How an Emotional Support Dog Helps with Bereavement

When a person loses someone they love, it can be a life-altering experience. It can take years to feel as though they have moved on from that loss, and even years later, it can come back and hit them unexpectedly.

The emotions and stress associated with bereavement can have a detrimental impact on one’s mental health. One way to help with this experience is to get an emotional support animal (ESA). Let’s explore why dogs make such great companions during times of loss and find out how to get an emotional support animal.

What is an ESA?

An ESA is a holistic approach to treating mental health disorders, from chronic stress to PTSD. There is a wide range of situations in which an ESA would be appropriate, which can be discussed with a doctor or psychiatrist.

As the name indicates, and ESA is there to help process a person’s feelings with a judgment-free companion, who offers company and support during times of loneliness. An ESA can be a cat, dog, rabbit, bird or any other animal that brings comfort. As dogs have such a companionable nature, they are a popular choice for an ESA.

Why Dogs?

Dogs have long been called “man’s best friend” for a reason. Their unconditional love and support makes them a great companion, and it seems as though there is a dog out there for everyone. Different breeds and personalities make for unique and memorable canine ownership experiences, and their intuitive and empathetic nature can brighten even the darkest of days.

The above characteristics translate well into bereavement support in a number of ways. Here are a few common themes to consider.


Dog ownership comes with a lot of responsibility. They are living creatures who need to be cared for, regardless of how bad things get. Many bereaved people find that owning a dog gives them a sense of purpose even when they don’t feel like getting out of bed. Feeding the dog and letting them out to relieve themselves can inspire the first steps of the day, which are often the hardest during grief.


Nothing pleases a dog more than a walk in the park. During those times when a person might not feel like leaving home, walking the dog can have a plethora of health benefits. Exercise has been proven to help release hormones called endorphins, which act as mood boosters and help offset the effects of depression.

On a related note, exercise and the impact on circulation and hormonal release can drastically improve stress levels. The death of a loved one is listed as one of the most impactful stressors on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, which discusses the connection between stress and susceptibility to illness. As such, this aspect of dog ownership is hugely beneficial to someone who is grieving.

Comfort and Companionship

A dog can provide comfort and companionship when the loneliness seems overwhelming. A dog will listen to a person’s problems for hour, and they will neither judge nor interrupt. Sometimes the simple act of being able to speak without fear of response is enough to help one process their emotions. Hugging a canine ESA or talking about thoughts and fears can be immensely helpful when the idea of human interaction feels like too much effort.

Benefits of a Registered ESA

An ESA has the ability to override no-pet rules in many rental locations and can be taken on commercial airline flights. The restrictions regarding breed and size are always changing, so be sure to look at the latest regulations before signing a lease or booking a flight.

If a person has a dog already, they can become a personal ESA. As the quote says, “dogs may not be our whole lives, but they make our lives whole.”

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.