Despite the advancements made in medicine and the increased encouragement to talk about and take care of your mental health, cost remains a significant obstacle for people trying to get the help and treatment they need.
If you believe you need a psychiatric service dog but are concerned about being able to afford the adoption and training fees, look no further. We have put together everything you need to know about the costs of getting a psychiatric service dog.
What is a Psychiatric Service Dog?
A psychiatric service dog is a service animal covered by the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and trained to help people with mental health conditions like significant depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
These dogs train to perform specific tasks related to their handler's disability. For example, a psychiatric service dog who has a handler with PTSD may prepare to recognize when they are about to have an anxiety attack and get them to a safe place. These dogs offer more than just the emotional support of an emotional support animal.
What Protections Does the ADA Provide Service Dogs?
Because these dogs specifically train to provide support for handlers with a disability, they get protections under U.S. federal law.
The most important of the protections is the right to bring your service dog into public and private spaces that would otherwise be inaccessible because of rules put in place by businesses to ban pets from their establishment. This Act establishes a difference between registered service dogs and pets to provide a way for people who are disabled and rely on these dogs to go about their day to have access to these places.
Another right disabled Americans have under this Act is the right not to disclose the specifics of their disability. Employees cannot ask you what disability you have or request your service dog to do something to prove that it is, in fact, a service dog.
There are two specific questions an employee can ask regarding you and your service animal:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the dog trained to perform?
There are great infographics online that give a clear breakdown of the rights included in the Americans with Disabilities Act if you want to read about this further.
How do I Get a Service Dog?
Now that you know what a psychiatric service dog is and how they can help individuals with mental health, you may be asking to get one. Keep reading for a step-by-step guide on how to get your psychiatric service dog.
Decide If You Need A psychiatric Service Dog.
One of the first steps to getting a psychiatric service dog is speaking with a licensed mental health professional about your disability and needs. If you haven't received a diagnosis, it is helpful to see someone to make it easier.
Due to not being able to petition for a service dog on your own, you will need a recommendation from a licensed mental health professional before obtaining a service animal protected by law.
Speak with a Licensed Mental Health Professional
For your service animal to legally be recognizable as a psychiatric service dog, you have to have a formal letter from a mental health professional declaring that you could benefit from a psychiatric service dog.
Having this documentation is essential to get the full benefits of having a psychiatric service dog, especially regarding housing.
While some people may get trained service dogs for psychiatric issues, other service dogs are considered emotional support animals, which is a regular pet that a medical professional recommends a client get as a way to improve their condition. Therefore, if you have a regular dog that you want to make an ESA dog and receive the legal protections that it entails, you will need to get a certified letter from a mental health professional.
This professional can be a therapist or a psychiatrist, but they have to provide you with the letter. For this letter to be deemed legitimate, the letter must include three things:
- The name of the individual who is being cared for by the professional
- A clear statement that the named individual has an emotional or psychiatric disability
- A recommendation from a mental health professional stating you could benefit from a psychiatric service dog
The letter will not include the specific condition you are dealing with in the letter. Just make sure there is information provided that declares you as someone who needs an emotional support animal.
If you think you'll need help getting a letter, resources can help you.
Adopt and Train a Dog
Now that you have your letter, you're all set! The next thing you have to do is find your service animal. Because the ADA only allows dogs to serve as service animals, you have to adopt a dog. You should also be aware of any state or local laws that limit the breeds you can have as a service dog.
As far as training is concerned, the ADA allows handlers to train their service animals themselves, but some organizations can assist you if you need help.
How Much Does it Cost to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog?
The short answer is that it depends.
Getting the letter from a licensed mental health professional doesn't cost money. Still, it will likely cost you money to start seeing a therapist, psychiatrist, or other healthcare providers who can provide a letter for a service animal. If you don't have insurance that will cover the cost of visiting the offices of these professionals, you will have to pay out-of-pocket or pay the copay.
Once you get the letter, you have to adopt the dog. If you are concerned about cost, it is okay to adopt a dog from a local shelter instead of buying a dog from a breeder. You will have to cover the adoption fees.
Now, you have your letter and the dog. The next step is to train your dog. The ADA doesn't require that you get formal or professional training for your dog to be considered a service dog. It may be a struggle, but it is cost-effective to train your dog yourself.
Once you pay for all the expenses of acquiring a psychiatric service dog, you have to pay for vaccinations, pet insurance, and food to care for your dog long-term. You are exempt from paying pet fees if you are a renter, so it's essential to have a letter from a mental health professional. Having a plan for these costs can help you make responsible decisions about adopting a service dog.