Service Animals At Freedom House Domestic Violence Shelter For People With Disabilities
According to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.
Examples include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, or calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack.
There is another type of animal that provides assistance called a comfort animal. These animals provide emotional support. The owner needs a letter from a medical professional to state that the animal is needed for the person’s health.
Freedom House, a crisis domestic violence shelter for adults and children with disabilities, welcomes residents who rely on a service animal in their daily living. Recently, a resident with a comfort animal entered the shelter which prompted a review of some basic service animal related facts, as well as training for staff about the importance of service animals.
A service animal can be individually trained or trained by an agency specializing in that area. Team members working with a resident with a service animal are allowed to ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform, but cannot require special certification for the animal or ask about the person’s disability since the ADA does not require that service animals be certified. In addition, the ADA requires that the service animal be allowed to accompany the person with a disability to all areas of a facility that the consumer is allowed to go.
It is important to keep in mind as domestic violence providers that the service animal is also living in a violent home and sometimes the service animal can be abused or harmed. For example, hitting the animal and the abuser telling their victim “this can be you.” Another way is limiting the person’s access to their service animal. An abuser may not let the animal pull the wheelchair and limit the victim’s mobility. Other ways that the animal can be harmed is by the abuser throwing the animal, breaking the animals’ limbs, cutting the animal, neglecting to feed the animal, or threats to take away the animal.
Freedom House has developed basic guidelines regarding services animals:
1. Intake – We have developed an intake form for the service animal which includes information about how the animal assists the person, emergency contact, veterinary information, abuse history, and information about the animal’s temperament.
2. Resources – There are several low cost veterinary services in New York City that can assist the owner to make sure that the service animal is healthy and up to date with all immunizations.
3. Aggression – All service animals have to be well behaved. The animal cannot harm or pose a direct threat to the safety of others.
4. Care – The resident is completely responsible for the care of the animal which includes feeding, walking, and cleaning up after the animal.
5. Common Areas – The animal is allowed to accompany the resident to all groups and common areas as long as the animal is not disrupting programming and must be on leash at all times.
6. Education – Staff is being training to understand the importance and role of a service animal.
Ms. J came to Freedom House due to violence between herself and her male partner. Ms. J had a comfort animal to help with her anxiety particularly in social situations. Ms. J had a letter from her psychiatrist outlining how the dog is a comfort animal and decreases her anxiety thus improving her overall functioning. With the dog’s guidance she participated in groups and made friends helping her confidence grow during a stressful time. It is our professional opinion that without the support animal Ms. J would have struggled greatly with her transition and in groups.