Community News
Should You ‘Prescribe’ a Psych Dog?
Psychiatric News
Volume 45 Number 19 page 15-15

More and more people with mental illness are calling the Psychiatric Service Dog Society (PSDS) saying, "My psychiatrist tells me that I need to get a dog." Would any of your patients profit from a psychiatric service dog?

"Psych dogs are not more helpful for patients with certain types of disorders than others," Cheryl Diamond, M.D., an Ashland, Ore., psychiatrist who has had experience with them, told Psychiatric News. "The particular symptoms or disabilities that patients have are the factors that should determine whether they get a psych dog." In other words, patients should ask themselves: Which symptoms or disabilities especially interfere with my life, and could a psych dog help me cope with them? "Somebody who is not taking his or her medications regularly, somebody who dissociates, someone who needs help but has no partner or family—such people might be prime candidates for a psych dog," she said.

Yet even if a psych dog could help a patient cope with certain symptoms or disabilities, only people who can afford to care for one should get one, Diamond stressed. Joan Esnayra, Ph.D., head of the PSDS, concurred: "A lot of people call the PSDS and say that they live on $650 a month, yet want to get a psych dog. I ask them, ‘But how are you going to afford an unexpected $1,000 vet bill?’ One of my pet peeves is people who abandon dogs they have acquired. When you make a commitment to a dog, it should be for life."

People also need to have considerable insight into their mental illness to profit from, and care for, a psych dog, Esnayra said. She does, however, know several people with psychotic disorders who use them successfully.

If, after considering these factors, you believe that you have a patient who might be able to profit from a psych dog, what should you do? "Refer your patient to us, and we'll take it from there," Esnayra said.

Information about the PSDS is posted at <www.psychdog.org>. Esnayra can be reached by e-mail at joan.esnayra@me.com or phone at (571) 216-1589.blacksquare

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