Emotional Support Dogs and Service Dogs for People with Mental Illness
By Cissy Stamm, Co-Founder, New York Area Assistance Dogs
You Too Can Benefit from Animal Companionship
Something happens when humans and animals interact. For millennium we’ve been aware of it. Now the science is developing. Much of the effect of human/animal interaction appears to be the result of the release of the hormone oxytocin, often called the bonding hormone between mother and nursing child. It now appears that the release of oxytocin may be mutual, meaning both the animal and the human experience it.
For the research on the reasons behind the beneficial effects of human/animal interaction and what those benefits are, a summary of the research can be found at: Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408111/
This is good information to give to any healthcare provider if you are considering getting an emotional support animal (or service dog), especially if you live in “No Pets” housing.
One of the first things that need to be clarified is proper and legal terminology.
A Therapy Animal is an animal that provides comfort to a person other than its owner. The animal can in addition act as an emotional support animal for its owner. Therapy dogs usually have to go through special training for this kind of work, be certified and have insurance, normally provided through the organization that trains therapy animals and arranges pet visitation in various venues.
Emotional Support Animals
An Emotional Support Animal is an animal that provides comfort and support to a person with a psychological disability. They need not have any specialized training, and are not considered pets for the purposes of most housing pet limitations. They are legally covered under the Federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations and are considered “reasonable accommodations” so that people with disabilities can have enjoyment of their homes equal to that of people without these conditions. A request for reasonable accommodation must be given to one’s landlord in “no pets” housing or housing that has pet weight limits (which your animal may exceed) if your animal is for emotional support. A letter from a healthcare provider stating the need for the animal is required. It need not state the nature of one’s disability. It is important to note that Emotional Support Animals do not have public access with their handlers, except under certain conditions, on airlines. Emotional support dogs must not create a nuisance in housing. A sample request for accommodation letter for a landlord can be found at Fair Housing Information Sheet # 6, Bazelon Center Right to Emotional Support Animals in "No Pet" Housing: http://www.bazelon.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=mHq8GV0FI4c%3D&tabid
A Service Animal is a dog who has been trained to do tasks to mitigate an ADA-covered disability. A description of a service dog and the laws covering its use can be found at: Revised Service Animal Brief http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm
It is very important to note that most individuals are not qualified to train a service dog and will need professional help. People using service dogs have access with their dogs to places the public can normally go. Service dogs are expected to behave appropriately in public and not bark, bite, to be house-broken, and not interact with other people or dogs without the handler’s permission.
Another thing that must be considered when thinking about a service dog is one’s ability to deal calmly with situations in which one is denied access because s/he is accompanied by their service dog. This can happen at any time whenever you encounter an employee or owner who isn’t familiar with or doesn’t care about the law. If you are not prepared for the possible stresses of public access, you might be better served not considering a service dog.
In either case, one needs to be able to afford to feed a service dog (food allowance under SNAP still being tested), and veterinary care and training if necessary.
Reasonable accommodation as described for emotional support animals should also be requested for service dogs in no-pets housing.
Persons with questions on emotional support animals or service dogs in housing can contact their local HUD office. Questions on service dogs in employment and places of public accommodation can be answered by the ADA hotline: 800-514-0301 (Voice) and 800-514-0383 (TTY) or you can contact Cissy Stamm at New York Area Assistance Dogs for free information and advocacy at 212-677-4383.
Pullout: “An Emotional Support Animal...provides comfort and support to a person with a psychological disability...need not have any specialized training, and are not considered pets for the purposes of most housing pet limitations.”