THE BLESSING OF
By: Teresa Reading, RN
Before my husband, Dr. William H. Reading, and I started our neuropsychiatric practice, we hadn’t envisioned what was to come with pet-assisted therapy in the practice. I had heard of it, but the concept, at the time, hadn’t been inviting enough to engage us. Although we have patients who are children, we didn’t entertain incorporating pet-assisted therapy with them. Not, that is, until we met our dog, Bindi Kumar.
Bindi Kumar was, and still is, a participant in our practice. His visits are less frequent at our office due to his accelerated age: he’ll be 15 in May. He also has some degenerative issues. However, he is the epitome of, not only a fine pet-assisted therapy animal, but an emotional support animal, as well. He has helped patients ranging in age from the very young to the elderly. In fact, he has been of assistance to patients with numerous issues. They all find it grounding and comforting to hold him and to look into the eyes of what appears to be a sincere, patient, and encouraging presence. They understand Bindi Kumar will never judge them or discriminate against them. He also reassures them that everything is going to be OK.
As we incorporated this element of therapy and care into the practice, we began getting calls asking if we wrote prescriptions for pets to accompany their owners on airplanes. If we deemed the pet’s presence was warranted for an existing patient, because we knew their history, we were happy to write the prescription. This was, indeed, a blessing for many.
Not only are there therapy animals, like Bindi Kumar, there are also service animals of various kinds. Each has its own unique way of helping those who require their services. Let’s take a look at them and find out what they do.
The U.S.A. Service Dog Registry defines service animals as “dogs that are trained to help perform tasks that people who have physical disabilities need assistance with in their daily lives.” When I think about this, my mind’s eye envisions a dog who helps someone in a wheelchair open the refrigerator door or who brings them objects they have requested. In short, I see a dog providing physical assistance with daily tasks to someone with impairments. These impairments can be visual, auditory, or physical. They can also be emotional, psychiatric, or on the autism spectrum. There are also service dogs who can detect when a seizure or heart attack is imminent.
Under the Americans with Disabilities ACT (ADA), registered service dogs are allowed to accompany their owners everywhere. Desirable traits in a service dog are that they are easily trainable, have a good disposition and temperament, and, of course, are in good health. Not every dog can be a service dog. It is important to become familiar with the guidelines and look for legitimate training programs that are specific to this type of training.
Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD)
This type of service dog is trained for the individual who has an emotional or psychiatric ailment that they find incapacitating without the aid of an animal. It is usually severe and limits the person from doing tasks that are necessary for sustainability. The process of ensuring the person is able to have their dog with them at all times begins with a letter that is specially formatted by a licensed mental health professional. Once this letter is procured, federal law states the dog can accompany its owner on a plane, free of charge, or live with its owner, even if there is a no-pet housing clause.
Emotional Support Animals (ESA)
Typically speaking, these are comfort animals. They provide reassurance and comfort to emotionally disabled or psychiatrically disabled people. Just their presence is enough for their owners to feel at ease and exhibit improved signs of mental health. Any type of animal, within reason, can be an ESA, and they don’t require specific training. However, a specially formatted letter by a licensed mental health professional is once again needed for the animal to be able to accompany its owner everywhere.
These are not service animals, though they do provide a service. As I mentioned earlier, Bindi Kumar is a therapy animal. Therapy animals are usually dogs that are obedient and good-natured and interact well with people and other animals. As with service dogs, their roles are varied. They visit hospitals, nursing homes, patients in hospice, and schools. Children with learning and behavioral problems benefit a great deal from their visits. Therapy animals also visit mental health and security facilities, making a difference in the outlook of those in need.
Many sites provide valuable information on service dogs and therapy animals and how to register them so they can be of assistance to their owners whenever they are needed. It is worth taking the time required to search what needs have to be met and the ways in which an animal can be beneficial and even vital to many individuals. It is also worth talking with a mental health professional to see if an individual qualifies.
Getting back to my favorite animal, Bindi Kumar, our therapy dog, he is also my ESA. When I was 17, I was in an 18-wheeler accident. I have also been in a number of accidents as a passenger since then, and suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result. Bindi Kumar has helped me, by riding with me, until I learned to manage my panic attacks. He was part of my tool kit. I don’t think I could have done it without him. So you see, this is a tribute to our companion animals who have been there for us, in many capacities, but most importantly for service and comfort. They love us unconditionally and constantly. We are better people and citizens because of them. As Dr. William H. Reading has said, “I have found that animals have helped so many of our patients; they can be a blessing.”
Dr. William H. Reading and Teresa Cox Reading
Dr. William H. Reading and Teresa Cox Reading run The Offices of William H. Reading, MD, Recovery, Psychiatric, and TMS services, a neuropsychiatric practice in Stafford, Texas. Dr. Reading has an undergraduate degree from UT Austin and a Doctor of Medicine from the Medical School at UTSA. As well as being a practicing physician, he has been an educator and an assistant professor for over five years and is the author of numerous articles for professional publications. Teresa received her nursing degree from Excelsior College. As registered nurse and practice administrator for The Offices of William H. Reading, MD, Teresa is instrumental in its clinical and administrative operations. Teresa and Dr. Reading have four sons and have been involved with the Fort Bend community for over twenty years.