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Obstacles for Psychiatric Service Dogs
More veterans are turning to canines to cope with PTSD

More and more returning veterans are turning to dogs to help cope with post traumatic stress disorder. Last week, the Senate passed a bill (HR 1627) that would require the Veterans Affairs Department is open their housing facilities to veterans with service dogs. The current version restricts assess to canines trained by certain accredited organizations.  While these animals are becoming more accepted, there are still many hurdles to face in getting full recognition.  

There are three types of dogs that provide care to people with mental health illnesses. The first are psychiatric service dogs, canines that are trained to assist through specific tasks, such as creating physical space during an anxiety attack or calming handlers having a bad nightmare. The second are emotional support dogs that more generally comfort people with disabilities. And the third are therapy dogs that visit hospitals and nursing homes. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not protect the last category and these animals can’t be taken into restaurants or stores that don’t normally allow pets.

However, the laws protecting service animals can be abused. Some people have psychiatrists sign letters for non-legitimate reasons or use fake certification web sites in order to being their pets along with them. Unfortunately this makes it harder for people with real service dogs to be taken seriously. This is partly why HR 1627 has a certification requirement.

Phony working canines aren’t the only complications. While airlines and other transportation services have to accommodate service animals, this can make it difficult for people with pet allergies to travel.

Another factor, which I had never thought about, is concern for the dogs’ well being. Some believe that service dogs could be emotionally harmed when paired with a depressed or anxious person. Any pet lover knows that animals pick up on our feelings, so I can see how this can be an issue. I would love to see research done in this area.

But for those who rely on psychiatric service dogs, these animals are indispensible, and they could not imagine a world without their trusted furry partners.  

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Army Medicine/flickr.

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Submitted by Dog'sEyeView | August 3 2012 |

The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

You may want to revise this article to reflect the changes in the ADA as of March 2011.

Submitted by Service Animal ... | January 20 2013 |

Service Animal Institute has excellent articles on service dogs and fake service dogs as well.

http://www.ServiceAnimalInstitute.com

Strong Laws Are Needed For Service Animals

Submitted by cissy stamm | August 4 2012 |

Emotional support dogs are specifically excluded from coverage under the ADA:
http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

Airlines under the ACAA make provision for emotional support dogs to fly in the cabin if certain conditions are met - 48 hours notice & letter from health care provider.

While "fake" service dogs can certainly be an issue of concern, how does one make the determination? Some disabilities are invisible. Not all people with obvious disabilities with dogs have a service dog; it could just as easily be an emotional support animal or pet. The "fake" service dog issue is constantly raised although there doesn't seem to be any evidence to support widespread fraud.

The public's protection is that the handler of *any* dog represented as a service dog can (and should) be asked to remove the animal if it is disruptive.

Poorly researched articles that represent emotional support dogs as having the same access rights with their partners can only serve to further confuse people into mistakenly believing they have federally protected public access rights with their emotional support dogs. This kind of mistake is particularly true for a publication targeted at the dog owning public.

Submitted by Russell Hartstein | August 5 2012 |

Hi JoAnna, Thank you for bringing light to this topic of discussion. There factual errors and typos you may want to touch up. For instance, “Last week, the Senate passed a bill (HR 1627) that would require the Veterans Affairs Department is open their housing facilities to veterans with service dogs. The current version restricts assess to canines trained by certain accredited organizations. “

I’d also like to clarify a few things left out of your article. Regarding the point that, “The Americans with Disabilities Act does not protect the last category and these animals can’t be taken into restaurants or stores that don’t normally allow pets.” The ADA does not protect ESA’s OR Therapy dogs. Not just the last category, but both.

In addition you mentioned “While airlines and other transportation services have to accommodate service animals,…”. This is not true; airlines and transportation services are not covered under the ADA. An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is protected under Housing/U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) laws, and when flying under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) law, but in both situations a doctor’s letter will be required. You may read my recent article about the topic here http://www.funpawcare.com/2012/06/23/abuse-of-the-service-dog-title/

You do bring up an excellent point about the wellbeing of PTSD dogs, working dogs and service animals and their health. There is a plethora of research that suggests that these dogs’ needs may not be met due to their helping roles. Certainly more stringent, compassionate and commonsensical laws and training should be made apparent for this cause.

Russell Hartstein CPDT Dog Training Miami

Submitted by Anonymous | August 16 2012 |

For Your Consideration:

I am a 50 year old woman, who within the last 5 years has found myself going from a very normal-appearing life to suddenly dealing daily with Major Depression, Anxiety and PTSD, seldom leaving my bedroom. 2 years ago my Psych did recommend I get a dog and I got a rescue dog. Not only has my life improved but I can confidently state that my dog's life has improved as well. I realize that I was lucky to be at the right time in my life to do that AND get a dog with a personality that fit perfectly with me. I have trained her myself and done extensive research and am jumping through hoops to try to get her licensed as a service dog. I want to try to venture outside my apartment complex - I want to try to be a productive human being - but first I have to get past the thought that there will be people looking at us, unable to see my illness, thinking that I'm a fake. That's really hard to deal with when you're mentally ill. If you see a service dog and owner and you're unsure if they're legit just give them the benefit of doubt and smile... it might be me!

Submitted by Mark MacDonald | November 1 2013 |

I too have PTSD and I do take my 9 lb schnauzer in a pet sling to allow me to go shopping. He keeps me calm enough to do the task. Like most with PTSD, social anxiety is a common symptom. He helps me with that. He has made my life's lot better these past few years.

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