Service dogs in San Francisco are amazing. They have been extensively trained, live strict but loved lives, and take care of their owners like truly no one else can. The dogs’ abilities to detect seizures, pick up dropped items, and even warn owners of impending stroke or heart attack make these dogs literally life savers.
With all the amazing things these animals can do, it’s no wonder we have learned to accept them in places we usually wouldn’t, like a restaurant or the office. But there is a growing cynicism towards service and support animals in general, and mostly because of misunderstanding, and I’ll admit that I used to be one of these people.
I was not raised in a house with pets, and I never could understand the “emotional support animal“. I could understand a seeing eye dog or a dog that assists with the hearing impaired, but these are obvious needs that a dog could help with. When I would see articles about an emotional support pig or bunny, I would roll my eyes.
The Best Service dog laws in CaliforniaA service dog encourages outward expression from a young boy with autism.
A psychiatric service dog is a specific type of service dog trained to assist their handler with a psychiatric disability, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder .
Although assistance dogs have traditionally helped people with disabilities such as blindness or more recently deafness or mobility disabilities, there is a wide range of other disabilities that an assistance dog may be able to help with as well, including psychiatric disabilities.A Psychiatric service dog in training Service dog being trained to run over and lie in handler's lap to provide calming pressure.
Like all assistance dogs, a psychiatric service dog is individually trained to do work or perform tasks that mitigate their handler's disability. Training to mitigate a psychiatric disability may include providing environmental assessment (in such cases as paranoia or hallucinations), signaling behaviors (such as interrupting repetitive or injurious behaviors), reminding the handler to take medication, retrieving objects, guiding the handler from stressful situations, or acting as a brace if the handler becomes dizzy. Moreover, the dog can be an extremely useful companion in any controlled training concerning cognitive functions, as "walking the dog" for instance, which simultaneously offers any person several situations or encounters where cognition activates.
Psychiatric service dogs may be of any breed or size suitable for public work. Many psychiatric service dogs are trained by the person who will become the handler—usually with the help of a professional trainer. Others are trained by assistance or service dog programs. Assistance dog organizations are increasingly recognizing the need for dogs to help individuals with psychiatric disabilities, and there are even organizations dedicated specifically to supporting psychiatric service dog handlers.
In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual," and therefore allows handlers of psychiatric service dogs the same rights and protections afforded to those with other types of service animals. Service dogs, including psychiatric service dogs, are allowed to accompany their handler in any location that is normally accessible to the public whether or not health codes or business policy normally would allow a dog to enter, provided the dog behaves properly and does not interfere with normal operations (e.g. barking, biting, defecating, or obstructing other people) or pose a direct threat to the safety of others.
An alternative to a psychiatric service dog is an emotional support animal, which may or may not have specific training related to the handler's disability, but provides companionship and emotional support. They do not qualify as service animals in the United States, though they do qualify for several exceptions in housing and air travel.
The Fair Housing Act also allows tenants that have service animals or emotional support animals to stay in housing that does not allow pets. Some individual state laws may also provide additional guidelines or protection.
The Air Carrier Access Act also permits psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals to be permitted to travel in the cabin when accompanied by a person with a disability.
People with psychiatric service dogs are often faced with several problems that other service dog handlers typically do not experience. While guide dogs for the blind and hearing-impaired and helper dogs for people who use wheelchairs are well-known to the public, dogs for psychiatric conditions are not. Further adding to this issue is that many people with psychiatric conditions do not appear to have anything externally wrong with them, and because of the heavy social stigma of mental illness, the handler may be reluctant to explain their condition or the dog's trained tasks even in the vaguest of terms. In addition, the dogs can be any size (even toy breeds) depending on their trained task, yet there is a common public misconception that all service dogs are medium or large breeds. Any of these issues can lead to other people inappropriately impugning the dog's status or pressing the handler to divulge medical information about themselves.
Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs - What's the Difference?
Sadly, some people are asking whether "service animal" laws are being abused by those who want to scam the system.
There have been news stories, articles, opinion pieces and other editorials where people rant and complain about people they believe to be abusing the system. You hear some complain that they had to sit near a dog at a restaurant that they don't believe is a "real" service dog, or others complain that their neighbors have a pet in a "no pet" building because they claimed the animal is an emotional support animal.
Some of the commentary has an indignant tone, and some people are downright angry.
How does this affect those who legitimately own and use a service animal to better their lives? In many ways.
