The connection between humans and animals, especially dogs, is one rooted in historical and cultural depth, stemming from the earliest uses of animals as a means of survival, transport, and sustenance, to (certain) animals evolving into valued members of our family.
Pets are a part of families all over the world, especially in the United States, where 77% of households own a dog or cat (Marx, 2014).
The value that many people place on the lives of their domestic animals is comparable to that of the love they have for their children. The strength of these relationships has become socially normalized in most of the world, and hey, who can blame them? Animals are the best. Don’t believe me? Check out Time’s list of the top 10 animals heroes, or watch the new season of Planet Earth.
The role that animals play in human lives is constantly changing, and the evolution of service animals has changed the lives of people with disabilities all over the world.
The newest role that has emerged is known as the emotional support animal, which has created a booming industry with obvious benefits, and some not as obvious issues. As said by Erin Ross: "For many, animals provide a source of comfort and support that is different and in some ways deeper than what they receive from friends and family." (Ross, 2016).This can be said especially for the huge number of people dealing with mental health issues that impact their ability to socialize, work, or develop relationships.
The number of adults suffering from mental health issues in the US is extremely high. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 1 in 25 adults “experience a serious mental illness in a given year which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. In 2015, 18.1% of adults experienced an anxiety disorder like PTSD, and 6.9% dealt with a major depressive episode. Mental illness impacts youth in extremely high numbers, with 21.4% experiencing a serious mental illness between the ages of 13 and 18" (NAMI, 2016).
Unfortunately, despite its documented prevalence, treatment of mental health is nowhere near where it should be. Issues like stigmatization and a lack of funding mean that only around 41% of US adults and 50.6% of children aged 8-15 receive help for mental health conditions, leaving those in need of psychiatric and therapeutic help lost in patterns of homelessness, addiction, and imprisonment (NAMI, 2016).
Besides psychiatric help, counseling, and medication, animals have been shown to improve the lives of those living with mental illness.
In Ross's recent NPR article, pet owners with mental illnesses discuss the ability of their animals to distract them from unhealthy thoughts and provide vital companionship. The responsibility that these individuals have for their pets might be able to reduce isolation, poor self care, and the potential for self harm or suicide (Ross, 2016).
Also, although still in the early years of research, there is growing scientific research on therapy animals, citing increases in oxytocin and reductions in blood pressure as several pieces of evidence of their benefits (Rovner, 2012).
These studies, as well as the personal stories of those with disabilities, show us that animals have a positive impact on their owners lives. Beyond pets, those with mental illnesses might benefit even more from the use of a licensed support animal. There are two options for potential animal support, emotional support animals and psychiatric service dogs.
Emotional Support Animals vs Psychiatric Service Dogs
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are classified as animals whose purpose is to “provide therapeutic benefit” to support the wellbeing of their owner (Wisch, 2015). They are not, however, trained to provide specific kinds of support, such as responding to panic attacks or alerting others if help is needed. ESAs are also not limited to dogs, and there seem to be few limits to the types of creatures some establishments will allow in after viewing a letter indicating emotional support verification.
Psychiatric Service Dogs are dogs which are trained to assist someone with psychiatric disabilities such as PTSD, anxiety disorders, or severe depression.The duties of these dogs include preventing self harm and guiding those with dissociative issues out of the path of moving vehicles; in other words, recognizing and responding to a psychiatric problem that the owner is experiencing. A Psychiatric Service Dog, like a service dog for physical disabilities, is protected under the ADA and is granted access to public spaces (Duffy, 2016).
So what does this all mean for someone with an Emotional Support Animal?
Exploiting the System
The line between “pet” and “service animal” has become blurred with the surge of emotional support animals, and the public privileges this classification allows for animals. The online industry for emotional support certification allows owners who are not likely in need of a support animal to slip through the system’s cracks. Obtaining this certification opens doors, literally and figuratively, for owners to bring their pets into public places which are unaware of the laws regarding emotional support animals.
