Mike H and his dogChapel Haven community member Mike H. has a new friend to hang around with and take care of.

His name is Buddy, and he is a four-year-old Jack Russell Terrier rescued from a high kill shelter in Tennessee and brought to Animal Assisted Therapy Services (AaTs) in Woodbridge, CT to train as an emotional support dog.

Mike’s mother, Diane, wanted to acquire a dog for Mike, to give Mike a loving companion and to teach him how to take care of a pet. She researched far and wide for about six months and then, had a chance conversation with Chapel Haven President Michael Storz, who told her that Chapel Haven participates in canine therapy classes at the Woodbridge, CT facility.

Diane immediately signed Mike up for the AaTs Emotional Support Dog program. When Mike came to the center to meet his new companion, Buddy jumped up on his lap and settled in.

Once the decision was made that Buddy was “the one”, AaTs fostered him during the intense four month training period. Buddy worked with AaTs trainers 3-4 times each week, learning all his basic commands and becoming socialized with other dogs in their regular training classes.

Buddy was gradually transitioned over the summer to Mike’s home. Mike has been attending training sessions at the center for the past three months, learning how to ask Buddy for the behaviors he now knows. While Buddy is not a service dog, Mike has a note from his primary care doctor identifying Buddy as an Emotional Support Animal. Mike is able to bring Buddy into stores and on public transportation if the store owner agrees. So far, Mike hasn’t had to produce the note – most store owners have been welcoming the duo.

“He’s a buddy for Mike,” Diane said. “It gives him something to do. I have never seen a dog so focused on anybody like this dog is focused on Mike. He goes to the window to look for him and doesn’t take his eyes off Mike.”

According to Animal Assisted Therapies, an emotional support dog is trained for about 6 to 8 months with his companion. The pet can help with everything from depression and PTSD to physical and learning disabilities by providing comfort, support and companionship. Federally, an emotional support animal (ESA) has been deemed by a medical professional as suitable for a person with a disability.

In technical lingo, an emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion animal deemed by a medical professional to be beneficial to a person with a disability. To be afforded protection under United States federal law, a person must meet the federal definition of disability and must have a note from a physician or other medical professional stating that the person has that disability and that the emotional support animal provides a benefit for the individual with the disability.

Good luck to Mike and Buddy on a great new friendship!

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