About a year ago, my friend told me that her daughter, who had severe anxiety, wanted to get a service dog. My first reaction was, “What? A service dog? For anxiety?”
I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know this existed. Of course I’d seen guide dogs for the sight impaired or legally blind. And I’d heard of dogs that help the physically disabled. And also dogs who can alert people with diabetes that their sugar is too low or too high.
But why didn’t I think about animals to provide support for anxiety? It makes so much sense. There should be dogs to help people with panic attacks, agoraphobia, and other mental illnesses. And there are.
I did some research on service dogs, specifically those who are trained to help people with mental illnesses. I checked out the website for the Americans with Disabilities Act, known as the ADA.
The ADA defines a service animal as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The tasks performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.” These types of dogs are called psychiatric service animals.
Dogs that provide comfort just by being with a person don’t qualify as service animals, because they haven’t been trained to perform a specific job or task. These dogs are called emotional support animals.
The ADA says some state or local governments have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places, even if they haven’t been trained to perform a specific job. And, if someone’s dog calms them when having an anxiety attack, this may qualify as a service animal.
I know how comforting it is to have a dog by my side. Our lab follows me everywhere. I love to pat his soft head, talk to him, and cuddle with him. Dogs are lovable and good distractions. They don’t judge, and they’re always happy to see us. I can easily imagine how much emotional support a sweet dog could offer.
A few days ago I was in the mall and saw a woman holding a chihuahua, wearing a service vest. My first thought was that it obviously wasn’t a seeing eye dog. So I wondered if that little pup was there to comfort the lady. Maybe without that dog in her arms, she wouldn’t be able to go shopping or run her errands. Maybe that dog makes a huge difference in the quality of it’s owner’s life.
First image courtesy of: http://www.urbanvillagelegal.com/condo-association-ban-service-dog/
Second image courtesy of: http://xeon24.com/