Almost one out of every five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness. While there are various treatments available based on the severity of the condition and the way it affects an individual’s life, psychiatric service dogs are becoming an increasingly common tool used for vital support. Not only can they make the day-to-day much easier for their handlers — but psychiatric support dogs can help them enjoy a better quality of life by easing their symptoms and assisting them with averting harmful behaviors.
Service dogs, including psychiatric service dogs, are not classified as pets. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are defined as those “that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” The ADA does not provide any restrictions concerning the breed or size of a service dog.
Some of the most common types of service dogs provide assistance to individuals who are blind, visually impaired, or have a physical disability. However, there are also service dogs that receive special training to help people who suffer from disabilities that cannot be seen. Psychiatric service dogs provide their handlers with critical support in carrying out the activities of their daily lives and allow them to live their lives more independently.
It’s important to understand that psychiatric service dogs are not the same as emotional support animals (ESAs). Service dogs are specially trained to perform a specific job for their handler. ESAs may be trained by their handler — but they are not trained to perform specific tasks or duties. Rather, their primary task is to provide comfort and companionship to someone suffering from an emotional condition.
In addition, ESAs do not have the same legal protections that service dogs are provided under the ADA. This means that they may not be allowed access into many of the same areas that a service dog would be permitted. Although there may be businesses that allow ESAs inside, their legal protection is limited to housing matters. While psychiatric service dogs are still afforded protections by the Department of Transportation’s air travel regulations, airlines are no longer required to accept ESAs.
Psychiatric service dogs often assist those with mental conditions that are so severe they impact their ability to carry out their everyday tasks. These dogs can help with a number of mental health conditions, including the following:
Depending on the specific condition of the handler, a psychiatric service dog can be trained to perform various tasks. Specifically, a psychiatric service dog is trained to mitigate the symptoms associated with the mental disability. For instance, they may provide environmental assessment, interrupt injurious behaviors, or remind the handler when it is time to take their medication.
Psychiatric service dogs may also act as a protective boundary for individuals who suffer from social anxiety and they can apply pressure from their nose or paws to alleviate stress for those who experience panic attacks. For those who suffer from PTSD, a psychiatric service animal can walk in front of their handler and ensure the surroundings are safe and passable — this can help the handler to feel secure and avoid a panic attack. In the event the panic attack occurs, the dog can provide tactile stimulation.
By law, psychiatric service dogs cannot be denied entry into any public places — even if there is a no-pets policy in place. This includes public transportation, buses, airports, planes, offices, and the workplace. They are also legally permitted in condos, co-ops, and other housing. In fact, housing providers, condo boards, and landlords must allow psychiatric service dogs regardless of the pet policy in the building.
When an individual is in public with their service dog, people, businesses, and housing providers are prohibited from asking about your specific disability or require medical documentation in order for you to enter a particular premises. The handler also cannot be asked to show proof that the dog has been certified or trained. Specifically, only two questions are allowed to be asked: 1) whether the dog is required because of a disability, and 2) what task the dog has been trained to perform.
If you require a psychiatric service dog or an emotional support animal, it’s a good idea to consult with a knowledgeable attorney who can best advise you regarding your legal rights. The Law Office of Herb M. Milgrim, P.A. is dedicated to representing clients in condo matters in connection with psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals.
Serving the needs of clients throughout Florida, we offer skillful advocacy and reliable representation for matters concerning service dogs and emotional support animals in Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach Counties, as well as Miami, Naples, Brickell, Hollywood, Davie, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale, Sunny Isles, Aventura, North Miami, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach. In matters concerning housing, we exclusively represent owners — never the condo associations or their boards. To schedule a consultation, we welcome you to contact us at (954) 966-3909.