of emotional support you can lean on, and would you be brave enough to tell those sources you need help? Or, would it be a setback that would send you into a tailspin?

halation raises a good point about your ability to carry the dog. Also, will this particular dog consent to being carried, or will it struggle against you? Carry it around the building before making an adoption decision. Good luck!
posted by sdrawkcaSSAb at 3:17 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

Obligatory picture of doggy.
I went back at spoke with the vet at the Humane Society. She has osteoarthritis and is on one joint medication and a pain medication for that. She was also on two medications for some scabs in her ears that have cleared up now. So perhaps not as bad as I first thought. The vet said that she should be able to manage the stairs and would be a perfect companion in the airport. I will be thinking it over a little bit more but will likely be adopting my new doggie companion this weekend. Thanks for all your replies!
posted by Malleable at 4:20 PM on October 11 [11 favorites]

She's adorable!

Osteoarthritis is pretty common in older dogs, but if she's limping despite already being on medication then that's something you might want to be investigate further - she may need a change in medication type or dosage to control her pain better.

I'm not trying to talk you out of it, but I am asking you to honestly imagine yourself during your dog's death, since especially with an older dog, it would happen sooner rather than later.
I adopted a 10 year old cat with some health problems, and have had to reconcile myself to us likely having less time together than would otherwise be the case. I don't regret doing it, but it is worth giving some thought to.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 5:07 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

She is lovely and looks like some kind of lab mix. At 12 years old, she is definitely in the elder range for labs. As mentioned above, taking care of an animal even an elderly animal can be really helpful in dealing with anxiety, but you should go in with the expectation that your time together will likely be brief maybe numbered in months not years. It might be helpful to think of the arrangement as you being a service human for the dog more than the dog being a service animal for you.
That being said, I wouldn't discourage you from adopting her since being a service human is noble and enriching and a wonderful thing to be. And it does help with anxiety. Just, adopt with your eyes open and your time together will be a gift to both of you.
posted by dness2 at 6:15 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

What a sweetheart! It sounds like you clicked with her, which is the most important thing when you're looking for an emotional support dog (or any dog, really).

Here's one easy and inexpensive tool to help her with your stairs if she needs it.
posted by mulcahy at 9:13 PM on October 11

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