What are the benefits dogs can provide to individuals with mental health issues?Mental Health

Please click the link to view a 7 minute video as to how a Frankie helped Allen with his PTSD. Dog Assists Veteran with PTSD.

Man’s best friend, the lovable dog has been helping people with disabilities for many years. From my own experience, my dog Thaddeus can always sense when I am upset or anxious. During those times, he won’t leave my side and can’t get close enough to me. Looking into those big brown eyes always cheers me up. Dogs have also been used to those with seeing impairments to help them navigate to their destination and keep them safe in the process from traffic and other obstacles.

Recent studies have shown that dogs can also assist those who have mental disabilities such as post-traumatic stress syndrome or PTSD. There are several types of care which can be provided to those with mental illnesses:

  • Psychiatric service dog – individually, intensely trained dogs for people with mental disabilities
  • Emotional support dog – provide comfort and motivation to people with disabilities – they can usually be taken on planes and live in housing situations in which they wouldn’t normally be allowed
  • Therapy dogs – help large groups of people such as comforting people in a hospital

There are many benefits to having a psychiatric service dog:

  • Interacting with pets produces a chemical change within the brain
  • Help reduce stress
  • Caring for a pet helps them to become less frightened, changes the focus from their own fears, and helps prove that you can take care of something else and therefore yourself
  • Provides emotional support
  • Provides a calming effect

Psychiatric service dogs have met maybe not opposition but some legal barriers. There are several different governmental agencies in which their definition of service dog is left to interpretation as to whether or not they include psychiatric service dogs.

  • The Department of Justice defines service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” This can include “alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with PTSD during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.”
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act states that dogs “whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals.”
  • The Department of Transportation makes reference to animals that “assist persons with disabilities by providing emotional support.” Airlines may require specific documentation.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development talks about assistance animals which can include “providing emotional support to persons who have a disability related need for such support.”

An additional issue exists for those who have allergies and are traveling on planes with service animals. I don’t think an official sanction has yet been rendered on this one.

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