This post is part of the Epilepsy Blog Relay™ which will run from March 1 through March 31. Follow along!
It was a quiet evening when I decided to watch a new show outside of my usual routine. This was unusual for me since my routine is important for me. It helps to maintain the chaos in the environment which could be sights, sounds, deadlines, stress, or medical issues. This night on Netflix a show caught my eye called “Dogs.” Episode featured a family that was receiving a service animal (a dog) to help detect seizures for one of the daughters who had been diagnosed with epilepsy. It hit close to my heart since I have a service dog and rely on her for many parts of my daily life.
The young girl who had epilepsy in the episode also had a sibling and some close friends. The idea was that the dog was going to be a “family pet.” I already knew how this was going to end for her sibling; it was sad and frustrating for both sides. I have written about service animals in the past but I wanted to delve a little further to get a better understanding to educate the public. My need to satisfy that itch again for reading, researching, and knowing all about a subject is coming again!
The acronyms in the field for service training are SA (service animal), ESA (emotional support animal), and TA (therapy animal). Generally, dogs are trained as a service animal but the regulations have recently changed to allow miniature horses. Service animals are trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability or chronic illness in some way. These tasks can be recognizing low or high blood sugars for diabetics, helping to support a person during a seizure and getting help afterwards, opening doors, physical support for walking, mental support for anxiety, and so much more! Animals are wonderful beings that connect with humans on a different level. We do not speak the same language, yet we understand and love each other more than we love some people!
While service animals are covered under the American Disabilities Act (ADA), Emotional Support Animals and Therapy Animals are not protected under the ADA. However, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) does cover the Emotional Support Animals. Someone cannot be turned away from housing because of an animal that supports that in any way physically or mentally. So, you might be asking what is the difference between the three types? Here is the scoop in a nice visual because it is easier to see:
SA: Covered by ADA, Covered by FHA, Trained to do specific tasks for a person, not ok to pet. These animals will be seen in public anywhere. It is their right to be there since they are working.
ESA: Not covered by ADA, Covered by FHA, Provides emotional support only (specific tasks would be based on training and disability) to person, not ok to pet. These animals are out in public but please refrain from petting. They are also working and providing something for their person.
TA: Not covered by ADA, not covered by FHA, provides comfort to multiple people, ok to pet after asking. These animals are generally seen on farms such as goat therapy, equine therapy, or animals in hospitals/nursing homes to raise moral.
The part I came across in my research was there is no real organizational body that governs the regulations on these animals. I have seen multiple videos about people becoming angry because dogs were in a public space or because they were not allowed to pet the animal. In fact, I have had my fair share of angry looks and snarky comments from people when I told them they could not pet my dog since she was working. She is in a vest and wears a special tag that states she is a service animal. Recently, a dog became aggressive at someone in an airport biting them who was labeled as a service animal.
I decided to reach out to my friend and fellow autistic blogger Christa Holmans. She runs the page Neurodivergent Rebel and used to help train dogs to become service animals. I had always found this intriguing about her since I thought what a fun, cool job! She loves dogs and actually has four of her own who are very cute. But enough about her dogs.. The interview!
Me: What method of training is best for training animals?
Christa: Training methods that are positive and fun work best. You want your dog to be eager and excited to work.
Me: What animals/breeds do you find to be the best for service animals?
Christa: Temperament is everything – you want an animal who has low fear, is very calm, happy, and who enjoys human interaction. Working dogs make great service dogs because they WANT to have a job to do.
Me: Is there one certification process that is the standard for service animals to receive. Example- Doctors are part of the American Medical Association (AMA) and they are responsible for abiding those ethics for patient care. Do we have something like this for service animals?
Christa: In America, there is no requirement for you to register your service animal, in fact there are many organizations out there that “sell fake service dog papers”.
Me: Do service animals need continual training?
Christa: Yes! A dog’s training never ends. As dogs encounter new situations their training must be modified and adapted to compensate. Also, the dog’s handler’s needs may change and additional training may be added or adjusted to compensate.
The most shocking answer from her was organizations are out there making money selling fake papers when you DO NOT NEED them. This is scamming people who do not know about the department of justice enough to work through what is legal. I trained my dog so she is personalized to my seizures and my moves. My background is psychology science and biomedical sciences so I felt comfortable with my knowledge to train my dog, TeeTee. Training an animal to suite your needs of specific tasks is something that is complex and requires time, energy, and finances. Local trainers are available, like Christa before she retired. Remember, these animals want to work but sometimes they do not always graduate. Those who do not graduate make wonderful pets or therapy animals too! Canine Companions do provide free service dogs but the last time I checked the wait list, it was about 2-3 years.
If you are looking for a service animal, emotional support animal, or therapy animal, I suggest you do some research about breeds, laws, and check out the links I have provided below. Let’s start a movement to get more regulations. I would love to see more animals working to help others out there! Thank you TeeTee who recently saved my life… that is a story for later this month.
Momma Employee 3/10/2019
American Disabilities Act (ADA). (2010, 2015). Frequently Asked Questions, Service Animals. Retrieved from https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html#cert and https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm
American Kennel Club (AKC). (2016). Service Dog Training 101-Everything you Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/service-dog-training-101/
Assistance Dogs International (ADI). (2018). ADI Standards. Retrieved from https://assistancedogsinternational.org/standards/adi-standards/
Canine Companions. (2019). Assistance Dogs FAQS. http://www.cci.org/assistance-dogs/assistance-dog-faqs.html
Holmans, Christa. (2019). Email Interview. https://neurodivergentrebel.com/