Service Dogs and Emotional Support

When service dogs are used by the police or to help people with disabilities, their presence in social spaces is not disputable. When they are used to providing psychological help to people with psychological illnesses, their role becomes less obvious. Other assistance dogs, such as therapy and emotional support dogs, the difference between which is often not clearly defined, cause even more doubts and often indignation. Unlike dogs for the disabled, a bias has developed towards dogs that are intended for psychological assistance. However, not all people are negatively opposed to the presence of such animals in public places and understand their importance. In spite of cases of abuse of the law and controversial public opinion, emotional support and therapy dogs are significant for human psychological well-being, and their presence in public spaces is needed.

Service animals that are most frequently dogs are those which are aimed at providing help for disabled people and have the right of access to public locations. These dogs are seriously trained and assist people with disabilities and psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD (Schoenfeld-Tacher et al. 642). An emotional support animal (ESA) also provides assistance with regard to an emotional disorder. Nevertheless, such animals are not required to receive any special training, and, as a consequence, there is no specific certification (Schoenfeld-Tacher et al. 642). Therapy dogs might or might not assist with regard to disability. They help professionals, for example, social workers or physical therapists, and do not have access to public locations (Schoenfeld-Tacher et al. 642). This difficulty in identifying different types of dogs that can be used for psychological assistance to people with serious psychological disabilities or without them gives rise to situations where some people bring their dogs to public places without a real need.

Regarding therapy dogs and emotional support gods, their presence in all public spaces is considered less significant and legal than the presence of service dogs. According to Schoenfeld-Tacher et al., as assistance dogs become more common, there is an “increase in the frequency of allegations of misrepresentation or fraudulent representation of animals as assistance animals” (642). Some people might use their pets as assistance animals to gain illegitimate benefits, which leads to growing skepticism towards legitimate assistance dogs. What is more, the tasks of service dogs that help physically handicapped people with obvious physical problems, such as blindness, are more observable. On the contrary, emotional support dogs and therapy dogs reduce an invisible disability, and it is difficult to realize whether they help an individual with mental problems or not. Thus, the importance of dogs that are used for psychological assistance is less clear, and it happens that such dogs are not welcome in public places.

Regarding illegitimate benefits, pet owners can bring their animals into social spaces, calling them service animals or emotional support animals. According to Wlodarczyk, people that suffer from depression or generalized anxiety express the need for psychological help from their animals, even when this is not necessary, for example, on airplanes (85). These diagnoses might be questionable as, for example, diagnoses of depression can be related to a misdiagnosis of emotional reactions after a tragedy. In other words, if a person has not been diagnosed (by a doctor) with serious psychological illnesses, for which the presence of a service dog is necessary, situations arise when people unnecessarily bring dogs with them, which are not certified as service dogs, into public places. They can refer to them as therapy dogs as it does not require specific certification. Consequently, a negative attitude is born towards cases when someone who does not have an obvious disability or psychological problems brings an animal. This, in turn, can be extended to those who really need the presence of the animal but do not have visible physical or psychological challenges.

Nevertheless, by providing psychological support, service dogs might be a key factor in alleviating the negative consequences of chronic diseases. According to Rodriguez et al., people with service dogs are more likely to participate in positive social interactions than those who are alone (1351). What is more, dogs play an important role in helping people to increase their self-esteem and confidence. However, a pet dog differs significantly from a service dog that was trained. That is why it is highly important to distinguish them in order not to create a negative attitude among people towards service dogs providing physiological support for those who really need it.

To conclude, the contradictions in terminology concerning assistance dogs and the absence of standardized certification requirements for them make it complicated for the public to distinguish between different types of assistance dogs with different rights. It also creates a prejudice against any animals that are brought into public places by people that do not have a visible disability but may need the animal for psychological support. The lack of legal distinction between assistance dogs leads to negative attitudes toward the presence of dogs, which provide effective psychological assistance and help people to alleviate diseases’ negative consequences.

Annotated bibliography

Schoenfeld-Tacher, Regina et al. “Public Perceptions of Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, and Therapy Dogs.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 14, no. 6, 2017, p. 642. Web.

Schoenfeld-Tacher et al. claim that there are various service animals, and different organizations define their rights and obligations diversely, which leads to confusion in definitions and in granting animals access to public places. The authors provide useful statistics on the perception of service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs, which showed that service dogs are more often to be perceived as assisting with a legitimate need. Also, they give precise definitions of the three types of dogs, what they are used for and what freedom they have with regard to access to public places, which became the basis for this essay.

Wlodarczyk, Justyna. “When pigs fly: emotional support animals, service dogs and the politics of legitimacy across species boundaries.” Medical Humanities, vol. 45, no. 1, 2019, pp. 82–91. Web.

Wlodarczyk outlines the distinction between service dogs, which are associated with critical comments because of the cases of abuse of the law. The author connects this criticism with the fact that some pet owners try to bring their dogs into public spaces, passing them off as service dogs and ESAs. The paper found that the lack of firm boundaries between legitimate service animals and emotional support animals creates public suspicion of all dogs that may provide subtle psychological assistance. This is needed to make my argument that there is a bias in society towards dogs that provide therapeutic, psychological support.

Rodriguez, Kerri et al. “The effects of service dogs on psychosocial health and wellbeing for individuals with physical disabilities or chronic conditions.” Disability and Rehabilitation, vol. 42, no. 10, 2019, pp. 1350-1358. Web.

Rodriguez et al. evaluate service dogs’ influence on the well-being of people with chronic illnesses and physical disabilities. They provide the statistics based on the survey that assesses the relationship between the presence of a service dog and a patient’s psychosocial health and sleep disturbance. The authors found that these dogs are able to provide their owners with psychosocial benefits from their companionship, which is significant in relation to the argument about the service dogs’ importance in providing psychological support.

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PsychologyWriting. "Service Dogs and Emotional Support." September 18, 2023.