How do I find a psychiatric service dog?
December 15, 2010 3:21 PM   Subscribe

How might I go about finding a psychiatric service dog?

My doctor has recommended that I look around for organizations that provide service dogs for people suffering from non-combat-related PTSD. Unfortunately, all of the results I've turned up so far have only been for veterans, and none of the organizations I've found actually connect individuals with trained dogs.

I'm looking for two things: (1) information on which organizations help PTSD sufferers connect with service dogs, particularly non-veterans in NYC, and (2) general info on how a psychiatric service dog may have helped you or someone you know, including any relevant experiences you have personally had with such animals.

Thanks in advance for any advice you may have.
posted by brina to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Start by contacting these places (source). If they can't help you, they can point you in the direction of someone who can (and probably offer plenty of stories as well).

Canine Companions for Independence
Northeast Cest Center
P.O. Box 205
Farmingdale, NY 11735-0205
Tele: (516) 694-6938

Guiding Eyes for the Blind
611 Granite Springs Rd.
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598
Tele: (914) 245-4024

Guiding Eyes for the Blind
P.O. Box 228-A, Rt. 164,
Patterson, NY 12563
Tele: (914) 878-3330

Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.
1371 East Jericho Tpk
Smithtown, NY 11787
Tele: (516)265-2121

Puppies Behind Bars
99 Madison Ave, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10016
posted by phunniemee at 3:27 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also the Delta Society (they're based in WA, but there are Delta-certified therapy animals all over the country).
posted by Gator at 3:41 PM on December 15, 2010

I know nothing about this, but your question piqued my curiousity about the subject, so after reading around a bit, I found this, which may help with the 2nd part of your question: My Border Collie, Rowena: Trials & Tribulations of a Psychiatric Service Dog & Her Handler
posted by nomadicink at 4:56 PM on December 15, 2010

Joan Esnayra is a well known advocate on psychiatric service animals.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:03 PM on December 15, 2010

I found the Psychiatric Service Dog Society site very helpful in figuring out exactly what a Psychiatric Service Dog was and what they can do:

They have a list of "Tasks" that dogs can be trained to do depending on the need.

I also think their FAQ was incredibly helpful

My German Shepherd helps me with my anxiety and depression. I've thought about training her to be my actual service dog, but that was put on the back burner when I recently adopted a Pug.

She helps me in a couple of different ways:

I tend to hear things that aren't really there or I hear small things (a raccoon for instance) and automatically go into "OMG There is a robber/rapist/serial killer out there!" When I hear something real or imagined I can look at her. If she is asleep or unconcerned I know I'm probably imagining things. If her ears are perked up but she's still sitting or laying down I know it was probably a car driving by or a small animal. If she's looking concerned I know I can be a little concerned.

She is a very mellow dog. When I'm freaking out it's very calming for me to just have her laying near me. She isn't pushy, she doesn't paw at me to pet her. She's perfectly happy just to lay near me. She doesn't get up into my face, she is just there for me. It's nice.

She also needs a lot of exercise, so she forces me to get up and move around.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:16 PM on December 15, 2010

A friend is training her own PTSD service dog with the help and guidance of a professional trainer. The trainer also helped her to find the dog (he is a rescue), making sure he had an appropriate temperament.

My understanding is that the dog has to be trained to be very well behaved in public (including the very difficult task of not eating food that has been dropped in front of it) plus three additional person/disability specific tasks to qualify as a service animal.

In her case, the dog helps to keep her grounded in the present (not dissociated), and is learning to block (be a physical barrier between her and other people), to alert her when someone walks up behind, and as with TooFewShoes to generally assess the situation. The Puppies Behind Bars news stories (especially a long NPR interview) have a bunch of other tasks that are helpful to the vets.

My impression is that the dog has been a tremendous help - but that not being dissociated means an onslaught of other emotions which have made the process a bit difficult.

The dog is being trained entirely with positive reinforcement (never scolded), and the trainer said that within about a year the dog should be good for most things (though the training never really ends). As a service dog in training though, he can still go most places that aren't too much for him to handle.

At the time I helped look some for organizations that provided dogs, and I did find a couple (but can't remember, sorry). They were really expensive.
posted by lab.beetle at 6:24 PM on December 15, 2010

Are you sure you want a PSD and not an emotional support dog (ESA or emotional support animal)? Here's an article describing the differences; to summarize:

1. To have a PSD you must be disabled.
2. Service dogs, as opposed to ESAs, have to do specific tasks that help you; for example, if you go into a stupor they have to recognize it and lick you until you come out of it. Or if you lose your balance, they have to know how to counterbalance/support you. If you're ever challenged, these tasks have to hold up in court.* (It's kind of a big deal in some places right now because, for example, in CA people are taking all kinds of untrained animals on the buses/trains, claiming they are service animals, and the animals are biting people. This is possible because in many places you can't legally ask a person if their animal is a service animal.)
3. PSDs are allowed everywhere; ESAs are not.

*One thing they specifically mention does not hold up as a service dog task is "a dog who provides encouragement or affection so a person can take a test or visit a store."
posted by IndigoRain at 10:17 PM on December 15, 2010

There's an outstanding outfit in my town called Wilderwood Service Dogs. They train support dogs for people with autism spectrum disorders, TBI and some mental health issues. If they can't help you, I bet they can point you in the right direction.
posted by workerant at 11:11 AM on December 16, 2010

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