This abuse and overuse of these certifications makes it more difficult for those with actual disabilities to use the resources available to them. Restaurants which have dealt with animals who have misbehaved, or who have felt forced into allowing ESAs onto their premises, may not respond as kindly to their next customer who has a Psychiatric Service Dog, or a dog for a physical disability. Those who truly rely on their animals for support may not be taken seriously when there are websites where a certification can be purchased for $50 after filling out a brief online survey.
Emotional Support Animals are a wonderful resource, and their use has the potential to change the lives of millions of children, teens, and adults with mental illnesses. Because the industry for ESAs is so new, it has problems which are beginning to become apparent. The abuse of certifications from those who may not truly need them can create an environment which is more difficult to navigate as a person with an actual disability or mental illness. Stricter regulations and better community education may reduce the overuse of these certifications, paving the way for a more organized industry to help those who need it.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1 (800) 273–8255
Ross, Erin. “Pets Help People Manage the Pain of Serious Mental Illness. NPR. Web. 23 Dec. 2016.
Want to get a great service dog but don’t want to break the bank doing it?
I'm assuming you’ve already done the research and have watched the same video on your favorite breed a hundred times. You know the breed, age, and temperament you want in your perfect pup and now it’s time to find your best friend for the next decade.
This is a complete step-by-step guide to finding your ideal match.
Here's how from A - P
A) After you’ve finalized the plan with yourself it’s time to ask your medical team for advice. What kind of dog do they think would help you the most with your disabilities?
B) Write up a list of things you cannot do for yourself, then go down the list and make sure these are things that your future partner can help you with. Pick out the top three most important issues you want your dog to help you with. For example: If you have a history of seizures, you want your dog to be able to sense them before they happen (according to Dr. Robert Weilbacher a dog should be able to sense a seizure minutes before they happen.)
C) Remember that in order for the dog to be a service dog it must provide a service that you cannot do for yourself such as: protection, emotional support, or companionship. This is in accordance with ABA rules, so make sure your top three things you cannot do for yourself fall into these categories. Service dogs and training are not cheap, so make sure you actually want one before moving forward
D) Strategize on ways to save some $$...your dog will cost anywhere from $100 - $5000 before the training! Lucky you, many states offer scholarships on training, here are links to several that do:
The annual cost of keeping an Assistance Dog will be around $1500 per year, so it’s best to be financially capable to stomach that kind of dent. We have an upcoming article on financial aid options for service dogs, stay tuned for that. Another way to save money is to plan on training the dog yourself, or rescuing a dog from the shelter to eliminate the breeder fee. To see a complete list of the fees, psych dog partners has a fantastic article breaking this down. In review on this several ways to save money:
1) Adopt Dog
2) Train Yourself
3) Get Financial Aid For Adoption
E) Make a list of all the breeders who specifically breed and train service dogs in your area, chances are there won’t be too many. But just in case try and find a breeder locally, you don’t want to go gallivanting across the country and pay for a flight for no reason. Think about it, you may have to make multiple trips out to the vendor for adoption, training, and follow up. Limit your travel costs if at all possible. If you can’t limit travel costs there are several credit cards that will give you a free flight based on monthly spending, see million mile secrets here.
F) If you will need to travel make a list of all the national breeders that interest you on a quick google search, included below are some reputable breeders:
G) Go down the list of breeders and cross off the ones that don’t have a dog for your specific disability. For example, if you see a breeder doesn’t have dogs for autism then you won’t be getting the training that you need to have in for your companion. Best to call the breeder and find out what they specialize in beforehand.
H) Most important in choosing a breeder! Ask for recommendations from people who have gotten puppies from them and make sure to check Yelp, Google, Angie’s list and other review sites for good reviews. You can check to see how long a breeder has been in business by plugging their url into a domain checker here.
I) Ask the breeder how long they keep their pups in the litter before selling. If it is only 5 – 6 weeks of time with mother and her pack that is a bad sign. You are looking for a more socialized dog in the 8 – 12 week range.
