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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.