DF Archive

Service animals alleviate anxiety

Students may skirt system to connect with favorite pets

By Jason Daniels

Senior Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013

  •  
  •  
stress animals

MCT

Harry Potter, a corgi with the Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dog group, waits to meet students and staff at Chapman University Law School for some stress relief.

Some enjoy the company of an animal. The presence can be calming, therapeutic or just friendly. Yet while some just enjoy the company, others may need it.

There recently has been a proliferation of service animals in a widening range of occupations outside of the traditional roles as helpers for the hearing or sight impaired.

“It’s just an opportunity to have that human-animal connection,” Valeska Wilson-Cathcart, assistant director of administration and innovation for UCF Counseling and Psychological Services, said. “There’s a lot of research with how it can help reduce stress, reduce anxiety, improve mood and provide relief.”

Lately, there has been a focus on using dogs to help with the emotional and mental stability of an individual in need. This broadening of what a service dog entails has broadened the amount of people that are entitled to an animal that is able to go with them anywhere.

Students may skirt system to connect with favorite pets

By Jason Daniels

Senior Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013

  •  
  •  
stress animals

MCT

Harry Potter, a corgi with the Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dog group, waits to meet students and staff at Chapman University Law School for some stress relief.

Some enjoy the company of an animal. The presence can be calming, therapeutic or just friendly. Yet while some just enjoy the company, others may need it.

There recently has been a proliferation of service animals in a widening range of occupations outside of the traditional roles as helpers for the hearing or sight impaired.

“It’s just an opportunity to have that human-animal connection,” Valeska Wilson-Cathcart, assistant director of administration and innovation for UCF Counseling and Psychological Services, said. “There’s a lot of research with how it can help reduce stress, reduce anxiety, improve mood and provide relief.”

Lately, there has been a focus on using dogs to help with the emotional and mental stability of an individual in need. This broadening of what a service dog entails has broadened the amount of people that are entitled to an animal that is able to go with them anywhere.

While UCF Counseling and Psychological Services has a therapy dog, Bodhi, to provide emotional support to patients and those looking for comfort or counseling; he is not a service dog.

“Service dogs are specifically protected under the disability act,” Wilson-Cathcart said. “You can take them anywhere; you don’t need special permission. There are psychiatric service dogs, but they have to have an actual use in regards to a disability.”

The psychiatric service dogs have been lauded for their usefulness in helping soldiers returning from the Middle East with PTSD as well as a myriad of other mental and emotional disabilities.

However, the ease with which a service dog can now be procured is suspect. There are many registration services, a few of whom declined to comment for this story.

One of the services lists first the emotional disabilities that could cause one to need a service dog: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorders.

What amounts to a wide umbrella of very serious disorders is put in position to be easily abused. It is the ease and anonymity with which patients can be diagnosed with any of the conditions.

Nsarco.com, the website for the National Service Animal Registry, loosely defines each disability and makes note that a physician or mental health therapist must give you a letter of prescription in order to qualify for an emotional support animal. And if your therapist or physician won’t give it to you, they will, online. Just a click away from being clinically diagnosed with a mental illness.

“I feel like some people might [lie] if they really want their pet,” Meghan Arnold, a sophomore nursing major, said.

NSARCO presents the same facts as reflected in federal disability law and the UCF policy.

The UCF policy is to establish the dog is a service dog, then put no further regulations or impediments in front of it and its handler. As per federal law, no service animal is considered a pet. A therapy dog can be approved or rejected at the university’s will, but an emotional support animal falls in a gray area. With a prescription, the letter would in effect make that animal a service animal and limit the university to two questions they could legally ask: one, what is your disability, and two, what is the dog trained to do?

What makes it easy is how the law can be applied. According to registerservicedogs.com, “You are never required to disclose what your disability is to anyone, nor is anyone allowed to ask about your disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card, or training documentation for the service dog, or ask that the service dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.”

Arnold previously lived in the Towers, and she said she had an illegal animal.

“I lived in Tower II. I don’t know about other people but I had a pet that wasn’t allowed,” Arnold said. “I had a bunny.”

The simple reason for having a bunny could possibly be applied to register an emotional support animal.

“The bunny was really cute,” Arnold said. “When I was feeling sad, he made me feel better.”

Jamie Wilson, a junior undeclared major and Towers resident, said he hasn’t seen any illegal animals in the dorms but wouldn’t mind them if they were either well trained or had the necessary disability registration. Yet he’d “never seen [illegal pets].”

While people passing their family pets off as service dogs doesn’t seem to be a big trend at UCF, there has been a backlash to the trivialization of a much needed service.

Vicky Nguyen of NBC reported on the matter: “People are posing their pets as service animals to give them an all access pass to grocery stores, restaurants and other places where pets are not allowed. Disabled people with real service dogs say this fraud adds to the discrimination they already face.”

On famed dog trainer Cesar Millan’s website, there is a featured article decrying the faking of service animals for convenience.

If it is such a problem, why is it still so easy and why aren’t the dorms filled with animals? But don’t forget, faking a service dog is not a crime, but faking a disability is.

There are no laws on the books to stop anyone from having a fake disability dog, just to stop people from faking disabilities. These websites may give users the ability to bypass what would otherwise be considered fraud. But if a legitimate diagnosis can be procured, both the dog and the human are exempt from judgment.

Leave a Reply