Oberlin Blogs

ESA Update

December 10, 2023

Kate Magnacca ’26

Last year’s lead-up to winter break felt excruciatingly long. This was because I didn’t just have home to look forward to, but something far more exciting--adopting my ESA (aka emotional support animal). After much anticipation, I finally got to bring my Mabel home. The break was filled with cat-toy shopping and a truly ridiculous amount of kitten pictures (yes, I had to buy the extra storage on my phone, and what about it?).

Of course, I knew getting an ESA was going to help me--that’s why I went through the arduous process (more on that here) and made the huge commitment of adopting a cat. Past experiences had taught me without a doubt that pets made a monumentally positive impact on my well-being. But I don’t think there was any way for me to know just how much she would end up helping me. Now that it’s been a year, I want to talk about what I’ve learned so far.

A little background: when I first started considering an ESA, I was also heavily considering transferring or taking time off. This came as a shock not only to me, but to everyone. Here I was, finally at my dream school, and already considering leaving. First semester was really rough for me, and I was hitting a breaking point. Something had to change, or I was going to have to leave. I also knew that even if I transferred, I would probably still be unhappy for the same reasons at a new school. So this was kind of a last-ditch effort to make everything work and stay on campus. 

When I told my parents the idea, they were less than thrilled. Still, they warmed to it in time, and supported the decision (I am extremely lucky to have them, I know). My mom had an ESA in college before ESA was even an official term, so she knew the difference they make. I think all three of us had our worries at first-what if it didn’t work? What if it added even more stress? Although these were possibilities, we decided to try nonetheless.

Despite everyone’s advice not to get attached too soon, I knew the moment I first held little baby Mabel at the shelter. Even though the adoption process ended up being extra complicated, I just had this gut feeling that I had to fight for her--and it was right. What I felt that first day was just the tiniest preview of all the ways she helps me now. 

On the surface level, the responsibility of caring for her created a routine that I actually had to stick to. Now, to be fair, that routine does include scooping cat litter daily. Totally worth it, in my opinion.

Mabel being cuddly
Mabel 'paying her rent'.

Having a cat also meant that even if I was isolated to the point of being alone in the room pretty much all the time, I wasn’t really alone anymore. It’s a lot harder to be sad when there’s a little kitten who will sense that and then immediately bound over, promptly plop her little self down, and purr very loudly. And it’s much harder to feel anxious with a cat quite literally sitting on your throat (if only because of the more pressing concern of being able to breathe (just kidding) (mostly)). Even when I’m not home, the knowledge that she’s there waiting for me gets me through even the worst days. And it’s not just me, she’s sort of become everyone’s ESA in our social circle. We like to joke that Mabel pays her rent--she certainly does her job well.

Now is the part where my inner crazy-cat-lady emerges and I get disgustingly sentimental- you've been warned. I don't have the words for what Mabel is to me and what she means to me. My mom and I talk often about how ESAs changed our lives. We both feel that our ESAs were/are like a piece of our lives, ourselves that was sorely missing until we found them. Like our hearts or souls or what have you, knew there was an absence, but couldn't identify it until we found that missing piece. I've always struggled with mental health, and I still do. But finding Mabel felt like something falling into place. It felt like an instant relief, some of that weight lifted. Mabel is not just a pet or an ESA to me- she is my friend, my companion, and my anchor. She brings me joy and love and hope every single day just by existing. 

Getting an ESA was truly the best decision I could’ve made. Every single day I am overwhelmed with gratitude that it worked out, and worked so well. It completely changed my life, and I cannot encourage it enough.

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