PTSDog Blog

The latest updates from PTSDog

Skeeter's tips on what to do when you see a Service Dog

May 16, 2018

1. Keep calm. It's a dog, not a unicorn.

2. Talk to the PERSON handling the dog. The dog is there in a medical capacity to assist that PERSON with a disability.

3. DO NOT distract the dog. Don't make eye contact, don't do baby talk, whistle, bark, whatever. That dog is working. Allow it to focus on its handler.

4. Please don't be rude. Asking a person why they need a Service Dog is the same as that person asking you for your medical history. They are disabled. That's all you need to know.

5. DON'T pet the dog without asking! EVER!

6. Please don't say something like, "I wish I could take MY dog everywhere with me." That dog is there because its handler is disabled. No one (sane) wishes they were disabled.

7. Business owners, "In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person's disability."

- source:https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html

8. Act like the dog is not there. A Service Dog is functionally (and legally) considered medical equipment. Would you talk to a wheelchair or coo at a walker? Then why do it to a Service Dog?

9. Never make assumptions based on the dog's breed. There are no breed restrictions on Service Dogs according to the law. Each INDIVIDUAL dog selected to be trained as a Service Dog is evaluated thoroughly to determine if its personality and demeanor are suitable for Service Dog candidacy.

10. DON'T LET YOUR CHILDREN CHARGE UP ON THE DOG!!!!

This is why we can't have nice things ...

May 19, 2018

https://www.wcpo.com/news/health/veteran-cited-to-federal-court-after-dispute-over-service-dog-at-va-hospital

This Veteran took a four-month-old puppy to the VA, refused to remove it when asked by the VA Police, and was issued a citation to appear in Federal court because of it. Now he’s crying foul, and claiming the puppy is a Service Dog.


First of all, the VA is not required to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The VA falls under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Although this is the case, VA policy as published in the Federal Register in 2015, is that the VA will follow the applicable Federal laws (the ADA).


The ADA defines a Service Dog very clearly: “Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability.” (Source: https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html)


The ADA also describes what does not qualify as a Service Dog: “The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals (ESA). If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog's mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.” (Source same as above.)


A four-month-old puppy is a puppy. At that age, most puppies have just barely been housebroken. Although I am certain that the puppy is empathetic, and that the Veteran and it are forming a fantastic bond upon which to build its task-training, it’s not a Service Dog yet - it’s not even a dog; it’s a puppy. At best, a puppy can function as an ESA. ESAs are not covered by the ADA, nor are they allowed access to VA properties per VA policy. It’s that simple.


I fully support Veterans having and training Service Dogs for treatment of PTSD or other disabilities. I do not support this kind of abuse of the system, however. This incident is exactly why those of us who use PTSD Service Dogs have run in to so much trouble with the VA - because people take advantage of lack of knowledge on the VA’s part, or try to push something they know (or should know) isn’t within the law.


A task-trained Service Dog takes years of work to train. In fact, training never ends, because dogs grow and change as they mature, just as humans do. This Veteran apparently does not understand the ADA, or if he does, has decided that he can make his own version of the rules. Not only is he making those of us who have worked with our dogs for years, and who do everything within our power to ensure our Service Dogs’ behavior is exemplary at the VA, look bad, but incidents like this could completely jeopardize what little access we have at the VA. Again, the VA does not fall under the ADA. It is within the legal rights of the VA to simply deny all access to Service Dogs - and people pushing the issue in this manner could cause that to happen.


We, Veteran Service Dog handlers, have fought tooth and nail for what little access we have gained at the VA. This could set us back years.


The PTSDog Facebook page, this Web site, and my book, PTSDog: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Service Dog are all about education and sharing correct information about the ADA. I do everything within my power to support Veterans seeking out a Service Dog, needing assistance or advice with access issues, and more. Incidents like this show me I am not working hard enough. A little accurate knowledge would have gone a long way toward preventing this. In my opinion, this Veteran is in the wrong. Rather than accept responsibility, he went to the media and blew this up into something which could have negative repercussions for all Vets who use Service Animals and are in the VA system.


I don’t often agree with VA policies. However, in this instance, the VA was right, and this Vet is in for a rude awakening when he stands before the judge in Federal court.

WARNING: I use foul language in this post!

June 24, 2018

Most days, just dealing with the public’s lack of knowledge and understanding about Service Dogs is a challenge. I do my best to try and educate, keep my cool, and get what I need to do done.

Some days, I am more successful than others.

Yesterday was not one of those days.

