Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Emotional Support Dogs

There has been a lot in the news recently regarding emotional support dogs and air travel, and students have had questions regarding this issue. Today's blog is an attempt to initiate conversation about the subject of emotional support dogs. 

According to Delta Airlines, there has been a major increase in "animal incidents", including biting and urination/defecation. These incidents have prompted major airlines to make changes regarding ESA policies in order to create a safe environment for all air travelers. This attention on service and emotional support animals raises questions regarding the roles, tasks, and legal rights of people who have these animals for support.
Image result for emotional support dog and delta airlines

The label of "emotional support dog" can cause confusion to the general public because many dog owners have an emotional connection with their dogs. Dog owners generally feel good when they are with their pets. While their dogs provide comfort , but all pet dogs are NOT emotional support dogs.

What exactly is an emotional support dog?
The American Kennel Club explains,  "to legally be considered an emotional support dog, the pet needs to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a disabling mental illness. A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, for example, must decide that the presence of the animal is needed for the mental health of the patient."
A liscensed professional determines that the presence of a dog is critical to the person's daily functioning, helping him or her deal with challenges that might otherwise compromise quality of life. Often, the dog is the client's own pet. These pets are known as emotional support animals (ESAs).
Typically, ESAs must be reasonably well behaved by typical pet standards. They should be toilet trained, and shouldn't be a nuisance or danger to others.

Service Animals vs Emotional Support Animals
 The American Kennel Club explains, although ESAs provide emotional comfort "and can help ease anxiety, depression, and certain phobias, they are NOT service dogs and do NOT have the same rights.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” The Act states that animals that simply provide emotional comfort do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
There are service dogs, known as psychiatric service dogs, that work specifically with people whose disability is due to a mental illness. These dogs detect the beginning of psychiatric episodes and help ease their effects. Although this sounds similar to the role of an ESA, the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an ESA is again in the tasks performed by the dog. Psychiatric service dogs, covered by the ADA, have been trained to perform specific tasks that help the handler cope with a mental illness. For example, the dog might remind a person to take prescribed medications, keep a disoriented person in a dissociative episode from wandering into a hazardous situation like traffic, or perform room searches for a person with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Public Access for Service Dogs vs ESAs
Service dogs are generally allowed anywhere the public is allowed. ESAs are NOT. Generally, ESA's cannot accompany their owners into restaurants or shopping malls. However, some state and local laws have broader public access laws for ESA's. Local government agencies can provide information regarding public access laws in a community.

Legal Rights of Emotional Support Dogs
Although ESA's are not service dogs, they DO have certain rights in terms of housing and air travel. The Fair Housing Act includes ESAs in its definition of assistance animals. Under the act, people cannot be discriminated against due to a disability when obtaining housing. Therefore, rules such as no pets, species bans, or pet-size limitations do not apply to people who have a prescription for an ESA, and they cannot be charged a pet deposit for having their ESA live with them.The Air Carrier Access Act allows service animals and ESAs to accompany their handler in the cabin of an aircraft. Documentation may be required stating that the person has a disability and must travel with an animal.

Things to Consider
ESAs perform a critical role in the life of a person with a disability. It is important to realize that people who attempt to take advantage of the category so their dog can fly with them or live in no-pet housing are abusing the system and making it harder for people with a legitimate need. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Animal Assisted Activities (AAA)

Mustang's presence and his ability to perform animal assisted activities are part of the supportive intervention strategies and environment that we work to provide CHS students and staff. Our early experiences with our new facility dog Mustang correlate with the substantial evidence that is readily available that proves the positive effect AAT and AAA has on people. 

There is a strong bond between animals and people. Animals are accepting and non-judgemental. Animal assisted therapy and activities involve a specially trained animal working with a person on a specific objective. In our school, that means my student handlers and I ask Mustang to perform specific commands that respond to and help ease anxiety and stress. 

A student enjoys a
from Mustang.
Mustang demonstrates lap "pressure" on
a student handler.
Mustang has been trained to perform several commands that can help individuals respond to and manage anxieties. Some commands that work well in these situations are his "hug" command where he places his head on the shoulder of a student who is seated so the student can wrap his or her arms around his neck and hug him back. Another command that students enjoy is his "lap" command. In this command, Mustang places his head in a person's lap and holds it there so the person can pet him, relax, and refocus. Some students, especially those who are dealing with sensory issues, find comfort in Mustang's "pressure" command. Mustang was taught to perform a full-body "pressure" and a lap "pressure." In school, Mustang mostly performs lap "pressure." With this command, he acts like an 85-pound pressure blanket by lying across a person's outstretched legs so that he can be held and petted. In a full-body "pressure,"Mustang straddles a person who is lying on the floor on his/her back or belly. He places his entire weight over the person's body which some find extremely comforting. 