J) Make sure you interview the breeder and the breeder interviews you back! That is a sign that the breeder cares about the puppies they are producing, and means they are likely to help you should you have issues in the future. More time with the breeder means more investment on their part
K) Pick a breeder. How to pick a breeder? For more information check out this great article here.
L) Do you want to train the dog yourself? Or will you stay onsite to have the breeder assist you with training? Decide and agree on a price. The training cost will be between 1000 - 2000 anything more is excessive and anything less you should be warry of the breeder.
M) Plan a time to fly out to the breeder and select your puppy with the breeder, not all service dogs make it into service so it’s best to give yours the best shot at success by controlling for the breed and age
N) A rescue dog is the cheapest way to bring a dog into service most shelters will support you for a year of vaccinations and training and could save you close to $5000. Rescue dogs can become great service dogs and will immediately have a strong bond with their owner. However, a rescue dogs temperament can be volatile so investing in training upfront could benefit you in the long run.
O) Do not take home any dog until you have tested out several in the pack. You are going to have this dog for the rest of its life so take your time to pick out the one whose temperament you gel with the best.
P) Flying back home with your dog can be tricky. We’ve written an article on this subject. But here are the basics:
a. Call airline to check out their special requirements and tell them you have a dog
b. Get a dog vest and registration card
c. Be prepared to answer questions about your dog
d. Do not agree to any extra fees, an airline cannot legally charge you for having a service dog.
Follow these steps and checks and you will have a loving companion that improves your quality of life. The basics: strategize with your med team on the qualities you are looking for in your service dog, pick a cost-effective strategy with training, and look at reviews for a reputable breeder in your area.
Good luck and happy searching!
Want to tell us the story of how you found your dog? Email me here at email@example.com
What is a Service Animal?
A service animal is usually a dog but can be a miniature horse, bird, ferret, pig, or even a goat that assists a disabled person in specific tasks.
These disabilities that service dogs assist for can vary tremendously, some service dogs are even trained to dial 911 on the event of an emergency. From the ADA
Can I get a Service Dog?
First you must he have a disability though there are no limitations that this disability may fall under.
Secondly the dog must perform a specific task related to the disability. In legality only these two requirements are written in stone for having a service dog.
If you are currently looking for a service dog, check out our breed comparison.
Is There a Governing Body?
Kind of, there are three bills passed by congress that make up the foundation for the right to own a service dog.
1) The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was revised in 2010 to include definitions for service animals these articles give the over 20,000 service animals in the US and their owners protection to bring their dogs in businesses and on flights.
2) Furthermore, the Air Carrier Access Act allows service animals to accompany passengers on airplanes and the
3) Fair Housing Amendments Act covers the dog in housing.
What are Some Physical Impairments that Use Service Dogs?
Arithritis – For retrieving dropped items, opening doors, carrying items, pulling wheelchairs up ramps, turning on lights, and assisting in exchanges at banks or stores.
Ataxia - To aid in walking by being a less invasive counter-balance than another human.
Autism - Safety and an emotional anchor for the child, check out Autism Service Dogs of America for more info
Blindness - Used as a mobility aid and can be given orders such has “Find the door” or “Find the elevator.”
Deafness - Hearing dog to notify by touch of alerts or alarms, check out Dogs for the deaf for more info
Diabetes - Can detect low blood sugar with smell, check out Diabetic Assistance Dogs for more info
Cardio Disease – Can alert owner on drops in blood pressure by placing head on owners heart (signal for a heart emergency.)
Cerebral Palsy - Used for physical stability and seizure alert, dog can also be trained to roll its owner into the proper position during the event of a seizure.
Parkinson’s Disease - Dog is able to sense the “freezing moment” experienced by people with Parkinson’s, and can solve the issue by pulling forward gently on the leash.
Muscular Dystrophy - Will retrieve items dropped on the floor
Multiple Sclerosis – Balance dog to help sit, stand up, and get in and out of bed.
