What makes Healing Companions’ Psychiatric Service Dogs Special and How do they differ from other Service Dogs, Emotional Support and Therapy Dogs?

If you’ve ever wondered why some dogs get to stay in the cabin on planes and some don’t, we’ve got your back with the Healing Companions’ Categories series. In the next couple of posts, we will be talking about the different types of support dogs, their training, roles, and legislation concerning each type. First, let’s talk about the ones we train here at Healing Companions, Inc.: Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD’s.)

Like other service dogs, PSDs are task trained to help their owners mitigate the effects of specific symptoms. A Guide Dog, for example, is a type of service dog that assists blind people, while Psychiatric Service Dogs assist individuals severely limited in their ability to function due to diagnosed mental disabilities. This includes, but is not limited to anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia, and social anxiety disorder. At Healing Companions, Inc, each one of our handlers has different symptoms and each one of our psychiatric service dogs is trained in tasks specifically for that individual’s needs. PSDs allow their people to live a more productive, independent life with their PSD by their side.

A Little Tip: A service dog in public is on duty. Even though you may think they’re adorable, you should not distract them, especially not without permission from their handler.

It takes 18-24 months to train a service dog.  With proper training, PSDs can learn to recognize and stop certain harmful behaviors, guide disoriented handlers, remind their handlers to take medication, provide assessments of their environment in case of hallucinations, and much more. Lastly, even though this is not their primary function, the mere presence and companionship of a PSD can provide security and comfort for the handlers.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA see: http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/factsheets/title2_factsheet.html)
PSDs and other service dogs are not considered pets, but rather medical necessities. This is why they can legally go with their handlers to any location that is accessible to the public, even if that is against health standards or business policy. For example, a PSD handler can bring their dog to any library, restaurant, hospital, or on a (domestic) flight. Additionally, landlords with a policy against pets cannot evict a tenant for living with a PSD, or demand compensation for the dog if it is well-behaved.

From the U.S. Department of Justice, “Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.” See: https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

In short, PSDs are service dogs for individuals with severe limitations in their ability to function due to mental illness and have the same rights and duties as other service dogs. If you want to know how Emotional Support Dogs and Therapy Dogs differ from PSDs, stay tuned for the next couple of posts!

Author: Sara Stajcic, Volunteer


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