Nevermore and I went to, you guessed it, WalMart to pick up some essentials after getting home from our trip. Everything was normal - the “oohs” and “ahs” as Skeeter and I worked through the aisles, which we deal with all the time, were fine. We deal with it all the time.

We were in the pet aisle, picking up supplies for Freyja (who was not with us, she’s a puppy. Not a Service Dog yet. Not even close.) when things went seriously sideways. A woman and her family turned the corner, saw Skeeter, and began to leave the aisle.

OK. No worries.

Until the woman, at the top of her voice, so that we could hear her almost 60 feet away, said, “Oh Jesus. Another goddamned dog! I wish these people would just stay at home! I’m allergic!”

Thanks, lady. Thanks for singling out the disabled people who use their life-saving medical equipment in order to try and enjoy some semblance of a normal life. I get that you’re allergic; for your allergies, you can use a pill, a rescue inhaler, and in extremes, epinephrine. I don’t have any pills to help stop PTSD - the pills make me into a zombie with zero quality of life - and what pill, exactly, stops suicide? The way I am able to function and live successfully is by using my Service Dog. I will continue to do just that.

Nevermore went straight into fight mode. Skeeter alerted to her and missed me following suit. We both blew up. It was the first time I have ever raised my voice in public at a stranger. I hope it’s the last. I fear it won’t be.

“We’re disabled! We have the right to use a Service Dog!” is what Nevermore said.

“I don’t care! You people should just stay at home!” was this person’s reply at the top of her lungs as her husband physically shoved her away from the aisle.

There are easy ways to avoid allergens without being the nastiest human possible. Simply walk the other way. Problem solved. Shit, if you’re that allergic, you’re in danger every single time you go out. Dog dander and saliva are on the clothing of every dog owner.

So, WalMart allergy lady who had to make certain she could be as absolutely horrible as she possibly could - FUCK YOU. I have the right, protected by law, to live the best life I possibly can using my Service Dog. I don’t interfere with your right to carry a rescue inhaler or even an epi-pen. I don’t care. It’s none of my business if you do. I also refrain from loudly voicing my disdain (I don’t actually disdain allergies folks, it’s hyperbole) for your allergies. I let you live your life. Why can’t you do the same?

Ignorance takes many forms. At its most base, it was a loud-mouthed, spiteful, nasty woman who couldn’t help but spill her ugliness all over us while we were simply trying to live our lives. I wish I had got her name - I want to send her a copy of my book. Maybe if she learned about others’ struggles, she could find some perspective with her own.

Veteran and Service Dog denied access to Nashville Pub - the REAL story

June 28, 2018


Last week, I found this article via another Veteran’s Service Dog page: http://www.wsmv.com/story/38480591/service-dog-kicked-out-of-nashville-pub


When you read the article without any information but what the article says, the pub manager seems to be correct. I noted that, and noted that this was a very one sided piece of “reporting.” It is skewed heavily to make the pub owner look good. I should not have commented until I found out the rest of the story and I apologize for that - the full story will definitely upset you:

“We had to go to Nashville (Tenn.) for one of my doctor’s appointments,” said Aaron Voris, as U.S. Army Veteran who suffered four Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) during his service. “After that was over, we decided to go to McNamara’s to get some food.

“He (the pub owner, Sean McNamara) appeared from out of nowhere and asked me, ‘is that a Service Dog,’ and I said yes, and he asked what specific tasks he was trained to do.

“I told him he helps me with walking, and he assists with cognitive disabilities,” Aaron said.

According to the ADA Web site, “ In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?” (Source: https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html)


At this point, the Vorises had fulfilled the requirements of the ADA - but more to the point, as Harvey was in his vest and behaving perfectly, the owner was in violation of the first part of the ADA’s directions. The handler should be questioned only “in situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal.” (emphasis added)

“That’s when (McNamara) said, ‘the ADA does not recognize cognitive disabilities.’”

At this point, McNamara was violating the ADA yet again, and persisted in denying Aaron’s disability and need for a Service Dog. The ADA is very clear: “Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person's disability.” (Source: https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html)

“He kept repeating the same thing, - that the ADA does not recognize cognitive disabilities.”

The ADA does, in fact, cover people with mental disabilities, including impaired cognitive function. Not only was McNamara in the wrong to challenge a clearly marked and perfectly well behaved Service Dog in the first place, but by denying Voris’s disability, is also guilty of discrimination based solely on Aaron’s diagnosed issues.

“I got angry,” said Aaron’s wife Stephanie. “I said, ‘listen, he has four TBIs. Harvey is a Service Dog that assists him with his TBI disability. He (McNamara) would not listen, and so I did offer up (the training certification from TADSAW showing that he had gone through training).”


