5 Ways a PTSD Service Dog Can Help

U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Sean Stevenson takes a knee while on a security patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, June 6, 2011. Stevenson is a corpsman with Combined Anti-Armor Team 2, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8. The U.S. Marines conduct frequent patrols through the area to show a presence and interact with the community to find ways to help the populace. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Nathan McCord/Released)
U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Sean Stevenson takes a knee while on a security patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, June 6, 2011. Stevenson is a corpsman with Combined Anti-Armor Team 2, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8. The U.S. Marines conduct frequent patrols through the area to show a presence and interact with the community to find ways to help the populace. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Nathan McCord/Released)

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that results from a traumatic experience. Common symptoms are nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive memories, depression, and anxiety following a traumatic event. Living with PTSD can be very difficult. Public outings may result in flashbacks while depression can become overwhelming if the person stays at home.

The risk of depression is high as well as the risk of suicide. While there are very effective treatments available for people with PTSD, a service dog can be a very useful support. Here are a few reasons you might want to consider getting a PTSD service dog.

They Encourage Exercise

Any dog needs someone to play with them and take them for walks. This physical activity is a very beneficial way to help treat PTSD. The positive endorphins that are produced during exercise can help combat depression and anxiety as well as improving physical fitness. Even on bad days, it’s hard to say no to a dog begging for a walk.

They Prevent Social Isolation

0-4Dogs are a wonderful way to cushion social interactions. They attract friendly people who want to pet them while providing something for you to talk about. Walks or trips to the dog park will force you to get out and see other people rather than isolate yourself in your home.

They Can Make Public Outings More Feasible

A trained service dog will be able to recognize when you have an episode and either comfort you or lead you to safety. They can also be trained to lead you to the nearest entrance in anticipation of an episode. These specialized skills can make going out in public safer, easier, and more comfortable for their handler.

They Can Recognize and Act Upon Nightmares

For at-home assistance, service dogs may be trained to fetch medication or even interrupt nightmares. When you are having a nightmare, the dog may be able to wake you and halt the nightmare, making it easier to recover and go back to sleep. If you have woken up from a nightmare, the dog will be able to provide comfort in the form of pressure or affection, also helping to prevent insomnia.

They Make Therapy Sessions Easier

Attending therapy for PTSD can be very difficult. You will need to discuss your trauma, the symptoms you are experiencing, and other potentially painful subject matter. With a dog by your side to stroke and seek comfort from, talking about these topics can become easier. The dog can also become part of your treatment plan, whether that means taking it to a new destination each week or simply spending a few hours a day on training sessions.

Though a dog is certainly a financial responsibility and a well-trained service dog can be expensive, the benefits a service dog has to offer are worth it. Even an untrained dog can be a wonderful addition to your home if you are suffering from PTSD. The unconditional love, encouragement to exercise, and help in social situations might even be all you need to start recovering.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZOaR1vnBik

The ADA, Service Animals, and Places of Business

Service Dog 1

The article I wrote in January about a restaurant owner’s refusal to serve a veteran with a service dog raised questions about how businesses are to respond to people with disabilities who use service animals.  Today, I wanted to share what the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have to say about service animals in privately owned businesses that serve the public.

The ADA has a frequently asked questions page about this matter, and I decided to select a few question and answer statements from the page that business owners need to know in order to not offend those who use service animals or violate the mandate.  The key “take home points” within each response will be in bold.

How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?

A:  Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. However, an individual who is going to a restaurant or theater is not likely to be carrying documentation of his or her medical condition or disability. Therefore, such documentation generally may not be required as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal.

Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.

What must I do when an individual with a service animal comes to my business?

A:  The service animal must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. An individual with a service animal may not be segregated from other customers.

I have always had a clearly posted “no pets” policy at my establishment. Do I still have to allow service animals in?

A:  Yes. A service animal is not a pet. The ADA requires you to modify your “no pets” policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability. This does not mean you must abandon your “no pets” policy altogether but simply that you must make an exception to your general rule for service animals.

My county health department has told me that only a guide dog has to be admitted. If I follow those regulations, am I violating the ADA?

A:  Yes, if you refuse to admit any other type of service animal on the basis of local health department regulations or other state or local laws. The ADA provides greater protection for individuals with disabilities and so it takes priority over the local or state laws or regulations.

I operate a private taxicab and I don’t want animals in my taxi; they smell, shed hair and sometimes have “accidents.” Am I violating the ADA if I refuse to pick up someone with a service animal?

A:  Yes. Taxicab companies may not refuse to provide services to individuals with disabilities. Private taxicab companies are also prohibited from charging higher fares or fees for transporting individuals with disabilities and their service animals than they charge to other persons for the same or equivalent service.

What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control?

A:  You may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from your facility when that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays vicious behavior towards other guests or customers may be excluded. You may not make assumptions, however, about how a particular animal is likely to behave based on your past experience with other animals. Each situation must be considered individually.

Although a public accommodation may exclude any service animal that is out of control, it should give the individual with a disability who uses the service animal the option of continuing to enjoy its goods and services without having the service animal on the premises.

All excerpts are courtesy of the Frequently Asked Questions page about service animals and businesses.

Though some of the statements I highlighted may seem to be ones that should be understood by all, they are not. People with disabilities are denied service and full participation in establishments utilized by the public each and every day in this country, and abroad.

Being ignorant of the law is no excuse when breaking it, especially when it infringes on the rights of a person to use a service or facility.  Business owners have to be knowledgeable about what their responsibilities are when it comes to the law, and people with disabilities have to speak out when their rights have been violated, whether intentionally or not.

Every week, I come across stories of people with disabilities, regardless of their ability, experiencing discrimination at alarming rates.  2014 will mark the 24th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we are still fighting to “get in” and be treated as equal.  How much longer will the fight continue before the legislation is respected and followed, and we are given the opportunity to fully participate in all facets of society?

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Wet Noses Dog Treats.)

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