Mustang demonstrates "peek-a-boo"
with a student handler at
his introductory assembly.
In the few weeks that Mustang has been at CHS, he been called to engage in over ten specific animal assisted therapy sessions in response to anxiety related issues. We've found that after spending some time with Mustang, these students are often feeling more relaxed and able to go on to class and continue learning.  When he is not performing specific AAT, he is involved in more casual animal assisted activities like providing encouragement with a "fist bump" (Mustang uses his nose) or delivering smiles with a "peek-a-boo." Just petting him promotes positive interaction and brings smiles from students and staff alike. We view this as a success!! Afterall, when students feel good, they are better able to learn. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Tuesday Trainings

Tuesdays begin and end with trainings. I am blessed to work with 24 extraordinary students who serve as Mustang's student handlers. These young people range in age from sophomore to senior, but they all share a love for dogs and a desire to work with Mustang to serve their school and community. I offer two 20 minute training sessions each Tuesday (before and after school) to accommodate their busy schedules.  
Mustang practices a full body "pressure"
on a student handler.

During these sessions, my students watch me demonstrate a small selection of Mustang's commands, then they are given the opportunity to handle him under my supervision. No matter what skill we are targeting, we always focus on giving commands, praise, and verbal corrections with consistency. For example, if we tell Mustang to "sit," and he hesitates, we do not tell him again. Instead, we give a verbal correction of  "uh, uh" (which sounds a lot like someone clearing her throat). This usually will prompt him to quickly sit. Then we follow that correct response with verbal praise. It is imperative that ALL handlers learn and practice giving commands only once because giving repeat commands teaches Mustang that it is permissible to ignore our first commands. It is important to us that he perform commands correctly the first time with nearly 100% reliability, and the only way we can ensure this is through consistent training.

For these students, working with Mustang is more than just spending "fun" time with a dog. It is about learning skills needed to handle him properly, gaining confidence, and the opportunity to serve as a leader, not only for Mustang, but for other students in our building. Working with him teaches patience, consistency, builds self-confidence, and demonstrates the importance of practice and dedication. These are great "soft" skills that extend into many areas of our students' lives and futures. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Mustang Takes the Stage at Grandparents Day 2018

This morning, CHS students welcomed some special guests into our building to celebrate the role  grandparents have in the lives of students.

Mustang was on hand to greet our special guests with a friendly tail wag. He even took center stage at several points during the morning program. His student handlers introduced him to our guests by explaining his role in our school, and he also accompanied the members of Sigma Tri on stage to help some of them feel more confident while singing before a full auditorium. All in a day's work for this special dog!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Happy Earth Day!

CHS facility dog Mustang reminds you to celebrate the natural beauty of our planet and to do your part to keep it healthy!

As the weather starts to warm, Mustang reminds you to take a walk and smell the spring flowers!

Earth is teeming with new life this spring! This new baby gets one of his famous, sloppy kisses. Mustang loves all "kids"!

Friday, April 20, 2018

CHS Welcomes A New Faculty Member....Mustang!

We had an assembly today to give Mustang an "official" welcome to CHS. We introduced him to the student body, and his student handlers helped me demonstrate some of his over 30 commands. I am so thankful for the help of these wonderful young leaders!

Mustang "relaxes" as I explain his role as a facility dog
The assembly gave us all an opportunity to recognize and thank Mustang's sponsors. We are so grateful to these individuals and organizations for providing the funding to purchase and train this amazing dog for our building. Mustang's arrival at CHS was made possible by these financial donors: Trinity Hospital Twin City with the help of Mrs. Tiffany Poland, Director of Marketing, Outreach, and Recruitment; Mr. Kevin Johns from Material Handling Specialists, LLC; Mr. Mark Natoli and his family; Ms. Debra Garner; and Dr. Andrea and Paul Fanti. We are also thankful for Dr. Nat Fisher from Twin City Outpatient Veterinary Clinic for volunteering her time and services to keep Mustang healthy, and to Jennifer Riegle from Merial/Boehringer Ingelheim for sponsoring his flea/tick and heartworm preventatives.
Some of our donor joined us today to celebrate Mustang's arrival.

Mustang showed off his training for the crowd. He performed some of his basic obedience commands, advanced commands, and fun tricks. 

Mustang "flies" across the gym floor back to me after performing his "back up" command.
Mustang gives a "high five" to a student handler.
After the assembly, he greeted students and staff and wished them a great start to their weekend.

This beautiful, smart dog is already making a "pawsitive" impact on our school.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mustang arrives at CHS!

Welcome to CHS! Students in our Sigma Tri class pet Mustang
as he performs his "settle" command.
Mustang has started transitioning into his work at the high school! He has been working half days and will slowly work his way up to full days. Both the students and the staff have been welcoming and supportive. He has already had two different opportunities to perform specific animal assisted activities that helped students respond to and reduce stress and anxiety.