Mental health awareness: Psychiatric service dogs & emotional support dogs

Shelby Senesac, News Editor

Psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs can greatly benefit those who struggle with their mental health or those with mental disabilities. Could one of these be right for you?

Dogs are known for their capability to help humans in many different situations. On the surface, a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support dog might seem like the same thing, but they’re actually quite different when it comes to the tasks they assist their humans with.

Photo courtesy of Cassiano Psomas via Unsplash

Psychiatric service dogs help those with psychiatric disabilities, including but not limited to severe depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“To be eligible for a psychiatric service dog, a person must be diagnosed with a mental health condition that is debilitating. Service dogs for people with psychiatric disabilities are specially trained to perform tasks that mitigate a person’s disability,” explains the American Kennel Club (AKC). In short, if an individual’s mental disability is so severe that it affects their ability to perform everyday tasks, they’d be eligible for a psychiatric service dog.

A few examples of tasks that a psychiatric service dog may perform are retrieving medication, alerting his/her person before a panic attack or other episodes occur, help calm his/her person down, and wake his/her person from a nightmare.

Psychiatric service dogs are recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), meaning that the dog can accompany their owners in public accommodations.

Emotional support dogs/animals on the other hand are not recognized by the ADA, so these animals and their owners don’t have the same rights as psychiatric service dogs do, except for certain exemptions.

Emotional support dogs/animals provide emotional comfort and assist in improving the symptoms of certain psychological disorders. Unlike psychiatric service dogs, these dogs/animals are not trained to assist individuals with everyday tasks.

 With the information provided on both psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs/animals, you might be curious what UNF’s policies are when it comes to these animals.

UNF’s Student Accessibility Services website states, “As established and defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals shall not be excluded from UNF facilities or activities.”

As for emotional support animals, “Therapy animals are not covered by laws protecting and giving rights to service animals. Approval of the presence of a therapy animal falls within the authority of the university regarding accommodations to a disability.”

“Students who request a service or emotional support animals must comply with state and local requirements regarding registration and licensing of the animal as well as having current veterinary health certificates,” according to UNF’s Student Accessibility Services website.

To read more about UNF’s policies and regulations, click here.

To read about UNF’s resident therapy dog, Eli, click here.


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