Question about service dogs for people with anxiety disorders

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Question about service dogs for people with anxiety disorders

This is a discussion on Question about service dogs for people with anxiety disorders within the Working Dogs forums, part of the Dog Shows and Performance category; I have a friend who lives in the north western part of the United States who has been housebound (agoraphobia) for many years. We recently ...

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Old 05-10-2013, 02:44 PM
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Question about service dogs for people with anxiety disorders

I have a friend who lives in the north western part of the United States who has been housebound (agoraphobia) for many years. We recently talked about her possibly getting a service dog with the hope that it would help her get out of her home and get back to living a fuller life. The problem is, she is concerned about cost. We are assuming with the amount of training that a service dog requires, it may be out of her price range. I don't want her to give up on this idea before knowing if it could be possible. She's a wonderful lady who deserves to enjoy the rest of her life doing things that she can only dream about at this point. Is there any coverage for this type of service dog or reimbursement programme if she were to get a psychiatric service dog?

I appreciate any information about this matter.
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Old 05-10-2013, 02:55 PM
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A few things:

1. If she can train the dog herself, she is allowed to do so. SDs do not have to be trained by any specific organization, and many people self train their SDs.

2. In order to qualify as an SD, the dog has to perform tasks that she cannot do for herself, not merely provide emotional support. There is such a thing as an emotional support animal, and they have housing and plane protection, but they do not have access to public places like SDs do. From ada.gov:

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Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
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Old 05-10-2013, 04:28 PM
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amaryllis, thanks for your response.

My friend would not be in a position to properly train a dog for her special needs and would be looking for an organization who would train a dog specifically for her. She definitely meets the profile of one who could benefit from a mental health service dog. She is not looking for a dog for the sole purpose of emotional support. The dog would be expected to perform tasks that help ease debilitating symptoms of psychological impairments from Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia. The dog would need to be trained to assist in places like the grocery store, and shopping malls. The dog would also, be expected to provide a buffer or a shield for her in crowded areas by creating a physical boundary, extinguish flashbacks by bringing her into the here and now, and stand behind her to increase feelings of safety, reduce hyper-vigilance, and decrease the likelihood of being startled by another person coming up behind her.

Some of this is a direct quote from a website that provides the service for those that require mental health service dogs. The reason I've come here for information on cost is because no where on the website is that information provided and it definitely would be nice to know of people who have benefited from this type of training rather than it be off advertising. I simply don't want her to close the door on this possibility if there is a way that it could help her and not cost an arm and a leg. One would hope that there is some sort of funding for this type of service dog. Not everyone who has anxiety/panic is capable of training a dog to do this specialized work. I'm talking about a person who hasn't left her home in over 14 years. It would be a shame if she could benefit from having a mental health service dog but not get one because of the astronomical cost OR worse still; Not even look into it because she thinks the cost would be too high and not be able to get financial support when that may not be the case.

I look forward to hearing from anyone who has been through this process or knows something about it.
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Old 05-10-2013, 04:30 PM
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I would contact the organization directly and ask them what a trained dog costs and if there are any sources of funding for people who can't afford it.
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Old 05-10-2013, 04:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by amaryllis View Post
I would contact the organization directly and ask them what a trained dog costs and if there are any sources of funding for people who can't afford it.
The organization will not take phone calls unless you are already registered with them. She can email which she has done, but they even say that it may take several weeks for them to get back to an email. I guess that shows just how much these dogs are in demand or they are very under staffed. I simply don't want my friend to get scared off or let this drop because she hasn't been able to get an idea about cost. Something as little as that could put an agoraphobic person off very easily. Agoraphobics will look for any excuse to remain in their homes. It would be too easy for her to just say they aren't interested so it can't happen. I so wish I could just pick up the phone and ask that simple little question and if it's too much money and/or no chance of getting funding, then she/we can move on from there. I live in Canada, she in the States and we've been friends for a long time, it's hard to help her considering that there is a border and thousands of miles between us.
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Old 06-08-2013, 02:34 PM
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There are many reputable programs that will place a service dog at low cost or free. It's harder to find psychiatric service dogs for non veterans, but it's still possible. If the program is a 501 (c)(3) then your friend can do public fundraising and the donators can get a tax writeoff, which encourages people to donate more. Sites like gofundme offer an easy way to receive donations online. A lot of places like churches etc are willing to help people too. Often you can knock the price down through fundraising quite a bit.

Though I would be a bit cautious about a program that won't let you call to ask questions. IMO a reputable program should allow interested applicants to call if they need to, so that raises a bit of a red flag for me.

Owner training or training with a trainer is an option, but a very expensive and difficult option if one is not used to training dogs already- and especially when one has psychiatric disorders such as anxiety. It's very easy to make the dog start to fear the things you fear before it's been socialized enough to make good associations of its own- even more so if you get a dog who isn't as "sound" as you'd like. Programs are the best way to go for first time SD owners.
Some programs will place with the dog out of state, but it's hard to fly across country to do team training when you have anxiety. Some programs, very few though to be honest, will fly out to you and train you in your town with the dog.

