I hope VA doctors aren’t handing out letters to their patients stating that their cute little puppy or dog can give them comfort and they would benefit from bringing them with them at all times.

The reason I’m asking is that I have encountered many—and I mean many—so called dogs wandering with their owners at the VA Hospitals flashing letters and certification cards that they can bring “Fido” because they have these documents. The only dogs allowed under the Rehab Act are dogs that mitigate their handlers’ disability and perform tasks for those disabilities. These dogs that are unruly, attack other Service Dog teams (mine has been attacked twice in the past year—both in Phoenix and Tucson) are allowed to stay because “they have a letter from their doctors allowing them.” These dogs are normally called Emotional Support Animals and are not authorized public access under the Rehab Act or the ADA.

After my dog was attacked, the VA police wouldn’t do a darn thing to help me. They said they have a letter allowing the dog to be there. They had the nerve to tell me to try to avoid them. Well, how am I suppose to have a Certified Mobility Service Dog (approved by VA in the proper channels) be in the same clinic with another dog barking, lunging, etc. at my “legit” service dog. One of these dogs was even allowed on the waiting chairs and the VA police wouldn’t do anything.

I think it’s about time that a lecture was given to VA Staff on the laws and what a Service Dog and Emotional Support Animals are. VA doctors just can’t be handing out letters for “Fido” to be allowed. I nearly fell due to the last encounter and if I get hurt from a fall it could land me in the hospital. Mental Health Staff should know the difference between a Service Dog, Emotional Support Animal, and Psychiatriatic Service Dogs. Here’s a great resource on Emotional Support Animals.

Many VA medical staff do not realize that when they give out medical notes for an assistance animal (which also could be an Emotional Support Animal which many of their patients fall under this category) that the dogs must be trained to perform tasks to mitigate their handlers disabilities under the Rehab/ADA laws. You can train your Service Animal without going through the ADI, but the handler should at least train their teams to the same high standards. They can take the Canine Good Citizen Test (CGC) when they’re ready by age one and should be able to pass a Public Access Test (PAT) which “should” keep out the out of control teams that are passing off as Service Dogs at VA facilites. The first step is educating the medical staff on what a service dog is and the training that is required for them to perform tasks. If they want the veterans to have a companion that doesn’t mitigate their disability they must inform their clients that the dog will not be a service dog, but an emotional support animal which cannot be allowed in the public (no training required). They must inform them that they’re only for home use due to the fact that their disability is defined by the Rehab/ADA laws. Also, they should try to follow the new guidelines that the Dept of Veterans Affairs set up to get a Service Dog through the ADI. Veterans need to remember that carrying a letter or certifying their team is not required by law. The only time certification is required by the ADI is when a Veteran goes through the Department of Veterans Affairs to secure a Service Dog.

Veterans who do owner training should look at the AKC for the CGC test requirements. They also can look at the training standards for the ADI for training their team. A sampling of what can be found at the ADI site:

The service dog must respond to commands (basic obedience and skilled tasks) from the client 90 percent of the time on the first asks in all public and home environments.

The service dog should demonstrate basic obedience skills by responding to voice and/or hand signals for sitting, staying in place, lying down, walking in a controlled position near the client and coming to the client when called.

Psychiatric Service Dogs are true Service Dogs who mitigate their handles disabilities. If a VA Staff member thinks their client could benefit from such a dog then they should look at the guidelines for having one. Before going to the ADI program the private trainer I used had me train my Service Dog with the ADI standards. It can work for any Veteran who wishes to use a Service Dog and train them to meet their disability needs.

Another big problem is that Veterans are finding these “Certify Your Service Dog” websites that will take your money and state that your dog is certified without any training. These sites are scams out to collect your money for a bogus certification. Some Veterans are showing this when they’re questioned on their team’s behavior. They have to remember under the law no certification is required.

Ellen McCarthy is a DAV Life Member and the owner of Shadow, a certified mobility service dog.

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Published on Dec. 23, 2010

Estimated reading time is 4.5 min.

