Lauren Hoffman
Why is there a dog in the college? That doesn’t look like a service dog. Why is your pet here? These annoying comments are daily occurrences for service dog handlers when out in public. Everyone knows a service dog by their vest or harness, but few realize that there are so many different types.
Lorain County Community College students might be familiar with a type of service dog, known as a guide dog such as Greyson with his familiar leather harness and handler Asia Quiñones-Evans following closely behind. But what about the other dogs on campus?
Well, these too are service dogs – just a different kind. These precious pooches are known as psychiatric dogs as they help their handlers with conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many others. Unfortunately for these handlers, according to Quiñones-Evans, they “have serious concerns that the public doesn’t view their companions as service dogs due to their illnesses often being invisible.”
|She explained it using the example of her own service dog, Greyson. “Greyson is obviously a guide dog, he has his harness and walks a bit in front of me to lead. Psychiatric dogs, however; do not always wear gear and are usually at the side of their handler. Because of this people do not realize that they are not pets, but are in fact still working dogs.”
Psychiatric dogs, better known as psychiatric assistance dogs or PADs, are largely unknown to the general public as people assume they are just pets acting as therapy animals. This can lead to them not being taken seriously. Therapy dogs are often not registered and do not go through the same extensive training that psychiatric service dogs do.
In 2019, a charity called “MindDog” out of Australia conducted a study on PADs and their handlers to try and understand the rising demographic better.
Their survey found that 37% of the participants had learned about PADs through the internet while 32% learned from their practitioner and the remaining 30% from family and friends. The study also found that there is no preferred breed or gender for PADs, unlike guide dogs in which labs have the leading advantage.
But what is it exactly that these dogs do that other pets do not? Like most service dogs, PADs are taught tasks that assist the handler in association with the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA law. Upon registration of the service dog, their handlers must state the tasks they carry out in order to be officially registered. Some of these tasks, especially for PADs include, nudging/pawing to bring back to the present, constant contact, deep pressure stimulation, and blocking harm to/or from the handler.
As aforementioned, PADs often do not wear service dog equipment. This is because all service dogs actually do not have to be visibly marked as service dog. In accordance with the ADA law, as long as two questions about the dog can be answered effectively, the dog is good to go. These questions being 1) is it a service dog, and 2) what tasks does it perform. PADs most often do not wear identification gear as it can get in the way of their tasks especially when it comes to tasks involving contact.
Still despite all of this, many people still do not take PADs seriously and do not understand the importance these dogs play in their handlers’ lives. Many PADs handlers, including some on campus who wished to remain anonymous, said that they don’t want to always tell people that their dog is psychiatric as well as medical because they feel they won’t be taken seriously.|
Quiñones-Evans explained that “psychiatric service dogs that are taught to prevent attacks will not stop the distraction, the comfort until their handler is okay” unlike most pets in general. They have gone through the same amount of extensive training as their guide dog counterparts in order to assure that their handlers are able to live their lives like everyone else.
Handlers such as Quiñones-Evans, who is holding a service dog awareness event April 18 from 1 to 5 p.m. in the college center commons, want to bring awareness on how to treat service dogs with respect.
She said, like most, always think of the handler first. She put it like this, “think like someone that’s wheelchair-bound, you wouldn’t want to touch or talk to their wheelchair so why do it to their dog?”
For most handlers, their service dogs are seen as a medical device first and should be seen as such. Still, unlike machines, these dogs are not foolproof. Quiñones-Evans says “a lot of people assume because the dogs are so highly trained that they’re robots. They’re not. They’re dogs, they are conscious, sentient beings that do have their own thoughts and feelings. They do get distracted, they do have anxiety, but us as handlers still want them to perform to the best of their ability.” This is why it is extremely important that all service dogs, regardless of what type, must be respected and not get distracted while they are working.
Quiñones-Evans concludes, “These dogs do get time to be dogs too, but when they are working, that is not the time for play. Please respect that.”