Help! What Type of Service Dog Should I Get?

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Service dogs play a vital role in the lives of people with disabilities, ranging from autism to muscular dystrophy. These loving animals help their owners perform day-to-day tasks, and some are specially trained for people with diabetes, epilepsy, or PTSD. Service dogs play an important practical role in the lives of their partners, but they also become loving friends.

Understanding the 4 Types of Service Dogs

We here are Honest Pets are dedicated to taking care of the animals who care for us. From good-for-you-treats to training tools and grooming products, we’re proud to serve those who serve. There are many types of service dogs out there, and each type offers a host of unique characteristics and benefits. Let’s take a closer look at each type and the benefits of companion dogs for people with disabilities.

Emotional support animals (ESAs)

An emotional support animal can be any animal that provides emotional support to its handler. This classification is not limited to just dogs; actually, quite the opposite. There are emotional support pigs, birds, cats, rabbits, snakes, and of course, dogs. Dogs and cats are the most common, but any domesticated animal can be an ESA.

ESAs are covered under the Fair Housing Act. This allows people with an ESA to have their pet in their home even if there is a “no pet” policy. The law also prevents additional pet fees for ESAs. Small ESAs can also travel with you on a plane free of charge. Unlike service dogs, ESAs aren’t allowed into other public places that don’t normally allow pets.

In order to get the benefits of an ESA, you will need a “prescription” from a mental health professional. This is basically just a signed letter stating that you have a mental health condition and that your pet helps you deal with it. Some landlords and airlines will accept a letter from a medical doctor, but usually, it needs to be a therapist or a psychiatrist.

Service animals (dogs only)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 2010 Regulations define a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition.” If they meet this definition, dogs are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Qualifying for a service dog is simple. Actually getting one is a bit harder. To qualify for a service animal, all you need to do is get written documentation from your healthcare provider that you have and are being treated for an emotional or psychiatric disorder or disability and require the assistance of an animal because of it. The work a dog has been trained to do must specifically relate to your condition. Training a service dog yourself can be difficult and can take years. Usually, you would get a service dog from someone else who has already trained it.

Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs)

Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are dogs that are specially trained to work with people who have certain kinds of mental illnesses or learning disabilities. These include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

These dogs can help their owners perform tasks that they otherwise might not be able to do or help them to live a more independent lifestyle. For example, a dog may assist someone with PTSD in doing room searches or turning on lights. Or it might help someone in a dissociative episode from wandering into danger. Providing companionship, calming anxiety, or providing a sense of safety merely by its presence are not legally considered “tasks.” A 2009 survey of the effectiveness of Psychiatric Service Dogs in the treatment of PTSD in veterans by Dr. Gillett and R. Weldrick, BA, at McMaster University revealed that 82% of those partnered with a service dog reported a reduction in their symptoms and 40% took less medication.

If you’re not sure whether to get an ESA or a PSD, think about what your specific needs are. Is this animal going to assist you in tasks you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do? You’ll probably need a service animal. Are they primarily going to provide companionship, non-judgmental positive regard, and affection? That sounds more like an ESA, which is much easier to get anyway.

Therapy animals

This is a confusing term because it sounds like the others, but it doesn’t actually confer any special rights. While a Service Dog is trained for one specific handler with a disability and the dog must perform at least one task for that person, a Therapy Dog is used by a group of people. You might see children reading to them in libraries, or they might visit elderly people in nursing homes or patients at a hospital.

Therapy animals are used in therapeutic settings, like hospitals or nursing homes. Some examples might be a cat that lives at a treatment facility, a dog that is taken to visit people in a disaster area, or a horse used in equestrian therapy. Therapy animals provide affection and comfort to people, but they are different from PSDs or ESAs. They are screened for their ability to perform a specific type of therapy, and they are handled by professionals.

Who is eligible to get a service dog?

Anyone with a disability, which the Americans with Disabilities Act defines as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or more major life activities. One can have a record of such an impairment, or be regarded by others as having one. It is then up to the individual to seek out an organization and follow the application process.

Can you take care of an animal?

Before getting any kind of pet or service animal, it is important to seriously consider the responsibilities that come along with it. Think about whether you can care for it physically, mentally, and financially. Service animals in particular are a big commitment. ESAs are a little easier since they don’t need special training, but any pet is still a commitment.

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