Maria Jesus Martinez
Skai, a 7-month-old Argentine Dogo, lives with her owner, Mackenzie Gresham, and Gresham’s roommate on the campus of UWG. She spends her time playing with toys and being around Gresham. Her owner needs her around because she is an Emotional Support Animal.
An Emotional Support Animal, also abbreviated ESA, is a pet certified by a licensed healthcare professional that is capable of emotionally alleviating a person with a mental health condition through companionship or comfort.
“There was a guy that was giving away dogs at the Kroger parking lot near Carrollton, and a woman caught Skai there because she was running away,” said Gresham. “When she saw me, she asked, ‘Do you want a dog?’ and I said, ‘Of course, why not?’”
At that precise moment, Gresham was going with her now ex-boyfriend and some friends to the grocery store to buy something for dinner. Her mind was not set on getting a pet, let alone an Emotional Support Animal, but life had not been easy for her.
“I like to say that she came at the correct time, because I was really stressed and going through a lot,” said Gresham. “When she came she added more responsibility for sure, but she also helped me manage my stress as well.
“A little after I found her, I broke up with my boyfriend,” continued Gresham. “Whenever I would get sad about it, she would just come and lay in my lap as she knew that something was bothering me, so I was like ‘maybe I should give her training to be an Emotional Support Animal.’”
Gresham trained her dog at Petco and Skai was certified by Gresham’s therapist to become an Emotional Support Animal. The next step was to do the paperwork to let Skai live with her in her dorm. It was an easy process to get a letter written from her therapist that approved her pet of being an Emotional Support Animal. However, it was a little difficult when trying to get Skai on campus.
“I had to figure out who I needed to talk to, that was the most difficult thing, because I was using therapy off campus, so I wasn’t able to find someone in the counseling center to help me,” said Gresham. “Then I found out about Erin Williams, through a co-worker that had an ESA and he was able to give me her email and contact information.”
After some time with her dog in her daily life, Gresham noticed improvements in many aspects of herself and her habits.
“I struggle with stress, anxiety management and seasonal depression,” said Gresham. “Having a dog means that you have to get up the bed and walk the dog and that has forced me to come outside and interact with people when otherwise wouldn’t.”
Gresham notices a pattern when it comes to Skai. When Gresham is doing her homework or hurrying up to meet a deadline, she would feel a weight on her chest.
Everything changes the moment Skai sits next to her and Gresham rubs the pup, then the heavy weight becomes a breath of fresh air.
“She has definitely improved my mental health, my health in general and my life in general,” said Gresham. “She keeps me active as I am the type of person who would stay inside all day long if I could and she definitely gets me outgoing and talking to people, being an active part of society or my community.”