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People Are Taking Emotional Support Animals Everywhere. States Are Cracking Down.

More Americans are saying they need a variety of animals — dogs, ducks, even insects — for their mental health. But critics say many are really just pets that do not merit special status.
The vast majority of emotional support animals are dogs, but some Americans turn to a wide variety of other species. Wally the alligator was approved by his owner’s doctor in York, Pa., as an alternative to taking medication for depression.

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Despite the popularity of emotional support animals, experts say there’s little evidence they work

“We just don’t know whether they work or how much they work,” said Molly Crossman, a Yale University researcher who studies human and animal interactions.

There are few studies that examine emotional support animals, and the conclusions of these studies are mixed, she said. Also, the studies focus on dogs or horses, not other species. In her work, Crossman has found little evidence that animals can relieve anxiety or stress.

Still, those who work with animals designed to bring comfort to people struggling with mental health obstacles say people feel better after interacting with animals.

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