Psychiatric Assistance Dog

Psychiatric assistance dogs have an invaluable role in the lives of individuals struggling with emotional or mental disabilities. However, few people know how exactly psychiatric service dogs assist their owners and what legal rights they’re entitled to. 

That’s why today, we’ll explain everything you need to know about psychiatric assistance dogs, including their legal rights and who can qualify for them. We’ll also help you determine whether a psychiatric assistance dog is suitable for your disability and needs.

What Is a Psychiatric Assistance Dog?

A psychiatric assistance dog, also known as a psychiatric service dog, is an animal that has been specifically trained to assist those with emotional or mental disabilities. They perform tasks that provide therapeutic relief from disability-related symptoms, such as deep pressure therapy (DPT), medication retrieval, crowd control, and balance support.

Psychiatric Assistance Dogs: Legal Rights

Psychiatric assistance dogs are classed as working dogs and receive legal protections under several federal and state laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These protections are in place to ensure they can always carry out their tasks without interference.

Their rights include:

Public Access Rights

Psychiatric assistance dogs have the right to enter public spaces that usually don’t allow pets, such as libraries, cafes, restaurants, and grocery stores.

They can only be denied their public access rights if they aren’t housebroken or are dangerously out of control — both instances that shouldn’t occur if they’ve undergone the proper training.

Housing Rights

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), psychiatric assistance dogs are granted the right to live with their owners in rental properties. This is the case even if a landlord has enforced a no-pet policy.

Since psychiatric assistance dogs are considered working dogs, they also can’t be charged pet rent or pet-related security deposits. Just be mindful that certain types of buildings are exempt from this law, such as properties with four or fewer units if the owner lives in one of these units.

Workplace Rights

Employers must accommodate psychiatric assistance dogs where possible, and also make reasonable adjustments to the work environment to assist with that accommodation.

In the rare instances where a service dog cannot be feasibly accommodated, employers must provide alternative arrangements to support the employee. For example, employers can allow employees to work from home instead.

Travel Rights

Psychiatric assistance dogs are protected under the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) and have the right to fly with their owners at no additional cost. They’re also permitted onto buses, trains, and other forms of public transport. Breed and size restrictions do not apply.

Privacy Rights

The ADA also has legal measures to protect the dignity and privacy of an individual with a psychiatric assistance dog. Under these measures, people can only ask two very specific questions about the service animal. These two questions are:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Any further questions about the handler’s disability, or asking their dog to demonstrate their trained tasks in front of them, is a breach of their rights.

Who Qualifies for a Psychiatric Assistance Dog?

Anyone with a mental or emotional disability who also has the means to care for an animal can qualify for a psychiatric assistance dog. However, the disability must have been officially diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional.

Disabilities that qualify include anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Should I Get a Psychiatric Assistance Dog?

As is the case for any treatment option, a psychiatric assistance dog can be incredibly life-changing for some, but may not be suitable for others. You will need to consider whether the support they provide outweighs the potential drawbacks.

For example, while a psychiatric assistance dog can certainly help ease the symptoms of anxiety, they will often attract attention in public settings and cause people to stare — something that can actually exacerbate social anxiety.

You also need to consider if you can truly fulfill all their needs while managing your disability in your day-to-day life. You must be able to exercise them daily, take them to vet checkups, and provide them with a nutritious, wholesome diet. You’ll also need to have an active part in their training.

If you feel a psychiatric service dog is right for you, then the next step is to get in touch with a licensed mental health professional, who can arrange an appointment to discuss this treatment option further. They can also offer more suitable, alternative treatments if necessary.