Aaron and Harvey graduated the TADSAW (Train A Dog, Save A Warrior) program nearly four years ago, and Harvey has been by Aaron’s side ever since.

The ADA addresses certification: “There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.”

One of the hallmarks of people who insist on bringing their untrained pets into businesses as a “service animal” is to proffer “certification” of their dog - which is a red flag that this person is indeed perpetrating fraud. (Source: https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html)


Harvey has been working with Aaron for more than three years, Stephanie pointed out. “We have never had anyone treat us like this.”

Reading the story linked above, none of the experiences the couple actually went through were reflected, and the news story centers on McNamara’s quotation of the ADA Q&A regarding registration and certification, and his claim that they told him Harvey offers “emotional support.”

The fact is that McNamara, instead of accepting Aaron’s answers to the two questions the ADA allows legally, continued to browbeat the couple to the point where Stephanie, completely flustered, offered to provide the training certification provided by TADSAW upon Harvey and Aaron’s completion of the course.

“I know that paperwork is not required. We don’t even have to have a vest. I just wanted the man to recognize my husband’s disabilities.”

The Vorises did hire a lawyer to pursue this case - and the lawyer is who decided to contact the press. The problem with the story that was produced is the gross inaccuracies presented. This is fairly typical in the media these days - they want to produce sensationalism rather than report factually. After speaking with the Vorises, it becomes apparent that the pub owner never intended to allow the couple into the business from the beginning. His bias against Service Dogs, and against the disabled is very apparent.

I personally fell into the trap of not investigating further, by taking the article at face value. I was wrong, and I have personally apologized to the Vorises for not digging further.

Thankfully, Aaron and Harvey’s trainer, Leah Patterson, contacted me via the PTSDog page, and I was able to speak with the Vorises and Patterson directly. That lead to this piece, and to the next episode of The Service Dog Show with PTSDog, which airs Sunday, July 1st at 8:00 PM Eastern on DVRadio.net.

The fact is, Harvey is a well-trained Service Dog who has been working with Aaron for almost four years now, and McNamara was not only wrong in his entire approach, what he did violated the ADA multiple times.

If you would like to learn more about Aaron Voris and his Service Dog Harvey, check out these articles:

http://herald-citizen.com/stories/veteran-finds-new-life-with-service-dog,17484

http://herald-citizen.com/stories/harvey-fund-established-to-help-student-veterans,18487

http://clarksvillenow.com/local/safe-healing-the-heroes-next-door/

If you are a Veteran in need of a Service Dog, I encourage you to check out TADSAW.org. Any organization whose trainers will reach out to defend their clients after incidents like this are worth taking a look at, in my opinion.

Listen to my interview with Aaron and Stephanie Voris, along with TADSAW trainer Leah Patterson in its entirety Sunday, July 1st at 8:00 PM Eastern on DVRadio.net.

What if we stopped calling it “the fake service dog problem,” and start calling it what it really is?

July 12, 2018

I, along with many Service Dog handlers, have received backlash, especially in recent months, over my Service Dog. Some lack of understanding and knowledge is to be expected. That’s simply how things work. When people insist on things like certification, a vest, and more, because “the last Service Dog that was in here had one,” things become challenging.


First of all let’s make one thing clear: The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the right of disabled persons to train and use a Service Dog to assist with their disability (source: www.ada.gov). The ADA is a civil rights law that is supposed to protect the rights of disabled people - to make opportunities and access equal in spite of disabling illness or injury. Only disabled people are protected by the ADA.


Second, let’s look at “the fake service dog problem.” What, exactly, is the dog guilty of when it is brought into a store or restaurant by a disingenuous human? Being a dog? The dog is not at fault; the person bringing the dog in with the $60 vest and the certificate they found online so that they could take FiFi the Wonder Poodle everywhere with them, is who is at fault. Everyone wants to legislate dogs, and no one wants to hold the people perpetrating the fraud accountable.


The abuses of the law that unscrupulous people have committed have created an adverse environment for the handlers of well trained Service Dogs. We are viewed with suspicion, assaulted verbally and occasionally physically, and discriminated against because charlatans have taken advantage of the poor understanding of the law in order to drag their untrained animals everywhere they go with them. Then, when businesses begin to take a stand, and rightly, question the presence of dogs in their establishments, because the charlatans have so thoroughly abused the law, they expect things such as registrations and vests at all times. Why? Because the fake people who brought FiFi the Wonder Poodle in, then threatened to sue when asked to leave because FiFi bit three children and pooped on the floor, told them they were legitimate.

