Mainstream Attention for Snakes as Emotional Support Animals
Last year in Florida, a man pulled over during a routine DUI stop. Officers found he had an emotional support python in the passenger seat. The story made local and national news via Newsweek.
This introduced the concept of “exotic” “nontraditional” animals such as snakes, goats, and more as emotional support animals to the mainstream viewer.
The Guardian has also reported that in recent years major airline companies have started to put limits on what constitutes an “emotional support animal.”
People have attempted to bring more “nontraditional” pets such as pigs, turkeys, and snakes onboard flights.
But what is an emotional support animals? And why are snakes becoming a more modern choice for those searching for an emotional support animal?
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
The Emotional Support Animal Registry website qualifies an emotional support animal.
That definition: “a type of therapy animal that assists people with mental and emotional disabilities”. However, one needs to not confuse an emotional support animal with a service animal, as the two are actually quite different.
Emotional support animals are not specially trained to help an individual with a specific task. Emotional support animals are animals that are certified by a therapist to help individuals only with emotional issues.
Service animals, on the other hand, have to go through extreme training by a professional to learn a specific skill to help an individual in their daily lives with their disabilities. These disabilities can range from those with extreme allergies to those with epilepsy and blindness. In addition, those animals trained as service animals must pass the Public Access Test for legal access in all public locations.
Benefits of Snakes as Emotional Support Animals
Snakes are beneficial emotional support animals for a variety of reasons. For one, they are hypoallergenic which makes them a great option for individuals who are allergic to more common emotional support animals such as dogs and cats.
Most snakes and reptiles are also odorless, so those who are sensitive to smells might find a snake as a strong option. Also, many organizations such as the Pet Advocacy Network consider snakes to be independent as easy to take care of.
Why not An Emotional Support Snake?
Having a snake as an emotional support animal is not a new concept. Researchers have found that many people tend to overlook snakes as therapy animals due to misconceptions about snakes and their relatively long lifespans.
Many people also suffer from ophidiophobia, an anxiety disorder causing an extreme fear of snakes, along with a general fear of snakes from the public.
Individuals with Emotional Support Snakes
However, many have documented positive experiences with using snakes as emotional support animals and in other therapeutic capacities.
A blog post written last year written by an individual suffering from anxiety and depression notes that her emotional support ball python helped them with exhaustion and intrusive thoughts. This individual’s snake also helped calm their anxiety in a similar way to how weighted blankets work to reduce the fight or flight response in the body via their body weight through pressure therapy.
Another snake owner described a similar feeling, calling the snake’s body weight a “hug” feeling that calms his depression.
Snakes in Populated Mental Health Facilities
Also, many mental health facilities are turning to snakes for emotional support interventions. High Point Partial Care, a mental health and addiction recovery program in New Jersey, utilizes pythons in their pet therapy groups.
The three different pythons- Python, the Children’s Python and the Wilma Python- are used in the program as a metaphor -of “shedding” the past abusive self that used substances to cope with life problems- into a new healthier individual. Hospitals in Birmingham private psychiatric hospitals have been using snakes in their facilities due to their “massaging” effect on the body and the draw that individuals with bipolar disorder have to snakes.
Emotional Support Snakes for Individuals with Autism
Snakes are becoming more popular as therapy supports for children who have Autism as well.
A research study from BMC Psychology showed that children with Autism had a faster reaction time to snakes than other stimuli such as flowers, which shows a high engagement in these children for animals.
The Yampa Valley Autism Program center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado has been using ball pythons with the children in their program since 2017.
The executive director of the program notes that 95% of the children who come to the office for therapy services engage with the snakes.
The children were using the snakes as a conversation talking point in the therapy to help overcome the nerves of starting a therapy session.
In addition, the children were benefiting from the sensory benefits of the snakes in a similar way to those in the earlier part of the article.
The executive director stated in an article from 2017 that: “We [Yampa Valley] have been finding amazing success with kids with sensory needs in particular….The snakes, they move slowly, they are heavy — there is a weight piece of it that adds to the joint pressure and the sensory input for the kids on the spectrum”.
Why Are Emotional Support Snakes the Best for Individuals with Autism?
TRC Connections states that many children with Autism might become overwhelmed by the hyperactivity of dogs and cats and can find the slow moving nature of snakes therapeutic.
The quiet nature of snakes makes them a neutral pet for those who can be overstimulated easily.
In addition, the scales and movement patterns on snakes can create a “meditative” feeling that can be calming for individuals with Autism and can also lower blood pressure and heart rates in others.
Additional Information and Emotional Support Snake Registration
If you are interested in learning more, visit the US Service Animal registry for additional information and steps you register your scaly friends as an emotional support animal.