Views to date: 2,014


  1. CarrieAnn February 29, 2012 at 2:15 am

    Can anyone tell my how to submit my VA Form 10-2641 to get service animal support? I’ve heard that ‘someone’ needs to put in a consult for a prosthetics (service animal). Then Chief of Prosthetics will determine whether or not your dog qualifies to be accepted into the VA health system for benefits. This would allow you to get VA benefits for your service animal, to include an ID card for them. San Antonio VA Hospital told me that I have to have a certification letter for my service animal. However, this contradicts what the laws are? I did go through a program though. Also, they could not give me an example of what they wanted, nor could direct me to policies on where to look. I was advised to GOOGLE the answer. This is from the VA in San Antonio. Awesome, right?

  2. Joyce Moody January 6, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Can you suggest an organization for a Veteran in need of a service dog to alert him when his blood sugar is off. He has diabetis. I work with him at the VA, and he has been trying to get his diabetis under control for a year and takes insulin. We believe a small size servce dog would be most helpful for him. Thank you for your help.

  3. Melissa December 7, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    First of all, any dogs even certified trained service animals that are NOT in control and are attacking other animals ARE to be removed from the area, that is the law. Two, emotional support animals are only protected for home living purposes and airports, not all places. Emotional Support Animals are not categorized as a Service Animal. If they are, then they are incorrectly labeled and the identity is false and should be reported. All people Police, city, state, VA, MPs, whoever it is, need to understand the laws as well.

    With this coming to light and more and more veterans using emotional support animals for their PTSD issues, only the PTSD of the patient itself is protected by the ADA it doesn’t protected the animal, the animal is protected under emotional support portion of PTSD issue of the feelings of what the patient feels. Trust me, we just went through this with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, because our landlord attempted to evict us over our emotional support animal for PTSD for my spouse. All in all the fines were erased, the pet fee is now gone and they could not evict us and now has to allow our pet in our home and we have an agreement that is written by HUD and we all signed it and it filed in Travis County, TX.

    So, before folks take their emotional support animals in public they need to ensure they are allowed in those areas in the first dang place.! Emotional Support animals are not categorized as a SERVICE ANIMAL such as with a blind person or a mobility person.

    Regardless, any animal showing aggression by law must be removed. Find the law yourself and carry it with you so the next time it happens show them the law, since they are too dumb to find it! Force the hand, and no success call their supervisor, their chief of police, whoever is in charge. Fill out the comment cards at the hospital, contact the hospital director and send him a copy of the law and ensure you get badge number and names the next time. Then you will make a difference for everyone!

  4. John Parsons August 31, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    1. A Psychiatric Service Dog IS a Service Dog (SD)- Period.
    2. The VA is controlled only by the Rehab Act. The ADA does not (unfortunately) have any say in what happens at a VA facility.
    3. The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 41 § 102-74.425 states, “No person may bring dogs or other animals on Federal property for other than official purposes. However, a disabled person may bring a seeing-eye dog, a guide dog, or other animal assisting or being trained to assist that individual” so Service Dogs in Training (SDiT) are legally allowed.
    4. Unruly dogs that the owner are unable to control can be and should be expelled. A doctor’s note does not excuse poor SD behavior.
    5. Work and/or tasks are acceptable from a SD to mitigate an individual’s disability.
    6. ADI has A standard, not THE standard for service dog training or behavior.
    7. Many people have invisible disabilities. That does not make them any less disabled or deserving of SD benefits.
    8. Medical staff are responsible for ensuring the patient needs a SD. They are not responsible for the SD or its behavior.
    9. The VA has requested public comments about SD guidelines. The actual guidelines have not been determined.
    10. ADI is not and should not be the sole source of SD.