For one, it can it more difficult to navigate bureaucracy of the world when your claim of a disability and your service or emotional support animal's status is questioned. If a landlord or business owner has heard negative stories claiming that some people are abusing the system, it can cause them to look suspiciously at all claimants.
But that percentage of abuse, which in the area of service animal laws is hopefully small, is arguably a very small price to pay when compared to the higher goal of promoting access and equality for all.
In the end, you cannot control any system to make it 100% abuse proof. So tolerating the few people who scam service animal laws is the price we gladly pay to ensure that the disabled in the great state of California have equal access under law.
How Should You Act Around a Service Dog?
How should you act around a service dog?
A person's natural instinct is to pet and play with dogs.
Unfortunately, we must all respect the vest or cape of the service dog and ignore the dog as much as possible. That means not petting it, touching it, distracting it, talking to it, teasing it, or especially feeding it.
So, how should you act? Really the best way and only recommended way is by totally ignoring the dog the same way you would politely ignore a wheelchair or cane.
A service dog that is not ignored may become "ruined" and unusable by its owner, and given that service dogs are both very hard to find for specific conditions and extremely expensive (typically averaging $15,000 each) this can be devastating for the dog's owner.
By violating this etiquette, you have also just helped contribute to the person's loss of freedom and possibly made it necessary for the owner to give up the dog, which would be heartbreaking, and for the person to require the use of a Personal Care Attendant (PCA)—another person shadowing them all the time—to provide some of the services that the dog used to perform.
Service Dog Basics for the Public
Do you have a hard time working around a service dog?
It's very hard for some people to be around service dogs and service dogs in-training because a person's natural instinct is to pet and play with dogs, especially the healthy well-kept dogs who work as service dogs.
Unfortunately, we must all respect the vest or cape of the service dog and ignore the dog as much as possible rather than petting it, touching it, distracting it, talking to it or teasing it, or even looking at it.
When the cape/vest is on, the dog is working
After all, whenever the cape is on, the dog is working hard, whether it looks like it to you or not.
Among other things, the dog is working very hard to ignore you and the tiny morsel of food on the floor over there that looks tasty.
The dog is also focused on its handler, remaining alert for any commands, scents, or hand signals for action.
It falls asleep all the time. How is that "working"?
Most service dogs are trained to catch a nap whenever possible during the day to give them the energy they need when their work is most actively needed.
Napping at strategic times, such as lunchtime and meetings, is a type of work essential for them to do their service dog work; the dog is not in any way "falling asleep on the job" in a negative sense.
So, how should you act?
Really the best way is by ignoring the dog the same way you would politely ignore a wheelchair or cane.
The service dog and its handler try to minimize the distraction the dog provides to the public, but the public needs to learn and obey manners with respect to the dog and the disabled person (or dog trainer) also.
Remember that it's not polite to stare, point, or talk about people.
One thing you should never do
It's very impolite to ask why someone uses a service dog because their disability is private health information.
Benefits of service dogs
Service dogs can be of great benefit to people with all sorts of disabilities, including invisible disabilities like diabetes, asthma, vertigo, and psychiatric disabilities.
Don't assume that a person who "looks good" and is with a service dog isn't disabled just because the disability isn't obvious to you.
Bonus: Service dogs are also a calming, friendly presence around the office or place or business.
Remember, if a service dog's vest is on they are working.
Service dogs are NOT pets, by law, and interfering with a service dog team is actually a crime in most states.
The same manners that apply to a wheelchair apply to a service dog: that's the easiest way to remember what's right or wrong most of the time.
How Do I Certify My Service Dog?
There are certain responsibilities associated with owning a dog. Some of them are legal while others are merely customs. All dog owners should make sure that they know the responsibilities associated with owning a dog in their area. Knowing the customs and legal responsibilities of a dog owner in your area will not just make you a better dog owner but also help you avoid legal nightmares and lawsuits. This article will focus on the legal aspects of owning a dog.
There is no universal dog law. The laws vary from country to country, from state to state, from city to city and sometimes even from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. It is therefore important that you check the local law in the area where you live. Taking advice from a friend living a few miles away can be a big mistake as the rules can vary between his location and yours. It is also very important that you make sure to check dog rules in other areas before travelling with your dog as you can not assume that the same rules will apply in other areas. This in not only true if your travel abroad but also if you travel within your own country.
Dog law is a very complex matter due to its local nature and it is therefore very hard to give any general advice to dog owners besides to research local laws and contact a dog lawyer if any problem arises.