More legislation will not fix this problem.


Requiring more red tape of the disabled people who this law protects will not fix the problem.


Education and accountability are the only ways to fix this problem. Businesses need to protect themselves by learning the ADA, and learning the appropriate way to ascertain whether or not a dog entering their establishments is a Service Animal or not.

If you’re part of the general public and you see that a dog is problematic, do not take it upon yourself to intervene! You are not the Service Dog police - report the problem to the business and let them handle it. They are who is liable if an untrained dog is allowed to remain on their premises.


Finally, hold the owners of the misbehaving animals accountable. Make lying about being disabled, or about having trained your dog appropriately, a criminal offense. Claiming disability in order to drag FiFi through the Piggly Wiggly is fraud. These are the people who have created the problem, not the disabled people who have taken the time and effort to ensure that their life-saving medical equipment remains within the standards required by the ADA.

Trust your dog!

August 2, 2018

Disabled Veteran Nick hasn’t been to a class reunion with his wife for 15 years. This year when his wife asked if he would go and insisted he bring his PTSD Service Dog, Grace, he agreed, but with a lot of self-doubt.


“I went down to the local VFW for a reunion. It was my wife's 30th out of high school. We missed all her reunions in the last 15 years cause I was scared to be in a crowd,” said Nick.


“My wife insisted I take (Grace).


“In all honesty, I was scared when I got there. Grace knew it, and she got me sit down so she could climb on my chest. It was like she was saying, ‘Dad, I got you.’


“We approached the pavilion and [Grace] planted her feet until I stopped. I really didn’t know what she was telling me. She climbed up on me and licked my face. [At that point], I knew what she was telling me, and we entered. I never felt so ready for anything!”


By trusting in the training he has given his PTSDog Grace, and in her alerts to his social anxiety, Nick was able to do something he hasn’t done in a very long time - enter the crowded function - taking his wife to her 30th class reunion.


“We went in, and she watched my 6, she blocked people from being too close until I was comfortable.” Providing physical distance around the handler, often called “cover” or “blocking,” is a task many PTSD sufferers train their dog to perform. This is a very simple task - the dog simply gets in between the handler and other people. No aggression, just physical presence, enabling the handler to control people entering their space, and helping to alleviate hypervigilance, a very common and often debilitating symptom of PTSD.


“My wife and I have not danced together in more than 10 years. I wanted to dance, but I was scared to let people around me. Grace provided a beautiful six-foot cover to allow my wife and I to enjoy a nice slow dance.


“That slow dance meant everything to my wife.”


The whole point of using a Service Dog is to assist the disabled handler by performing tasks that improve the handler’s quality of life. With a PTSD Service Dog, that may be something as simple as providing a little extra physical space between the handler and others (something that without the dog’s presence, could become quite confrontational). Many trained tasks are more complex. All tasks trained for a Service Dog are designed to assist with the handler’s disability.


“With enough time, training, and the understanding of the people around you, yes we (disabled people) can have a pretty normal life,” Nick added.


The lesson Nick learned that night?


TRUST YOUR DOG!

Fake ... Wait, who’s actually fake?

August 2, 2018

One of the most frustrating challenges Service Dog handlers face is the negative stigma automatically attached to them because of the “fake Service Dog” problem.


Except ... What IS a fake Service Dog?


When you break it down, the dog isn’t actually the problem; the person bringing the dog, which may be untrained, aggressive, or even just too young for it to be appropriate to have in public, that is causing the problem.


One of the biggest issues is people who are not disabled bringing a dog in to a non-pet friendly location, claiming that their pet is a Service Dog.


The law clearly defines a Service Dog as a dog that has been individually trained to perform work or tasks for a DISABLED PERSON to assist with their DISABILITY. The important information to take away from this is that if you are not disabled, no matter how well trained your dog is, or what tricks you’ve trained it to perform, it is not a Service Dog. If you are not disabled, you are not protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.


The second issue is people insisting that their emotional support animal is allowed to accompany them everywhere. Disabled owners of emotional support animals are guaranteed access in housing by the Fair Housing Act, and aboard aircraft by the Air Carriers Access Act, but are specifically NOT protected for access in non-pet friendly businesses or facilities by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Again, these protections are for disabled people.


Nowhere in any of these laws is the dog actually protected; these laws were written to protect the rights of disabled people. By taking advantage of rampant misunderstanding and misinformation about these laws to excuse their selfish desire to have their pets accompany them everywhere, healthy individuals are committing disability fraud.


