Intelligence has been defined as the ability to achieve complex goals in complex environments. Some animals clearly are better than this at others, leading people to say that they are smarter. This is further evidenced by animals who are part of the police force, as well as those emotional support animals that aid humans in their daily lives. Humans are the smartest animals on the planet. This is not anthropocentric conceit talking — by any objective standard of ability to deal with complexity, humans beat all other animals, hands down. Sure, animals can be trained like service dogs or cats, but that hardly compares to the tasks that humans can accomplish. Even some of the least intelligent humans can solve problems no animal could hope to. Despite this, sometimes it's the other way around. For instance, some humans need emotional support so much that they need to get a support animal so they can function normally. Animals can be trained as in service animals or those animals that perform and entertain, but it doesn't mean that they understand the logic behind the commands or that they can do it on their own without training.
Aside from humans, however, the territory gets murkier. There are psychiatric service dogs and cats that somehow go beyond their training when providing their humans with emotional support. Some of them have been known to respond to drops in blood sugar, anxiety attacks, or panic attacks - things that not even some medical professionals can detect with no data on hand. The animal most often cited as being smartest are chimps, followed by the other great apes (gorillas and orangutans). Jane Goodall, a primatologist famous for her 45-year study of Tanzanian chimp social and family life, made a list of five of the smartest animals for USA Today:
- Great apes, which have learned parts of American Sign Language (ASL), and even taught it to each other. Furthermore, some great apes have been able to perform some basic functions on specially-designed computer programs, including solving certain problems involving colored shapes.
- Whales and dolphins (cetaceans) are probably the smartest in the aquatic world. Like humans, cetaceans are capable of creating a mental image of and communicating with their fellows at great distances, using echolocation and special clicking noises. Some of these "songs" can be quite complex, and humans are at a loss to describe what they mean, though what has been uncovered is a testament to the animals' intelligence. This doesn't give humans much benefit though, unlike emotional support dogs or cats, since these are aquatic animals.
- Elephants are the third on Goodall's list. Like cetaceans, elephants can communicate over great distances using low frequencies only their bulky heads can produce. As the phrase goes, "an elephant never forgets," and it's true that the memory of these animals is remarkable. These animals even have death rituals, where they "grieve" over their dead companions, showing a surprising amount of empathy for a non-human animal.
- Another group of smart animals, the only on the list that isn't a mammal, are parrots. Parrots are an order of birds that strongly pursue the "K selection strategy," meaning the strategy of their species is one of quality, not quantity. According to Goodall, one parrot, N'kisi, knows 971 words, where "know" is defined as using the word five times independently in proper context — not just repeating what humans said. Parrots are capable of making comments and initiating short conversations.
- The last on the list are the dogs and cats. Being the preferred animal for emotional support, you probably already have an idea about their intelligence. For them to be able to assist humans when they're struggling is a clear sign that they are capable of being more than just cute pets. To anyone with a dog or cat, their relative intelligence is obvious. This is why they're the preferred animals when training ESAs. Not only are they fun to have but they're also very easy to teach with tasks and tricks. They can understand the way a human feels by their facial expressions and tone of voice. This makes them the perfect candidate as emotional support animals. It's really no wonder why more and more people are getting one, since they're not just beautiful souls but they also perform a function no other animal can. Both dogs and cats can be trained to perform complex tasks in numerous ways, even potty-trained, but dogs are clearly more inclined to take orders from humans. This is why both dogs and cats make amazing ESAs. Aside from their natural fondness of humans, they are also easy to care for and have unique and fun personalities. Additionally, from a business point of view, establishments that allow ESAs entry are more likely to have regular clients. ESAs are also more behaved than regular pets, so cleanup or noise problems are usually easily avoided.
Among the invertebrates, octopuses are often cited as the most intelligent. They still wouldn't compare to what emotional support dogs or cats can do for their humans, though. Pigs are another intelligent group, as are squirrels. Sure they're no support dog or cat, but they have their own strengths and weaknesses as animals. In fact, there are some pigs being trained to serve as ESAs for humans. Despite it not being a popular option yet, it is gaining traction and more and more people are starting to look into it. Scientists are just beginning to learn the ins and outs of animal intelligence, and much more remains to be learned. Among all these animals, cats and dogs make the most ideal emotional support animalsbecause they're easy to handle, the pack a lot of personality in their small packages, and they can easily be trained to assist their humans. If you're interested in getting one, you can start the process by securing an ESA letter as proof that you would indeed benefit from having one in your care.