    • Cynthia November 7, 2011 at 7:33 pm

      Amen! John, I have restricted driving; if my animal is not with me, then the vehicle stays in the drive way. I have had to purchase all of my service animals, I am presently in training with my 4th one. The VA has not paid a dime. (except when I was flying with my second dog and she busted her ear drum. It took the VA three years to pay the University Veterinary School. They gave me a discount for being a disabled veteran. I bet they will not do that again due to the paying of the bill. And my credit report because of VA. I know Guardian Angels, Williston, Florida was just contracted by the VA to train 250 PTSD dogs. Great for them, but let’s get a handle on these animals that are allowed to come into the VA not trained. My former service animal was kneed by my landlord. He stated that the dog was jumping up on him all the time. Oh really? Animal Control dropped the case. Apparently they do not know the time and money to train one of these dogs that we so depend on. Last I heard, 2000 hours of training is required per dog. I do not know the amount per team. Plus, my boy had terrible hips. At 2.5 years of age the vet was suggesting a hip replacement. It would have been nice if the VA would have helped me. As it is, my boy died shortly after the assault. I could not find an attorney to take the case. I filed in small claims, which will be coming up next week. Since, papers were served, I have had the TV judges calling. But I got a break, an attorney stepped up and she is looking at the 600 plus pages about my boy. One word from her and I will sale everything that I have to get the retainer to take this to civil. So John, I understand. I know the pain to have that best friend hurt and can’t do anything about it. Not because of not trying, but funds, or support to get it done. I firmly back you up in, the emotional support animals should be kept at home until they are fully trained. Or wait till this school that is doing the training of these 250 have completed evaluations. Why a dog? They have been using pocket animals, hamsters etc. for years. By chance did you see Fred Downs report of their hundreds of thousands of dollars to do the study and have not completed it. Maybe he should have hired some of us disabled veterans with service animals to conduct a more intensive research that would have produced suggests. Ar lease a outline of what is expected of a service animal. Think of the amount of teams those funds could have generated……heart breaking. He had his arm valued at $2,400. Wonder how many times it…

    • Micha December 29, 2011 at 2:00 am

      Thanks for posting this John! You are right on all counts. Especially the part about psychiatric service dogs being service dogs, period. Nothing is further from the truth. Psychiatric disorders are due to a malfunctioning brain and cause the primary disorder, as well as many other physical symptoms, just as other neurological disorders do. To try to claim that psychiatric service dogs aren’t in fact service dogs is doing nothing but harming the people who require them in order to function and become a part of society.

      • Micha December 29, 2011 at 2:02 am

        Oops, I didn’t mean to write “nothing is further from the truth.” That doesn’t make sense, could you please delete that part?

  5. schnauzerman August 26, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Very good.
    I get a bit tight when some high and mighty, arrogant, self serving person goes on a rant about this subject. There is not national registry or standards.
    A MD evaluating his patient and dog can determine if there is a proper therapeutic use for classifying his patients dog a service dog. The doctor issuing a letter stating that the dog is to be used as a service dog is a medical determination.
    The ADA is specific in its requirements and anyone, organization, business,etc that requires more should be brought to the attention of the Dept of Justices office that enforces the ADA.
    We have many groups that are trying to set their standards as the best. These groups may be a bit self serving since they make money off their enterprise. Aslo, These organizations can only do general training . Specific training cost additional. Even if they are tax free charitable organizations, someone is getting paid $$$$.
    The VA Hospital in San Diego has a service dog tag that they will issue. They may be in violation of the ADA because they require you to take you dog to the county or Humane Society to pass tests before issuing the tag. This sounds like it is a clear violation of the law. I need to go back and request a written statement of their policy.
    Those those who have maneuvered a free service dog, remember that the dog cost big $$$$$$$$$ that came from some where

  6. Dave July 24, 2011 at 6:23 pm


    I support your convictions; however, to clarify the difference between the ADA and the FHA/ Rehab. Act of 1973, take a visit to http://p2v.org/faq/.


  7. Norman Pickett June 9, 2011 at 6:30 am

    Guess I did not know how to do a link but hope I can this time.

    go to: http://psychdog.org/

  8. Norman Pickett June 9, 2011 at 6:25 am

    I suffered from PTSD since 1975 at least. After at least 35 years of DVA evaluations and many different treatment programs I finally found a private veteran doctor that recommended I look into a Psychiatric Dog to help me with my PTSD symptoms. I finally found psychdog.org on the internet and after about 3 years of training and over $3,000 in expense I finally got a match for me that works very well and much much better than any of the DVA programs/therapies/treatment plans/etc. of the past 35 years. It is not known why the DVA does not offer this treatment support or even train staff at their facilities to understand all the issues involved to help and support veterans with PTSD and true service animal needs under ADA guidelines. I wish they did and will continue to campaign for the DVA to get such help for veterans that need it.

