Do I Need a Doctor’s Note for a Service Dog? – Service Dog Requirements
With the chaotic times we live in, many people are having difficulties both emotionally and mentally. When a person finds themselves in this situation, they may feel overwhelmed and even hopeless. When this happens, some doctors and mental health professionals are recommending the use of service dogs. However, the term “service dog” is becoming a “catch-all” term. Real service dogs are trained to perform a specific task for the physically or mentally challenged individual. This also includes psychiatric service dogs for folks that suffer from PTSD or bipolar disorder (to name a couple).
Why do professionals feel a service dog can be beneficial? It is simply the “nature of the beast.” Any pet parent knows the canine species has an innate ability to know when their owner is troubled. Sometimes just the presence of an animal in one’s life can bring a certain amount of comfort. However, when the dog is trained to perform a specific task that directly relates to alleviating the effects of the emotional or mental condition, it now becomes a partner in that person’s treatment plan.
Although doctors and mental health professionals can recommend a service dog, you do not need a doctor’s note in order to have a service dog.
Benefits of the Service Dog
The tasks performed by a service dog for the physically disabled and one for those with a mental illness are different.
For a physically challenged individual, a service dog will do what that person cannot do for themselves. This could include;
- Retrieving dropped items
- Opening doors
- Leading the person
- Being the person’s ears to hear alarms, doorbells, ringing phones, etc.
- Contacting a person if the individual is in an emergency situation
- Physically aiding the patient if having a seizure or other health issue
- Alerting the individual to drops in blood sugars or of an oncoming seizure.
The psychiatric service dog (PSD) is also trained but in a different capacity. The PSD can be trained to perform the following tasks;
- Help guide a person home after a dissociative episode
- Find a person or a place (like an exit) if the handler is having a panic attack and cannot call out for help.
- Do a room-to-room search for a person who suffers from PTSD and hypervigilance syndrome.
- Signal for certain sounds like smoke alarms (this is for the person that may be heavily medicated)
- Bring help in case the person is in hiding due to fright
- Fetch medication in an emergency
Can I Train my Service Dog?
Yes, by law you can train your dog to be a service animal; however, it is highly recommended to enlist the aid of a professional, especially for those tasks that you may not be able to physically teach the dog due to a disability.
Service Dog Proof for Landlords, Airlines, Restaurants, etc.
The American’s With Disabilities Act does protect the privacy rights of individuals with mental or physical disabilities. In fact, there are only two questions a landlord or an airline employee can ask you.
- Is the dog a service dog?
- What task(s) does the dog perform for you?
This is step one in dealing with folks that may give you a hard time in regards to your service animal.
The second step is to react to the situation in a calm manner. Remember, these individuals may not know your rights and are only trying to do their jobs. Explain your above reasons and if you do have a doctor’s note, this would be the time to present it.
The third step in this process is one you will hopefully not have to deal with; the flat-out refusal. Under the Fair Housing Act, you can ask a “no pets’ policy housing development to provide you with reasonable accommodation for your service dog.
If you are refused, even after you have presented a doctor’s note (only required for Emotional Support Animals), you can contact the Housing and Urban Development office in your area. These people are trained to fight for your rights.
If an airline refuses to allow your service dog into the cabin of the plane, you can contact a manager on the spot or call the individual airlines customer service number to file a complaint.
Recently a 13-year-old girl with cerebral palsy won her case in the supreme court to bring her service dog, Wonder, to her classes. After her parents exhausted all their options in dealing with the school directly, they decided to go to court. This win will hopefully begin to break down those barriers to help other students with their service dogs.
Service Dog Vest & Registration
It is not legally necessary to register your service dog, but it does offer some benefits. These include;
- Dog and handler are entered into a database
- Service dog vest is issued, making it easier for people to identify your canine as a “working dog”
- ID badges and a certificate are also issued for further proof
Service Dog or ESA?
If you do not need your dog to provide a specific task, but need to have it around for emotional purposes, then you may qualify for an Emotional Support Animal.
The ESA is there to provide comfort and support for the individual that suffers from an emotional or mental issue. To qualify for an emotional support animal, you must have a medical professional write you a note stating your need.
Once you have your ESA, you will not have the same rights as you would with a service dog. However, you are still eligible to live in “no pets” policy rentals with your ESA at no additional cost.
Know Your Rights
Know your rights when it comes to having a service dog. As long as your canine helper is aiding your life with a specific task that you cannot do for yourself, it can be considered a service dog. Whether you train it yourself or register it when it’s completed training, businesses, schools, airlines, and your landlord must recognize your canine as a working dog. If you do run into any ignorant persons, calmly explain yourself, then take your complaints to the appropriate entities.