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On December 2, 2020, the Department of Transportation (DOT) published its final ruling on traveling by air with service animals. In this ruling, protections for Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) were removed from the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). That is to say, airlines are no longer required to allow passengers to bring their ESAs into the cabin of their airplanes.
Now, passengers who require an ESA have two options. If the animal is small enough, some airlines will allow them to bring it on board as a carry-on which can be stowed under the seat. However, there will be a fee for this, as only service animals are allowed to fly for free.
The other option passengers have is to train their ESA to be a Psychiatric Service Animal (PSA). PSAs are considered service animals and are allowed to travel with their handlers in airplane cabins free of charge.
However, not just any pet can be a PSA. Only dogs can be Psychiatric Service Animals, which is why they’re also referred to as Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD) and Psychiatric Assistance Dogs (PAD).
What Is a PSA?
So, what makes a PSA different from an ESA? Psychiatric Service Dogs fall under the definition of service animals, which is a dog that is trained to work or perform tasks that benefit a person with a disability. Though a PSA must be a dog, there are no restrictions on breed.
Emotional Support Animals, however, are not trained to do any specific tasks. Instead, owners benefit solely from the animal’s presence. There are also no restrictions on what kind of animals can be ESAs.
Psychiatric Service Dogs typically help people with mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, or PTSD by performing certain tasks. These tasks include, but are not limited to, grounding via tactile stimulation, interrupting undesirable behavioral states, nudging or pawing to bring their handlers back to the present, constant body contact, deep pressure stimulation, and blocking contact from other people.
Traveling on an Airplane with a PSA
Though PSAs are still protected by the ACAA, there are some things you should know about traveling with them. First of all, airlines are not allowed to discriminate against the breed of any service dog, even if they have policies that ban certain breeds from boarding.
However, they can require that your dog be well-behaved and are within their rights to remove aggressive or unruly dogs from a flight. If your PSA threatens someone’s safety, the airline can kick you off of the flight or have your dog moved to cargo (and charge you for it).
Furthermore, your dog must be able to hold its urges or be able to relieve itself in a sanitary manner for flights longer than eight hours. The new changes also allow airlines to require that your service dog be able to fit on your lap or in your foot space. This is up to the airline’s discretion.
Finally, airlines can require that you sign and submit a form before boarding. The form was developed by the DOT and asks for information about your dog’s training and if your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations (airlines can deny travel otherwise).
More than anything, however, the form serves as an agreement between you and the airline about the actions the airline may take if your dog causes any problems.
The Benefits of Owning a PSA
There are many benefits to owning a Psychiatric Service Dog, and traveling is only one of them. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are provided certain protections. The ADA allows service dogs to live in any type of housing, even in buildings that do not allow dogs.
Furthermore, it permits service dogs entry into any place the general public is allowed to go. This means your dog would be allowed to accompany you into stores, restaurants, and even public areas in hospitals. Your dog can only be denied entry to a public space if there is a health or safety concern.
How to Qualify for a Psychiatric Service Animal
While we would all love to take our dogs everywhere with us, only certain individuals will qualify for a Psychiatric Service Animal. After all, these dogs are meant to help with disabilities, so not everyone actually needs one.
In order to qualify for a PSA, you will need to be evaluated by a mental health professional. Typically, you must have a mental disability that limits your ability to live life normally. Many who qualify for PSAs struggle with anxiety, depression, or PTSD.
If your mental health provider feels that you would benefit from a PSA, they will provide you with a letter that proves your need for the animal. While this letter is not necessary when going out in public, it may be required when applying for housing in a dog-free building.
Training a Psychiatric Service Dog
If you’re interested in owning a psychiatric service dog, it will need to be well-trained. You can adopt dogs from organizations dedicated to raising and training these types of animals, but this can be quite expensive.
Similarly, you can bring your dog to classes or to a trainer in person, but this can also come with a hefty price tag. It’s not uncommon for these in-person service dog programs to cost upwards of $10,000.
Luckily, there are no restrictions on where your dog can be trained. This means it is perfectly fine for you to train the dog yourself. However, we still suggest that you invest in quality training courses because, as we explained, airlines are within their rights to ask about your PSD’s training and expect your dog to be well-behaved.
Though YouTube videos can be helpful, they don’t come close to training courses created by professional service dog trainers. A good online training course will be recognized in all 50 states and offer a mix of video and written content as well as individual support from real trainers.
USSA Can Help
If you’re interested in training your dog to become a PSA, USSA can help. We offer service dog training courses for an affordable price. After passing our class, your dog will be recognized as a service animal in all 50 states. You’ll also have access to all of the benefits that owning a service dog affords.
To learn more and see if you qualify for a PSA, go to https://usserviceanimals.org/service-dog-training or call (985) 570-5388.