  9. Holidays Survival with Tips April 18, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Hi! I really enjoyed your post with great interest as I read your post, and I believe that your readers may appreciate the link at the end of this comment. Thanks :)

  10. Genevieve January 30, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Well damn aren’t we just high and mighty.

    1. The U.S. has NO certification for these dogs. Period. Any dog that can do cheap parlour tricks can wear a vest and call it a day. The more mellow the dog, the easier.

    2. I encounter for the first time service and pyschiatric dogs in my VA hospital and NOBODY had any qualms about it. In fact for the plethora of old vets I encountered, the dog’s presence took the grump and scowls off of their faces. The little Charles Spaniel was extremely mellow and friendly.
    Then there was a giant black schnauzer, no vest or anything, cruising along happily by his owner’s side.

    3. I could’ve used an emotional needs dog at my hospital visit to ease my high anxiety but I never thought of asking because I didn’t know if the hospital would accommodate my needs.

    • laura February 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm

      I have been looking for several years for a way for me to take my dog with me everywhere I go! DUE to the fact I am disabled with OCD Bypolar. I truly find things eaisier for me when she is with me and I have high anxioty when I have to leave her at home or in the hotel when we travel. I don’t work and don’t have kids at home and have been disabled for 19 years. She is all I have and when she is with me I find it eaiser to function. I find a true comfert having her next to me . So I finaly found a site for emotional suport animals bingo !! I have aplied! However I don’t want to, now that I have found a solution, be put in a catagory of people who just want to have a purse pet with them because my dog is a 5lb malteese. It sucks when people like that ruin it for us that truly have a need. AND ALL OF US NO MATTER THE REASON NEED TO FOLLOW THE RULES AND GUIDELINES! She is 12 and it has taken me a long time to find this. I don’t want it to end before it begins because people abuse the system!!!!!

  11. Susan Bainbridge January 3, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Dear Ellen:

    My name is Susan Bainbridge, a freelance news photographer and journalist, who specializes in Military and National Politics. I am owner and founder of Bainbridge News, Bainbridge Photography and Rusty’s Pet Care all in Arlington, Virginia.

    I agree with you. I find the same thing. It is becoming increasingly more of a problem with “presumed” service dogs, especially in restaurants, hotels and motels, to name a few. Many people have approached me saying their dog would make a good service dog. What many are unaware of, is that only 10% of the dogs born can become service dogs.

    As one who was born in Washington, D.C. with disabilities, I grew up in large part on my cousin’s 600 acre farm, where animal care was constant. I found, long before doctors prescribe a service dog for me, that horses and dogs were my best physical therapy. That is how Rusty’s Pet Care evolved.

    I had two part-time Service Dogs, Biffer and Midnight from 1980 to 1987. Then, full-time Service Dogs from 1987 to the current day. It is because of Midnight that the Service Dog Bill became law in 1990. In the 1980s it was being tested as an experiment, with only a few selected to participate. Because of my amazing progress, followed by several relapses and recoveries, doctors thought I would benefit.

    As I grew older, my health varied, going back and forth from good to bad. At nine months old, I was diagnosed with a Prenatal Accident. At age 4, I had Unknown (Paralyzing) Seizures – not Epilepsy. From 1981 through 1998, I battled breast cancer and skin cancer. Then came Cerebral Palsy to my left side in 1989. Further challenges ensued in 1990, when I was hospitalized 21 times in 19 months. The culprit was finally determined.
    In 1998, I was paralyzed from the waist down, recovering one year later, thanks to my Service Dog, Bear. Then came 2001, when I was Third Degree Burned to 50% of my body from head to waist. Again, Bear was there, this time, saving my life. In 2007, I fractured my femur, landing Lightning (my current service dog) and me in the hospital for 2 and 1/2 months. In 2010, I was 3-1/2 months in the wheelchair.

