How An Emotional Support Dog Helped Me On My Long Haul Flight

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Flying has never come easy to me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve battled a fear of closed spaces, in addition to the ever-present anxiety that I struggle with. Throw in a realization that I am in a tiny metal tube thousands of feet in the air, and I’d lapse into a full-blown panic at the very thought of being stuck in a plane. 

This time around, however, I was fighting my condition two versus one, with my emotional support dog by my side. Two years ago, I took a short flight with Sticky, my chocolate labrador/Emotional Support Dog, accompanying me the whole way. accompanying me the whole way. I won’t say that it was easy, because it wasn’t. But I made it through, and that emboldened me to take on a larger adventure this time -a long haul transatlantic flight. 

Flying does funny things to you when you suffer from anxiety and claustrophobia. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who don’t feel stifled and suffocated the minute the plane doors close. The idea that you’re sealed in is terrifying. Usually, it makes me hyperventilate and start panicking from when boarding is announced. 

But this time, I knew that having Sticky with me would make it somewhat easier. I knew from our experience together that Sticky’s presence would help me stay centered and focused on the ground reality: that this was safe. Having my emotional support dog kept me in the moment, aware of my fellow passengers, and more than anything else, calm. 

I had my hand in his fur the whole time. With Sticky lying near my feet, with his head on my lap, I could almost forget where I was. And when turbulence hit us midway through the flight, with the lights dimmed and half the plane asleep, I didn’t cry. I didn’t hyperventilate to the point of passing out. I didn’t envision the 20,000 ways in which I could fall out of the plane or at what could go wrong. 

I closed my eyes and I imagined that I was back home, with my dog on a normal bus ride. And the bus was just hitting a few more potholes than usual. 

My experience was rooted in more than an overactive imagination, too. Emotional support dogs (and legitimately trained ones, especially) go a long way in helping people with multiple behavioral issues tackle hurdles like long distance flights. Emotional support animals have been shown to massively benefit people suffering from a range of disorders, ranging from anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, etc. to mental and physical disabilities. 

Some emotional support animals are trained to intervene when their owner is about to have an attack or a breakdown. They physically climb into your lap, snuggle up with you, and comfort you when you are on the verge of being overwhelmed by your surroundings. 

Much like service animals, for example. Service animals are trained even more, such as intervening when the owner has an epileptic fit, or helping their owner get around, such as visually impaired people. There are even dogs that alert their owners to their blood sugar dropping, such as in Type 1 Diabetics. 

Having an emotional support dog comforts, you and helps you stay rational and reasonable. My toughest moments were when the doors were closing, and I realized that this was happening. But I had Sticky with me, and I knew I could do this: it was just like riding the train. We had done this before.   

Four hours later, legs cramping, and the smell of the aircraft overwhelming me, I didn’t want to think about how high I was up in the sky. I closed my eyes and I thought about Sticky and taking a walk with him in my parents’ garden when we reached them. And with my emotional support dog’s loving presence next to me, I could believe that we were almost there, too. 

For anyone struggling with flying, I’d highly recommend giving it a shot with your emotional support animal with you. There’s a certain amount of research involved in it, of course. Naturally, you also have to find out your airline’s specific rules regarding emotional support animals, and get vet and travel approvals. But the effort is nothing, when compared to the payoff.   

Emotional support animals have been proven to cause a release of endorphins in their owners. These help create that ‘rush’ of happiness and feeling comforted. I know the science behind it, but I also know that having my emotional support dog on that long flight made me… happy. In that moment, I believe truly that I could do this but I could go through with it. 

And I did. When we landed, we exited the aircraft with shaky legs and squeaky voices, after having whined a little when the wheels hit the ground. Not Sticky, of course. He was a little rockstar (I might have whimpered a bit and blamed it on him). But we made it, and we walked out of that airport feeling like champions. 

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