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Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?

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I have schizoaffective disorder (mix of schizophrenia and bipolar) and PTSD. I already adopted a poodle mix (it's a puppy for now) to be my emotional support animal when I got to college, and my psychiatrist provided the documentation for it. But it was brought to my attention that I could also train a dog to do tasks to mitigate my symptoms.

Some of my symptoms are:
-freezing up when experiencing flashbacks
-anxiety/becoming upset when triggered
-extreme fear from paranoia
-going catatonic (I basically become paralyzed and can't move or speak)
-suicidal ideation (I have been hospitalized for this before)

If I were to go down the service dog route, I would probably try to work with a professional trainer for the public access stuff and maybe some of the more difficult tasks. But I feel like some of the tasks I could train on my own.

Still, I'm unsure if I should go down the service dog route or just have this dog stay my ESA. I also read something about in home service dogs, although these things happen in public, too.

What do you guys think?

When you mention bringing your ESA to your college, do they allow emotional service animals on the campus in classes? Typically, emotional support animals are only allowed in public housing and on airplanes, but can't come with you into public places, for example they can't come into buildings on your Campus. Of course, some campuses will allow it if you go through the DRC and ask first, and if your dog behaves well in public. But it isn't a right of the student to have the dog with them all the time. If you were just referring to having your dog with you in student housing, then that's completely different! Just wanted to make sure I wasn't getting things mixed up.

In terms of training, it really depends. Have you tried treating your symptoms with medication and therapy and other methods? Has it not worked for you? Is this something that would be considered a treatment plan? Or would it be considered coping with a debilitating disability? Typically, emotional support animals are a type of treatment plan, while service animals are a way to mitigate a disability and help you live a more normal life. If you do want a service dog, then you have the right idea of going through a trainer! However, it is a good idea to know that not many dogs have what it takes to be a service dog and will wash out early. So it is just something to keep in mind. If you really do think that a dog will benefit you and help mitigate some of your symptoms, and if you have the time patience and money to train a dog to assist you, then going the route of a service dog might be really helpful to you!

I believe ESAs are only allowed in the living areas on campus. But the school has several dogs walking through since it's an open campus in a neighborhood, so I doubt having him around campus outside would be a bother. Definitely not allowed in classes or in buildings if he's just an ESA though.

Yes, I'm in therapy and on medication for these things, but I've found that the schizophrenia part of my disorder only gets worse and worse as time goes on and requires more and more increases of medication. Lots of disorientation and delusional behavior and hallucinations that only get more severe with time even with increases in meds, which is really disheartening, but my hope is that this trend doesn't continue. I don't think any meds would help with the PTSD stuff, it's mostly shutting down due to flashbacks and triggers and slight dissociation that I have a problem with. I'm definitely working on the trauma stuff in therapy but it's a long and painful and emotionally exhausting process and as far as I know some symptoms never really go away. And while therapy is really helpful for the trauma, I've found that the psychosis is mainly just a brain thing I can't work on getting rid of through therapy.

I know in home service dogs are a thing, so it may be easier to train him to help me just at home, which would be really helpful too. I'm just worried that I'm not "disabled enough" to have a service dog, especially when it's psychiatric stuff that doesn't seem as "real," especially to a lot of people

An ESA is for treatment, a service dog is when you're not expected to get better. I actually posted about this recently:

"The qualification for a psychiatric service dog and an ESA are the same. You must be disabled by a psychiatric condition and be currently in treatment (according to case law, IIRC).

The difference is that an ESA is part of a treatment plan to help you get better: they provide emotional support to help you get through the rough spots. A service dog is a tool for mitigating a disability that is not expected to get better: they perform tasks (not emotional support) that the handler cannot do for themselves."

Ask your doctor where you're at in treatment. Are you still expected to recover? Is there anything you haven't tried yet/attempts that haven't been finished? You shouldn't get a service dog unless you've gotten as far as treatment can get you first because dogs are the ultimate enablers. Depending on a service dog before you've reached as much independent functioning as possible will mean that you'll likely never recover as much as you could have if you'd waited.

Don't ask them if you should get a service dog. I personally wouldn't even bring up service dog at first. Just ask them that ^ because a lot of doctors don't really know what service dogs are or what they're for. They tend to either tell people 'no' even if in truth they could/should, or they encourage them to do it because they don't understand what it is, even if in truth the person doesn't qualify/shouldn't get a service dog at the time. So ask your doctor about where you're at in treatment and where you're expected to go, not if they think you should get a service dog.

Just for everyone else's benefit in answering this thread, schizophrenia is a life long disorder.  You don't just "get better".

Snailrat, I'm sorry you're going through what you're going through.  A professional trainer is a great thing.  Poodles tend to make great service dogs, so you've already made an awesome choice.  Whether you choose the ESA or the SD route, feel free to ask any training questions here.  People have some great ideas and some have a ton of experience.

Oh, and Welcome!


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