Psychiatric Disabilities – Used to interrupt repetitive injurious behaviors or to relieve stressful situations. Check out our article on PTSD Service Dogs!
Seizures – Dog can aid as a balance, roll owner over into the proper position, and even alert medical personnel when a seizure is imminent.
Spinal Cord/Head Trauma - Helps with balance and dropped items
And many more….
Do I Need A Letter From A Doctor To Qualify?
No, it isn’t necessary to have one, if someone challenges the legitimacy of your service dog you will need to have proof of either your dog or your disability. We give out free identification certificates that you can carry around with you to solve this problem. Get certificate here!
Can an Institution Block Your Service Dog From Entering?
No! The ADA supersedes all local/state laws. Your service dog should be allowed in every building should you need it.
Flying with your service animal can be a head splitting anxiety fest. Should I call the airline beforehand? Does my dog have to be on a leash? Does she get her own carry on bag?
Flying in general is enough to make your head spin, and dealing with delays and gate changes can only compound to a negative headspace. So how do you do it with your companion? Especially one you rely on for your livelihood!?
Before we get to the list, know that it is your federal right to travel with your service dog, you are protected not only by the ADA, but also by the Air Carrier Access Act which states that you cannot be charged extra fees for bringing your dog through security and onto the plane.
Here’s How To Survive.
1) Be Prepared to Explain – You will probably be asked by airport gate checkers, security, and front desk managers what your disability is and what purpose your dog serves you. Having a dog properly registered with a certificate/id and bright service dog vest can help butter this sometimes awkward interaction. Practice explaining who your dog is and what your dog does for you. Airport personnel are trained to ask if your dog is a working dog.
2) Registration Certificate – Print of a registration certificate or card like the one found here at the iServiceDog registry can prevent a hassle or an otherwise uncomfortable situation from arising. Of note, the iServiceDog registry and others like it are all unofficial and are only meant to serve as a deterrent and convenience. By the law of the ADA you have to be taken at your word that your dog is a service dog, for more on what defines a service dog, check out our article here or read the excellent article on anythingspawsable.com
3) Flying Internationally - If flying internationally call your destination country before flying because your animal may need to be quarantined upon arrival. This is the case in most southeast asian countries like Korea and the Philippines. You may need to provide proof of vaccination and even blood tests. More information on flying internationally with your pet can be found at pettravel.com
4) Test Before you Fly - Go on a long car trip, use Amtrak, or if you're really adventurous hop on a Greyhound with your dog before flying. Graduate up to the flight so you can make sure your dog will be a cool cucumber when she’s being propelled through the lower atmosphere at 500 miles an hour. Some dogs just won't be cut out for flying and that's ok. Check out our breed competition breakdown if you are looking for a chiller breed to travel with, better to discover your dogs travel tolerance closer to home.
5) Before you arrive – Take your dog on a long bathroom walk and cut water off three hours before the flight. Most airports will have a dog relief section so be on the lookout for those when you’re in the terminal. My advice: it should be the first thing on your to-do list when you get through security
6) Security – Per the recent changes you must now walk through security without touching your dog. You can still hold the leash, but all dogs must be inspected by TSA (U.S. Transportation Security Administration.)
Security personnel are familiar with service dogs and ADA regulations, so this shouldn't be their first rodeo with a service dog. Advise security personnel on how you would like to proceed through the metal detector with your dog. Some will have the dog walk behind them as support while others might prefer to go through separate entirely from their animal, the choice is yours. If the metal detector does go off, you will be subject to additional searching, though security will always ask you before they touch your dog.
Any other questions about TSA and service dogs call TSA Cares (TSA’s website for travelers with disabilities.) Also you can call the hotline at 1-855-787-2227
7) Know Your Airline Specific Requirements – This seems like a repeat but it's not. You must know your country specific restrictions on animals (if flying internationally or to Hawaii) AND your airline specific restrictions. US Airways, Virgin America, and Alaska Air all require a harness or a tag that indicts your animals status as a service dog, don’t get caught out in the cold on this one! Here are links to informational pages on service animals for all the major carriers:
8) At the Gate – Let your airline attendant personnel know that you are traveling with a service dog, they will often allow you to board first. This is also a good time to ask the airline where they expect your dog to reside during the flight.
