People with mental or physical disabilities use service animals and emotional support animals for a variety of reasons. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), under Titles II and III, a service animal is any dog specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability.
These dogs are well known for assisting blind people and are also trained to help deaf people by alerting them with a specific signal matched to a particular sound so that a deaf person knows the kettle is whistling, the doorbell is ringing or the alarm clock has gone off. The dogs are trained to make physical contact with their partner and lead them to the source of the sound. Seizure response dogs guard a person during a seizure, some dogs can pick up the warning of an imminent seizure and alert the person in advance to sit down or move to a safe place.
Under Titles II and III of the ADA, service animals are limited to dogs, but entities must make reasonable modifications in policies to allow individuals with disabilities to use miniature horses if they have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.
Psychiatric service dogs are specially trained to detect the onset of a psychiatric episode and reduce the effect. They can remind their partner to take medicine, provide safety checks or room searches, turn on lights, interrupt self-mutilation and keep disoriented people away from danger.
Sensory signal dogs are trained to assist people with autism. The dog alerts their partner to distracting, repetitive movements common amongst those with autism, allowing the person to take control over the movement.
People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been helped tremendously by service dogs. The dogs are trained to respond to five specific demands from their partner:
Block: the dog will stand in front of their partner forming a barrier and space between other people.
Behind: the dog will position itself behind its partner.
Lights: the dog will enter a room ahead of their partner and turn on the lights so their partner does not have to enter a darkened room.
Sweep: the dog will enter a house or room and sweep it for people or intruders, alerting their partner by barking.
Bring: the dog will retrieve an item such as car keys and bring it to their partner.
Emotional support animals are not trained for specific tasks but provide comfort and companionship. These animals are American Kennel Club-certified and must possess a friendly temperament. They are used in nursing home and hospital visits, including children’s hospitals, to provide emotional comfort and bring smiles to people. Recently these dogs have been making visits to crowded airports where people may be under stress. A friendly dog with a wagging tail makes almost anyone smile. They also make visits to areas (including airports) where there may have been violence or the threat of violence and have the ability to calm people who may feel jumpy.
There is significant evidence that animals improve people’s mental health. Many Sovereign Health locations provide equine therapy for our patients receiving treatment for addictions or mental health disorders. For further information, please call our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Veronica McNamara, Sovereign Health Group writer