Many have taken notice of the increasing number of service dogs going around campus the past few semesters. Where everyone else sees a cute dog in a vest, handlers know they are so much more than that. These vests are not only a reminder for the dog that they are doing a job but are also meant for the public’s awareness. On-duty service dogs are almost always in a vest while working, unless the needs of their handler require free movement for the canine.
Service dogs come in all shapes, sizes and have a variety of different tasks they may need to perform. Seeing-eye-dogs, hearing-aid-dogs, seizure-alert-dogs, and mobility-dogs are just a few of the different types. One specific type of service dog that has been on the rise as of late is psychiatric service dogs. Countless people confuse emotional support animals, ESA’s for short, with psychiatric service dogs on numerous occasions. Although these names may sound very similar, their purposes and regulations are very different.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service animals are working animals, not pets.”
Psychiatric service dogs have many different uses. I myself have a psychiatric service dog, a 2-year-old shepard husky named Ellie. She has been my best friend for the past year and a half and an unmistakable help.
My freshman year of college, I had a very rough time. It wasn’t until that summer that I met my sweet Ellie and adopted her from the Lexington Humane Society. Training her myself was a very challenging task but we pulled through together. Now she’s so well-behaved that most of the time people don’t notice she is in the same room as them.
Some of her jobs include helping me cope with my depression, severe social and other anxieties, PTSD, panic attacks, and performing deep pressure therapy- which is a technique used to help calm a person down and get them to feel safe in a stressful or triggering situation. A good comparison would be like having a living, breathing, weighted blanket to hold you and bring you back down to earth.
Since psychiatric service dogs are protected by federal and state law, they are meant to be treated just like any other type of service dog. Professionally, service dogs are meant to be used and treated like medical equipment. That means there is a proper way to act around them as well.
Do not touch, speak to, or even acknowledge a service dog unless it is trying to get your attention for the safety of its handler. If you really feel the need to do any of these things, speak with the handler first and ask their permission. If the handler says no, please be respectful and obey their wishes. They are not trying to be rude, some individuals always need their service dog to be on high alert, so just be considerate.
Before I was put on medication, I knew that the love and support from an animal could really be beneficial to me in my day to day life. Psychiatric service dogs are not for everyone, but for me, Ellie is crucial to my wellbeing. But a fear that comes along with having a psychiatric service dog is someone claiming you are lying about needing one.
The state of Kentucky does not have a physical place or legal online website for you to register your service animal. This is both a blessing and a curse. This allows people to bring their own untrained pets into public places and claim that they are service animals. When these untrained ‘service animals’ cause a commotion or disruption, it sets a bad reputation for every real Service Animal out there and can cause strict and unfair rules to be put in place by establishments. Because of this, real working service animals are put at risk as well as their handlers. When a person who needs a service dog is unable to go about their day normally, it can cause great distress and the inability to function.
The world must become more aware of the real need for service animals and learn the damage that can be caused by the misuse of them. I have been thanked by strangers in the store for simply bringing Ellie out with me; the stigmatisms and stereotypes of psychiatric service dogs need to be broken. So, the next time you see a service dog and handler team, be kind, respectful and considerate to them. Remember that we truly rely on these animals in our daily lives, and we ask that you not jeopardize that by the misuse of service animals in yours.