Quack cures: Why emotional support ducks may be a waste of time
Daniel is framed in silhouette as he gazes out at the passing clouds through an aeroplane window. The picture went viral on social media in October 2016. It probably helped that Daniel is a duck, or more specifically, an emotional support duck. His owner says he helps her cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the US, an animal can often board a flight as long as a doctor has signed a letter stating it helps its owner deal with a medical condition. Delta Air Lines carried 250,000 such animals in 2017 – up 150 per cent on 2015. Most are dogs, but the increasingly exotic menagerie includes pigs, hamsters and peacocks.
A recent rise in media reports about emotional support animals has brought me to John Bradshaw. He studies anthrozoology, or the ways in which humans and animals interact, at the University of Bristol, UK. I have come to find out if animals really can help people with mental illness, and if so, how?
He shows me into a cosy attic study in his home, its shelves filled by books with titles including What It’s Like to Be a Dog and Feng Shui for Cats. Alongside them sit copies of Bradshaw’s own works Dog Sense and Cat Sense, which have together sold more than 400,000 copies. Here, Bradshaw tells me that there is almost no evidence for the claims made about …
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