Are You Barking Up the Wrong Tree?

Anika Bucek, Editorial Page Editor / Website Manager

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At some point or another, everyone has seen a service dog. Whether for blindness, seizures, or some other disability, there is no denying that these hard working canines do a great service for their owners. Recently, however, people are noticing a rise in their numbers, particularly in the field of mental health assistance. But how much do we really know about the psychiatric service dog? How many purposes can they serve? Are all of the rumors out there really true?
Thanks to the modern understanding of canine behavior and trainability, there are a plethora of types of service dogs out there today. To help break it down for people, Dogster.com published this list of ten common service dog varieties: Guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs, diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, seizure response dogs, psychiatric service dogs, autism support dogs, FASD dogs (for children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome), and allergy dogs. Each type of service dog has different standards and requirements to fill that position, and they all have different purposes to suit the unique needs of their handlers.
While many people completely understand the purpose of service dogs for those with physical disabilities such as blindness, epilepsy, or deafness, there seems to be a whole lot of confusion about the purpose of service dogs for those with mental disabilities. Some of these misconceptions have caused a lot of debate over the validity of psychiatric service dogs, with a few people even believing that they are seldom, if not never necessary.
One of the most common rumors about psychiatric service dogs is that absolutely anyone can get one. However, this cannot be farther from the truth. According to Little Angels, a service dog provider and training facility based in California that connects people with their perfect service dogs all over the United States, getting a service dog is no simple task. When applying for a dog, Little Angels will send you an application for your specific disability, you cannot just apply in general. The application will also require information from one or more medical providers and they may even ask for videos, further proving that not just anyone with a few challenges is eligible to get a service dog.
“They (service dogs) have their purpose and they’re really good for people that need them, but there’s a lot of problems with people who just want to bring their dog places so they’ll slap a service dog vest on them and they’re like ‘oh, it’s a service dog!’ But there’s an article where a woman’s actual service dog got attacked by a ‘service dog’ and then it couldn’t function, it distrusted everyone and had a lot of problems, so she had to get another one and go through the whole process again.” said junior Jake Burghardt. Although these issues and points are valid, a very glaring misconception is that this is an issue with service dogs. The dogs in question are mostly emotional support animals. Since many people don’t know the difference between an emotional support dog and a psychiatric service dog, and may even believe them to be the same thing. An emotional support dog is treated much differently by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) than a psychiatric service dog, with one of the key differences being the places they can go. It is widely believed that emotional support dogs, in a similar fashion to fully fledged service dogs, cannot be refused entry to any public locations. This, although a common belief, is false. Emotional support dogs may be refused access to places where service dogs would be allowed. Since the official purpose for an emotional support animal is to benefit through companionship rather than to assist their handler, whether or not the dog needs to be officially trained becomes a little bit unclear. In many situations one may register their own dog, which leads to the problems that stir up debate. According to Google Trends, over the past year, “registering your dog as an emotional support animal” google searches have gone up 160%, with “psychiatric service dog training” rising rapidly as well with a 120% increase.
Despite all of the rumors and misconceptions, psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals alike are generally well received among Warwick students. “Service dogs are gnarly with me.” Aiden Finn, a junior offered “…not trying to harsh anyone’s mellow, just totally tubular, all around.” As put more seriously by Jeff Koff, another junior “I know dogs can be very therapeutic, and there’s a lot of stresses in life, a lot of psychiatric needs for many different people. So I feel that for dogs to be able to be used for psychiatric needs can be very helpful in making someone feel better.”
Whether for the blind, deaf, immobile, mentally challenged, or simply feeling down, dogs always have, and always will play a crucial role in helping humans, and lately, they seem to have a place in our school.

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