9) On the Plane – Most airlines specify that your dog must remain in between your legs and in front of your seat. You can bring dog treats on the plane to keep your animal happy during the flight.
10) In Review – For true peace of mind, do your homework and make sure you call the carrier and destination of travel for special restrictions. Bring documentation and have your dog wear a bright vest to be seen easier by airport personnel. Be prepared to answer questions about your dog, and remember that you are protected by federal documents (ADA, Air Carrier Access Act.) Proceed through security, alert the personnel at your gate and have a great flight!
Some of the most common dogs in America also make for some of the best service dogs. German Shepard, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. These dogs are intuitive, sensitive, and hardy enough to assist owners with almost any task. So which one is the best? Welcome to the service dog breed showdown!
Training: The golden is classically an easy dog to train and eager to please their human. They require fewer repetitions and can obey the most specific of instructions. They are a bit sensitive so some harsh scolding will not go well with these guys. But in general one of the most intuitive breeds to train.
Temperment: Golden retrievers easily get along with children and their friends and members of their friends tribe. Also they are usually gentle with other dogs and have even been known to take a cat or two as a friend. Who wouldn’t want to hug a golden retriever!?
Health: Golden retrievers are susceptible to genetic disorders and other diseases like Hip dyspalasia. Also of note, these dogs can get big, and not in a good way. Obesity is problem with golden retrievers and you shouldn’t allow your puppy to eat too much during his meal times.
Adaptability: Not great, it needs regular exercise and is best with a large backyard to run around in.
VERDICT - GOLDEN RETRIEVER
Training: Labrador’s are easy to train, but have a bit more in the stubborn tank than Golden’s. Still you should have no trouble getting this breed to “sit” and “come” from an early age
Temperament: Labrador’s are high energy loving dogs. They come from a long ancestry that has built in them the innate desire to please their masters. And though they can be a bit rowdy and jumpy at times, the Labrador is a great dog for kids at an early age.
Health: Hip, eye, and heart problems are common at an older age. Similar to the golden retriever though these guys usually experience problems at a later age (year 7 rather than year 5.) And for that little nugget they still maintain a star rating of 4 for their general longevitiy compared to other breeds.
Adaptability: Labrador’s can handle any weather most of the time despite their stocky build. But because they are retrievers they need lots of exercise and a nice big backyard to roam around and chase leaves in. Expecially when they are puppies they are highly active. If your disability prevents you from going on long walks with this one, you might want to look elsewhere.
VERDICT - LABRADOR RETRIEVER
Training: “A good German Shepherd with a stable temperament is one of the most capable and trainable breeds in all of dogdom.” It’s no mistake that these dogs are used by the military and police to perform some very specific and dangerous activities. Heroic, and most of the time easy going, there may not be a dog easier to train than this one.
Temperment: Good guard dog and a solid choice for families anywhere. Intensely loyal to a fault, if the dog is not associated with other humans from an early age the German Shepard can become protective over its primary owner which may be a good thing depends on what you want
Health: Skin and infamous digestive problems are a concern for this breed. Though with a longer than average lifespan (11 – 13 years.) Hip dysplasia can also become a factor as with all other retriever breeds.
Adaptability: The German Shepard is not a dog that can sit still outside for long and be expected to remain still. That being said, this is a fairly adaptable dog for a retriever in its versatility. Depending on training the German Shepard can be molded into a docile housedog or a drug sniffing informant. This dynamic capability is unique to the German Shepard and a one-dog-fits all solution for many owners.
VERDICT - GERMAN SHEPARD
But really any one of these three will make a fantastic companion. The German Shepard tops out on our list because of its versatility and longevity. Happy breed shopping!