Non-Profit Seeks To Certify Psychiatric Service Dogs For Veterans With Mental And Emotional Injuries

Rory Diamond, the CEO of K9s for Warriors, shed some light on the difficulties retired veterans face when traveling with their pets, particularly when it comes to air travel, reported NPR.

“Most of our graduates would rather not fly. We realize that their life is getting smaller because of fake and poorly trained dogs and we want their life to be big. We want them to have every opportunity,” Diamond said.

As a non-profit organization, K9s for Warriors trains, and pairs service dogs with retired veterans. Based on their website, service dogs who graduate from K9s are specially trained to help veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and military sexual trauma. As one may have noticed, K9s service dogs are trained to help deal with impairments that are not physically apparent, otherwise called invisible injuries. As a result, these furry little heroes are classified as psychiatric service dogs.

Emotional support animals and psychiatric service dogs are often clumped together and misunderstood. However, there is a difference between the two. One significant difference is that the American Disabilities Act protects and recognizes psychiatric service dogs as animals who offer support and perform tasks for individuals with a disability. Emotional support animals are not recognized as service animals.

This distinct difference between any service dog and emotional support animals is a line most establishments can’t seem to understand, especially airlines. As a result, people with emotional support animals often take advantage of the ADA’s definition of service animals to gain access to certain privileges reserved for people with disabilities and their service dogs.

Another issue that is contributing to the stigma of any dog in public areas, including those serving persons with disabilities, is lack of training. Sheila Goffe, the vice president of government relations with the American Kennel Club, said that there is no standard when it comes to service dogs’ behaviors and tasks they need to perform because they treat so many different disabilities. As such, many service dogs can be poorly trained.

“The concerns that a lot of people have had is that we’re seeing a log of poorly trained service dogs out there that can actually be a threat to public health,” Goffe said.

To remedy these issues, K9s is developing a program which certifies all its graduates. Ideally, when the program is finished, airlines and establishments will be able to verify the authenticity of a dog’s status as a service animal through a registration. Each service dog would be given an ID number, along with information on the dog’s training and behavior.

The organization hopes to make this registration available to airlines and make it easier for veterans to travel with their service dogs.