Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the world, affecting over 40 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older. There are many medications, remedies, and treatments available for this condition. Although this widespread epidemic is highly treatable, only around 35% of Americans who are affected receive treatment.
Animal lovers who suffer from anxiety often have the question of whether they would be eligible to have a service dog for anxiety. Unfortunately, there is not an officially recognized certification or training for emotional support animals or psychiatric service dogs. So how can someone go about getting a service animal?
How to Get a Service Dog
Qualifying for a service dog is simple. However, getting one is not.
First, the owner must have a physical or mental disability that affects their day-to-day life and be able to show that an animal can provide a service that benefits the person’s specific illness. Then the owner must receive written documentation from their healthcare provider that they are being treated for an emotional or psychiatric disorder. Also, if they have a disability that requires the support or assistance of an animal to help alleviate health issues.
Service dogs can be obtained through several professional organizations, or the owner can train the dogs themselves, which usually costs time and money. Check out our article on service dogs for veterans, and how to get one.
Other considerations when obtaining a service dog is that the owner must be present during the dog’s training, must be able to give commands, care for the dog, and have a stable home and finances to support the service dog.
Service dogs are expensive because of the training that is involved in getting them to reach a high caliber. Training could cost anywhere between $30-$40,000. On top of training, there are regular food, grooming, and vet costs each year.
Read more about service dog training with this Vietnam veteran’s story, who has been training emotional support animals for six decades.
Types of Service Dogs
Often when the term service dog is used, there are different ideas as to what it means. There are mainly three types of service dogs: psychiatric service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy animals. While a dog can be more than one of those types, there are differences between the three.
Per the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA, service animals are defined as dogs that are trained to do work or tasks for people with disabilities. Such actions or duties include but are not limited to guiding the blind, alerting the deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting someone having a seizure, reminding a person to take prescribed medications, or even calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack.
While they are loving animals, service animals are considered working animals and not pets. The task a service animal has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Other domestic animals that are not dogs are covered only as emotional support animals (ESA) or therapy animals.
The most common service animal is the psychiatric service dog (PSD), which is used to assist with psychiatric or mental disabilities including but not limited to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder.
Only PSDs are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act to access public places that otherwise do not allow pets. Services such as providing companionship, calming anxiety, and comforting or providing a sense of safety are not all legally considered “tasks” and would not qualify the dog as a PSD.
An emotional support animal (ESA) is any domestic animal, including a dog, whose presence mitigates emotional or psychological symptoms associated with an owner. They do not have to be trained as long as they are well behaved. While not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, ESAs are covered under the Fair Housing Act which allows people with an ESA to have the pet in their home even if there is a “no pet” policy. ESAs are also permitted to travel on airplanes with their owners at no additional cost.
Therapy animals are used for animal-assisted therapy or for therapeutic visitation, which may also assist people with disabilities or emotional and psychiatric disorders. This includes services that bring dogs to a nursing home to visit bed-ridden people or a horse used for equestrian therapy.
Before getting a working animal, it is essential to seriously consider the responsibilities that come with taking care of a service animal. Not everyone with a disability is the right candidate for a service dog or other animal. Service animals are a big commitment, and one should take into consideration the service animal’s physical, mental, and monetary needs before getting one.