May 14, 2006

"The question of when an animal goes from being a pet that provides love and companionship to an emotional-support animal [...] is subjective"

where should one draw the line between a loved companion animal and a needed service dog?

from today's new york times:
Wagging the Dog, and a Finger By BETH LANDMAN

ON a sun-drenched weekend last month, cafes from TriBeCa to the Upper West Side were swelling with diners, many of whom left dogs tied to parking meters in deference to Health Department rules that prohibit pets in restaurants. At French Roast on upper Broadway, however, two women sat down to brunch with dogs in tow: a golden retriever and a Yorkie toted in a bag. "They both said that their animals were emotional service dogs," said Gil Ohana, the manager, explaining why he let them in. "One of them actually carried a doctor's letter."

Health care professionals have recommended animals for psychological or emotional support for more than two decades, based on research showing many benefits, including longer lives and less stress for pet owners. But recently a number of New York restaurateurs have noticed a surge in the number of diners seeking to bring dogs inside for emotional support, where previously restaurants had accommodated only dogs for the blind. [...]

The increasing appearance of pets whose owners say they are needed for emotional support in restaurants — as well as on airplanes, in offices and even in health spas — goes back, according to those who train such animals, to a 2003 ruling by the Department of Transportation. It clarified policies regarding disabled passengers on airplanes, stating for the first time that animals used to aid people with emotional ailments like depression or anxiety should be given the same access and privileges as animals helping people with physical disabilities like blindness or deafness. [...]

WHILE most people who train animals that help the disabled — known as service animals — are happy that deserving people are aided, some are also concerned that pet owners who might simply prefer to brunch with their Labradoodle are abusing the guidelines. "The D.O.T. guidance document was an outrageous decision," said Joan Froling, chairwoman of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, a nonprofit organization representing people who depend on service dogs. "Instead of clarifying the difference between emotional support animals who provide comfort by their mere presence and animals trained to perform specific services for the disabled, they decided that support animals were service animals." [...]

The 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act states that anyone depending on an animal to function should be allowed full access to all private businesses that serve the public, like restaurants, stores and theaters. The law specifies that such animals must be trained specifically to assist their owner. True service animals are trained in tasks like finding a spouse when a person is in distress, or preventing people from rolling onto their stomachs during seizures. But now, because the 2003 Department of Transportation document does not include language about training, pet owners can claim that even untrained puppies are "service animals," Ms. Froling said. "People think, 'If the D.O.T. says I can take my animal on a plane, I can take it anywhere,' " she said.

do you have a therapy dog? did you train him and take tests? do you take him to children's hospitals so that the patients can connect emotionally with the dog? what do you think of people who declare their own dog to be a service dog, simply because connecting with the dog makes their life a little easier? (isn't that what all dogs do?)

do you have a service dog? a dog that underwent lengthy training to assist people with disabilities to increase their functional independence and mobility? what do you think of people who insist on bringing their dogs on airplanes and into medical practices, simply because it makes them feel "less hostile" about the world?

sure, my dog enhances my emotional well-being. and certainly, i'd be very happy if i could take her into the passenger cabin on an airplane. but by claiming that my dog should be treated like a service dog, i'd be exploiting the rights of people with disabilities and diminishing the training and the work of true service dogs.
Aphrodite Clamar-Cohen, who teaches psychology at John Jay College in Manhattan and sees a psychotherapist, said her dog, a pit bull mix, helps fend off dark moods that began after her husband died eight years ago. She learned about psychological support pets from the Delta Society, a nonprofit group that aims to bring people and animals together, and got her dog, Alexander, last year. "When I travel I tell hotels up front that 'Alexander Dog Cohen' is coming and he is my emotional-needs dog," she said. She acknowledged that the dog is not trained as a service animal. "He is necessary for my mental health," she said. "I would find myself at loose ends without him."

It is widely accepted that animals can provide emotional benefits to people. "There is a lot of evidence that animals are major antidepressants," said Carole Fudin, a clinical social worker who specializes in the bond between animals and humans. "They give security and are wonderful emotional grease to help people with incapacitating fears like agoraphobia."

The question of when an animal goes from being a pet that provides love and companionship to an emotional-support animal, without which an owner cannot get through a day, is subjective.

what can a self-declared service dog do for you? well, it can make you feel less hostile towards everyone else:
One 30-year-old woman, a resident of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., said she does not see a psychotherapist but suffers from anxiety and abandonment issues and learned about emotional-needs dogs from a television show. She ordered a dog vest over the Internet with the words "service dog in training" for one of the several dogs she lives with, even though none are trained as service animals. "Having my dogs with me makes me feel less hostile," said the woman, who refused to give her name.
it can also provide emotional support during hair removal:
In general, business owners seem to extend themselves to accommodate service animals. Though Completely Bare, a chain of health spas in New York and Palm Beach, Fla., has a policy barring animals in treatment rooms, Cindy Barshop, the company's owner, said that she made an exception for a customer who insisted that she needed her large dog for support while she had laser hair removal. "We had to cover the dog with a blanket to protect its eyes during the procedure," Ms. Barshop said.

and finally, dogs can help you run your store:

Jerri Cohen, the owner of a jewelry store in Manhattan, said she tried living without animals when she married a man who bought an apartment in a no-dog building. "I went into a severe depression and had to go on medication," she said. "Three years later a friend bought me two pug puppies, and I refused to give them away. My co-op threatened us with eviction. An attorney suggested I get a letter from my psychiatrist. She wrote that I was emotionally needy and the lawyer said that was no good. So she wrote that I can barely function or run my store without them. I won the case. "They sleep with me," she said. "They have a double stroller. They go to restaurants with me and fly with me."
i agree - these people need treatment and support, but it should be by a mental health professional, not by a dog. (and never give someone who lives in a no-dog building puppies as a present. this may create so much stress that you need to adopt a dozen more to barely function. and think of the stroller problem you'd run into then.)

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