    Through it all and more, I have had Service Dogs that I have trained to deal with multiple tasks, more than the average Service Dog. My dogs (specially trained for me) are trained by me. Due to a bad experience with a Service Dog someone else trained for me;as a former professional dog trainer, I retrained Rusty, and he was phenominal!

    Periodically, Lightning and I lecture at schools about service dogs, the role they play in our lives and how they help those who are unaware of a person’s medical situation. Most of the time I am walking. But, I have been in an out of a wheelchair since I was 9 years old.

    With my service dogs (past, present and future), I have lived independently for years, and will continue to do so. Now, 52 years old, I have had service dogs since 1980, and will have then the rest of my life.

    I will be glad to help you anyway that I can Ellen. Please feel free to contact me at anytime. You can call me at my office at: 703-379-2475 or my cell phone at 703-244-6746.

    Have an Outstanding 2011 New Year!

    Have a wonderful day! I look forward to talking with you soon. Take good care and be safe. http://www.BainbridgeNewsPhotos.com

    Sincerely Yours In Peace,
    Susan Bainbridge
    Photographer / Journalist
    (703) 244-6746 – cell

    BAINBRIDGE NEWS – (Wire & Still) Arlington, Virginia (703) 379-2475
    Specialty: Military (including Funerals and Burials) and National Politics
    ** An Arlington National Cemetery photographer ** since 1980

    Secondary: Public Funerals, Burials, Real Estate, Evictions, Move-Ins / Move-Outs, Inventory, Tours, Receptions * Portraits * Head Shots * Pets * Special Events
    website: http://www.BainbridgeNewsPhotos.com
    Newspaper column: TheCypressTimes : Susan Bainbridge Bio
    (My most recent articles are at the bottom of the Bio)

    4201 S. 31st Street, Suite #110, Arlington, Virginia 22206
    (703) 379-2475 (Office), 703-244-6746 – cell

  12. Ellen December 26, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    The only dogs allowed in the VA Hospital are “TRAINED” Service Dogs to migate their handlers disabilities. These dogs are trained to ignore any dogs in their paths… An untrained ESA, pet, etc.. who thinks they can be at the VA Hosp have the tendency to bark, growl, snap and disturb the patients. This is the problem when the highly trained Service Dog is taught to ignore these dogs and gets attacked when the other dog decides he dosen’t want this dog in his space.CCC

    Another dog allowed is a Therapy Dog that is only allowed to visit inpatients to help them with the healing process. These dogs are also highly trained. They are not allowed public access like stores, banks, restaurants, etc…

    • Mary February 28, 2012 at 9:12 am

      Therapy dogs should be allowed access to all public places the same as service dogs.

      • Liz April 3, 2012 at 3:56 am

        Service dogs are essentially a four legged, furry, breathing prosthetic that mitigates a disability, much like a hearing aid, cane, prosthetic leg or a variety (usually a combination in multiples) medications (as in the case of psychiatric service dogs for PTSD, MDD, etc… They should be and are rightly allowed into public areas as they mitigate the handlers disability.

        Therapy dogs, on the other hand, help OTHER PEOPLE (not the handler) heal by aiding in physical rehabilitation after surgery or serious injury, coping with painful or illness inducing medical treatments (such as chemotherapy or radiation for cancer patients), and “brightening the day” for people living in assisted living situations or long term care situations etc…They should not be allowed in public places as they ARE NOT trained to mitigate a specific DISABILITY for ONE HANDLER. They are trained to AID many people.

        The training to achieve true service dog status is rigorous and demanding for a reason. These animals are not only an extension of their handler, they are in many cases part of the handler and assist their handler in achieving independence, confidence and, in many cases (like in PTSD) greater psychological stability.

  13. Dan Goff December 26, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    There are ‘other dog aggressive’ dogs out there and every dog should be on a leash or harness. Safety first when you have more than one dog in a hospital.

  14. Amanda December 24, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    help the dogs. They need are help.

Comments are closed.

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