Assistance Dogs International : Programs Search Start here to look for programs, but don't be discouraged if you don't find one. Some programs aren't ADI accredited but are still good programs, just harder to find.
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Old 01-31-2014, 12:55 AM
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I found this very interesting, as I have been recently been seeing a therapist for anxiety, particularly anxiety in crowded public places, he seems to honk that an SD might be a good choice for me, but if I can't "do " it (I plan to use Josefina but would have to wait a few years if she doesn't work out) he also signed off on an ESA, which would allow her to live in no pets housing.
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Old 01-31-2014, 01:20 AM
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I suffer from panic disorder/agoraphobia myself. I looked into SD myself in the past & from what I found that it seems impossible to get a dog for panic disorder as they don't perform a task and only provide comfort/safety. They would only fall under emotional support.

Dogs are great for that though. Having my dog makes it so much easier to get out and live! I do wish I could bring her everywhere with me just for that reason.

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Old 01-31-2014, 01:55 AM
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Originally Posted by moonkissedchi View Post
I suffer from panic disorder/agoraphobia myself. I looked into SD myself in the past & from what I found that it seems impossible to get a dog for panic disorder as they don't perform a task and only provide comfort/safety. They would only fall under emotional support.

Dogs are great for that though. Having my dog makes it so much easier to get out and live! I do wish I could bring her everywhere with me just for that reason.

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It's not impossible to get an SD for panic disorder or agoraphobia, or at least, no more difficult than it is for any mental disability. It's hard to get any psychdog from a program unless you're a veteran with PTSD or a child with autism, but if you're willing to owner-train or find an independent trainer, an SD isn't off-limits provided it is legally an SD. The dog must be individually trained to perform a learned task that mitigates the person's disability. If the person is legally disabled, and if the dog is trained to perform a task that compensates for the disability, it can be (but is not necessarily, or by default) a service dog.

So providing emotional comfort, since it is not a task, does not qualify. And the argument "but I taught him to comfort me as a task!" does not hold up in court, as several lawsuits have proven. Body-blocking in a crowd, leading the handler out of a crowd if they have lost their bearing, interrupting repetitive or harmful behaviors (for example, I compulsively claw my arms when panicking), leading the handler to water so the handler can take medication, etc, would all qualify as trained tasks that would mitigate a panic disorder or agoraphobia.

A friend suggested a good litmus test for a trained task when I was looking into an SD and trying to decide if the benefits outweighed the risks (because, yaaay, my socially-triggered anxiety means that explaining an SD to others might actually cause the panic attacks that the SD was meant to help manage). She said, "Ask yourself, 'Could someone engineer a robot to do that?' If not, it's not a trained task." A robot could wheel around my body while I panicked to give me space, and it would help. A robot could lead me away from other humans if I was "trapped" because my panic disoriented me, and it would help. A robot could stop me from clawing my arms, and it would help.

The bigger question is whether an individual's panic disorder or agoraphobia are significant enough to qualify as legally disabled. Having panic disorder and having enough panic disorder to qualify as disabled are not the same thing. In the case of OP, it sounds like a yes if they are literally housebound.

In the beginning, I stressed that a dog who meets those criteria CAN be, but isn't automatically, an SD. For example, my intermittent psychiatric issues are significant enough to merit a service dog and my dog is task-trained to perform behaviors that mitigate my disability. My dog will already circle my body on cue (which would give me space in a crowd), will stand between me and a person who is causing me to panic (in a subtle, not-guarding way, but it helps me regain my composure before I am fully panicking) and it would be relatively easy to teach him to interrupt my hand-clawing by teaching my hand-clawing gesture as a cue for him to do something that stops the clawing (like putting his paw on my hand, because usually once I'm aware that I'm clawing I can stop). He knows how to find water fountains, so it would be fairly simple to teach him to lead me to them.

But he's also goofy, playful and extremely social with strangers, which are all traits that make public access work much more difficult. While he's mentally and physically capable of being my SD, and my intermittent psychiatric issues are sufficient to qualify me as disabled when they flare up, I had to wash him out of service dog training because his temperament isn't steady enough. I love him to pieces. He's trained better than most dogs I know. And I'd really love to say that I'd trust my life to him. But if push comes to shove, I will never be 100% certain that he'd do his job to the best of his abilities even if a stranger was desperately trying to pet him. And that's the standard that a service dog has to meet.
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Old 01-31-2014, 11:48 AM
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honestly... i have anxiety myself and i just have my pets. they are therapy but not service dogs. however, they, like most dogs, naturally pick up on my energy and help keep me relaxed and calm in situtions. maybe try that if cost is an issue
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