In my opinion, the best way to combat this is to educate all parties concerned about the actual laws. Businesses have the right to ask that an animal be removed: they have the right to questions a dog’s presence when it is not readily evident that it is a Service Dog. They have the right to ask if it is a Service Dog, and what tasks it is trained to perform. If these questions are not answered satisfactorily, business owners have the right to ask that the dog be removed from the premises. The ADA provides a very clear and helpful document explaining the law here: https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html.


As a society, in the media, and even out in public, we need to change the perception that the dogs are actually the problem: dogs are not the problem. Entitled or simply poorly educated people who either know better, but take their pets anyway, or are disabled, but don’t understand the laws, or what is required of a Service Dog for access per the ADA, are the issue, not the dogs. No dog wakes up in the morning and says, “you know what? I think I’m going to go with Sarah to the grocery store today, pee in the bread aisle, and bark at everything that moves.” No, “Sarah,” who simply wants to bring her poorly trained Bichon Frise to the Piggly Wiggly with her because she “just can’t stand to leave her alone,” is the perpetrator of the issue, and becomes fraudulent when, upon being challenged by the store staff, insists it’s a Service Dog, and threatens to sue the store if they ask her to remove the poor trembling, urinating little mess.


Taking a dog that has not undergone the extensive socialization and exposure training that a Service Dog should go through into public places where it may be overwhelmed and even frightened enough to lash out in fear is not only irresponsible, but is potentially dangerous. Doing so while insisting it’s a Service Dog, and threatening to sue if you don’t get your way, is selfish, potentially fraudulent, and is ultimately the responsibility of the individual perpetrating said fraud.


Stop blaming dogs, animals that do not have the capacity to exhibit the intent to present themselves as Service Dogs, and start holding the people who fraudulently represent themselves as disabled, or fraudulently insist that their dogs are trained Service Dogs, accountable.


The problem isn’t the dog. The problem is the person.


Joaquin Juatai is the author of PTSDog: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Service Dog, available now at booklocker.com, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

How does a Service Dog help?

August 21, 2018

Although many of the people disabled by symptoms of post traumatic stress choose to utilize a PTSD Service Dog as part of their treatment, most people, including mental health professionals, don’t understand how a Service Dog can assist their disabled handler.

The answer to this question is complex, because there are as many ways a Service Dog assists with PTSD as there are PTSDog handlers. There is no one set of tasks, because there is no one set of symptoms for every sufferer, there is no task unique to a symptom, there is no universal therapy, medication, or solution to the symptoms of PTSD.

At the same time, the answer is fairly simple, and is best explained using personal experience.

In my experience, a huge portion of the help training and using my PTSDog gave me is rooted firmly in the process of raising and training him. In the beginning, when I first got him, I wasn’t motivated to even get out of bed in the morning. I took the ridiculous amount of psychological medications the VA prescribed me every day, and then, thoroughly numbed to any feeling or emotion, would simply lay in bed staring at the ceiling; because of the (over)medication, that was a perfectly reasonable way to spend a day in my mind.

PTSDog Skeeter at around 6 weeks of age.

Enter the puppy, little baby Skeeter. I suddenly had a reason to get up in the morning other than to take my meds ... I had a puppy to care for. This was the beginning of re-gaining purpose - something many PTSD sufferers report having lost.

Training returned structure to my life. My puppy, whose breed requires diligent, consistent training in order to be a successful pet, let alone a successful Service Dog, required me to create a regimen of training and play, and to stick with it. Coincidentally, I was getting more exercise, interacting with my family more, and regaining confidence.

This raising, training, and playing with my puppy began to re-build a connection between me and the people around me. Although I couldn’t talk with people about much because I was so completely socially isolated, I could open up about my dog - which again, returned confidence, because I was discussing my new sense of purpose ...

I was also building a bond with my Service Dog during this time - a bond upon which all of his task training is based, because he uses our connection to read me and my mental state, and alert me when stressful situations begin to escalate my mindset to the point of symptomatic responses. By learning to understand our bond and his alerts, I was able to relearn trust.

Building on our training, and beginning to venture back out into public places to do things like shop for groceries, or enjoy a local festival, I began, with the assistance of my PTSDog Skeeter by my side, to regain independence. That is the ultimate answer to how a PTSD Service Dog assists its disabled handler with their debilitating symptoms: by rebuilding their senses of purpose, structure, confidence, connection, and trust, handlers are able to regain the independence they lacked due to the limitations “traditional” treatments impose by simply numbing the problem.

Joaquin Juatai is the author of PTSDog: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Service Dog, available now at booklocker.com, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.