I kinda understand people’s use of emotional support animals. I’ve had a beagle (or two) most of my adult life and I derived great joy from them. In spite of bad breath (from the dog, not me) and enough shed hair each day to knit a sweater, they always had a way of lifting my spirits.
I never considered my dogs as emotional support, but emotional support animals can be legitimate. You’ve likely seen many of the heart-warming stories of pet therapy: dogs visiting children in hospitals or senior adults in nursing homes. There’s something about the hug of a dog. As that great theologian, Charles M. Schulz said, “Happiness is a Warm Puppy.”
That idea can be taken too far, though. For instance, in 2018 a woman attempted to get on a United Airlines plane with her emotional support peacock. (She failed.) Others have felt incapable of leaving home and traveling without their pig, squirrel, hedgehog, donkey, or goldfish. (I’m trying to determine how you hug a goldfish.)
In a similar vein, you can rent a llama to hike with you in Yellowstone. It’s been touted as llama therapy because “a calming immersion in nature is complemented by time bonding with the llamas.” (Washington Post)
We need help in facing and coping with the challenges of the day, but a dog, hamster, or llama can offer only so much. This fact was proven at the beginning with Adam.
“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.” The Lord God formed out of the ground every wild animal and every bird of the sky, and brought each to the man to see what he would call it. And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the livestock, to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal; but for the man no helper was found corresponding to him” (Gen. 2:18-20).
Did you catch that? God marched all the animals by Adam, but Adam still felt alone. “No helper was found corresponding to him.” This is not simply a reference to Adam’s need for a wife. God didn’t bring the animals to Adam so that he could find a marriage partner. All of us—married or not—need human companions. We were built and wired to live in community.
The best emotional therapy comes from other people. That’s one of the great values in meeting with others in the context of church. We need each other. We provide a far greater support to one another when we encourage one other, pray for one another, and worship God together.
If you need emotional support, go to church. Get plugged into a Bible study group and build relationships.
If you don’t think you need the emotional support of others (you do), then be the one who provides. I offer the same advice to you: go to church. Get plugged into a Bible study group and build relationships.
“Serve one another through love” (Gal. 5:13).
“No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person” (Col. 4:6).
“And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25).
Go ahead and hug your dog, but don’t forget to hug your neighbor. That could be just the therapy they need. And it’ll be good for you too.
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