Is a Psychiatric Service Dog a Service Dog?
The short answer: Absolutely, psychiatric service dogs are recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as service dogs with the same rights.
What is a psychiatric service dog (PSD)?
Many people think service dogs only help with physical disabilities. For example, guide dogs help those with diminished vision, alert dogs for the deaf, or service dogs pull wheelchairs for the mobility impaired.
A psychiatric service dog is a type of service dog that helps handlers with mental health disabilities. The ADA defines these mental health conditions as “any mental or psychological disorder” such as “emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.”
Psychiatric service dogs help people with conditions like debilitating depression, severe anxiety, PTSD, and ADHD. Like a service dog for physical disabilities, however, a PSD must be trained to perform a job or task relating to the handler’s disability.
PSDs can perform countless tasks. Examples of tasks that the ADA cites are reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications and calming a person during an anxiety attack.
How can you know if someone has a PSD?
It can be tricky to tell if someone has a PSD because mental illnesses are usually invisible. When it’s not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff can ask two questions:
- Is the dog a service dog required for a disability?
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
PSD owners also find it helpful to use service dog accessories like ID cards, vests, tags, and certificates so that others know their dog is on duty. However, no one can insist you provide these items as a condition of entry.
Some PSD handlers are wary of public interactions and the possibility of someone playing with their dog while it is working. The items mentioned above can help reduce these concerns. Many PSD owners will also obtain PSD letters to verify if they have a qualifying condition.
What rights do psychiatric service dogs have? ⚖️
The Americans with Disabilities Act recognizes psychiatric service dogs on equal footing with other types of service dogs. That means that PSDs have all of the legal rights that service dogs for physical disabilities have. That includes access to public areas normally closed off to dogs. PSDs must also be accommodated in no-pets residential buildings, free of charge.
Is a psychiatric service dog the same thing as an emotional support animal?
No, the ADA distinguishes between PSDs trained to perform a task directly relating to the handler’s disability and animals that solely provide comfort or emotional support. Both help with mental illnesses, but service dogs undergo specialized training, whereas ESAs do not.
To qualify for an emotional support animal, you need a letter from a licensed healthcare professional. ESAs have housing rights but no broader public access rights.
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