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Service dog helps treat mental illness

| Sunday, February 8, 2015

Junior Ellen Chaleff’s dog, a Dachshund/rat terrier mix named Fred, is there when she wakes up in the morning. He’s there, wearing an NYPD coat, when she walks between classes. He’s there when she sits in class, when she eats at the dining hall, when she’s at Ultimate Frisbee practice and when she goes to bed at night.

And if Chaleff has a panic attack, he’s also there, curled up on her lap until it passes.

The first service dog for mental illness on campus, Fred has been at Notre Dame with Chaleff since last Halloween. Chaleff, who began showing symptoms of bipolar disorder in high school, said she found out about him after he was rescued from an abusive home. He already had training as an emotional support dog, making him easier to train further as a service animal. Professionals trained him to help with bipolar disorder, and Chaleff said she did the rest.

ServiceDog2Photo courtesy of I am Notre Dame

“I trained him to be in public, to be in a restaurant, to be in a dining hall, to sit in a classroom,” she said.

Disability services coordinator Scott Howland said students requesting accommodation must provide documentation of their disability, and students requesting service animals must say why they need one, though they do not need proof of the animal’s training. He said the process varies from person to person.

“The key factor to any sort of accommodation request, regardless of what it is, is we would want to look at all the variables, look at the case on an individual basis to make the best decision,” he said. “We would never automatically think that a similar request is the same as the first.”

Chaleff said she worked with Notre Dame’s Disability Services to make sure her professors, Notre Dame Food Services and Office of Housing were aware of and accommodating of Fred.

Chaleff and Disability Services also worked with lawyers. Howland said students with service dogs, as with any disability, are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability and the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits denial of housing because of disability.

Service dogs for mental illness are trickier, Howland said, because there is less of a precedent on how to accommodate them.

“The whole issue of service animals and emotional support animals is still somewhat of a new topic on college campuses,” he said. “There’s been recent court cases regarding that, so a lot of schools will look to those court cases — how this issue was resolved between this individual and this college — and use that as a way to guide their own policies or their own procedures.”

Now, with only a few location exceptions, Chaleff said Fred can go anywhere she does. Off campus, she said employees will sometimes be reluctant to let her and Fred into businesses because they don’t believe Fred is a service dog, or people will make assumptions about why Fred is there — such as that Chaleff is blind.

On campus, Chaleff said people take Fred in stride.

“The first few months, a bunch of people ran up to him, but now he’s just out there,” she said.

In class, Chaleff said Fred normally sleeps on a blanket next to her desk. He has also quickly become acclimated to her friends, especially on the Ultimate Frisbee team, she said.

“We were at a game watch of 30 people, and I was concerned about how he would work,” she said. “I might have to drive him home really quick, but he just ran around people, came back to me, walked around, tried to steal someone’s sandwich, then slept on [my friend] Caitlyn’s lap. It’s what happens.”

Since she has only had Fred for a few months, Chaleff said he still has improvements to make.

“His service stuff, he knows how to do,” she said. “He knows how to detect panic attacks and depression, and he can detect that in other people, not just me. [But] he doesn’t know ‘sit.’ He walks into things a lot. He gets himself entangled around tables. It’s great.”

Since getting Fred, Chaleff said her life has improved dramatically.

“I don’t have to skip as many classes; I can go out more and do things,” she said. “I have these periods where I feel like I can’t eat physically, and he won’t eat while I’m doing that. And I feel guilty, so I go to the dining hall, which annoys me, but it does what it’s supposed to do.”

Chaleff said she hopes to raise awareness of the possibility of service dogs for mental illness. In December, she started a blog about her experiences with Fred, and in January, she and Fred were featured on the I Am Notre Dame blog.

“I’m hoping that other people do try out service dogs because I’ve heard a lot of great things about them, and me having him for a few months has helped a lot,” she said. “It’s a responsibility, obviously, but it’s definitely worth the trade-off.”

UPDATE, Feb. 17: Chaleff said Fred’s reluctance to sit on command reflects his training to detect stressful situations.

“The reason Fred does not know ‘sit’ is because he is trained to stand until I feel comfortable somewhere,” Chaleff said in a Feb. 16 blog post. “He will not sit if I feel stressed or scared.  While I would like to have him sit when I tell him to, it is his training and I am thankful for it.  For example, in my classes I am relatively relaxed, so Fred settles quickly.  Last class in Intro to Gender Studies, we began speaking about a worrying topic of castrating men who do not fit into the norm, and Fred noticed and immediately stood at attention.”

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About Emily McConville

Emily McConville is a news writer and photographer for the Observer. She is a senior studying history and Italian with a minor in journalism. She is from Louisville, KY and lives off-campus.

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  • Janice Giddens

    My emotional support dog,Delilah,is a Miniature Pinscher. I have Bipolar 1 and severe anxiety with panic attacks. She has made my life so much more “normal”. I don’t know what I would do without her.

  • Madpenguin

    I’ve been looking to find an emotional support dog for my son with no luck. I am still looking though. He is Bipolar and really needs it.

    • Scooter Peterson

      An ESA is just a prescription pet; the scrip just entitles the owner to accommodation for housing and air travel. ESAs handlers are not entitled to public access and the ADA specifically excludes them. A Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) is a SD that is trained specific tasks to assist someone with a MI; their handlers are covered by the ADA for public access.

  • anymous

    As a student who would do a lot for the privelege of obtaining and caring for a service dog, that could literally and figuratively open thousands of doors in my life, I must express my disappointment and sadness at the University’s and Chaleff’s support of Fred as a “service dog.” I am not arguing the hardship of bipolar disorder nor the tremendous support animals, particularly dogs, offer humans mentally. But I know from experiences with family dogs that dogs are automatically extremely sensitive to human emotions and little needs to be “taught” in
    the way of sensing mental disturbances. Masters are the center of domestic dogs’
    entire lives and the animals would do most anything to help them, service dogs
    or not. So, I find it insulting that Fred, a rescue dog who underwent minimal
    training (Chaleff is pretty vague about how much but she says he can’t even sit
    on command) can be called a service dog and put into a vest just the same as
    dogs who undergo 2-3 years of training, from birth, and enable many to enter
    and exit doorways, deal with lights, go outside, cross streets, work, eat and
    live. There are many people who could hardy maintain a decent physical
    lifestyle without the aid of a service dog. Fred cannot be called a service dog
    because Chaleff utilizes him for mental comfort, not out of physical necessity.
    Slapping a vest on an animal and asserting it can better support you mentally
    does not a service dog make. Service dog fraud has become a huge problem in
    today’s society. Please sign this online petition to halt such fraud and devote
    resources to society’s real service dogs: http://www.cci.org/site/c.cdKGIRNqEmG/b.9194893/k.652A/Stop_Service_Dog_Fraud/apps/ka/ct/contactus.asp?c=cdKGIRNqEmG&b=9194893&en=ajIJKXNDK9KSL7PGK8IPK3NQKkJMK6MMLgKZJbOULtL9G

    • Brad Morris

      Hi anymous. I was just going to comment to direct Ms. Chaleff to
      Psychiatric Service Dog Partners’ website so she can get help from a
      peer community with her dog’s training and with understanding the rights
      and responsibilities of those with service dogs. It seems like Fred
      might be a (psychiatric) service dog in training, since the article
      conveys he is not yet public access trained. There are a bunch of
      friendly, knowledgeable people out there in PSDP’s support listserv who can help!

      In your comment, you brought up CCI’s petition. I’d like to encourage
      people NOT to sign it, and to encourage you not to ask others to sign
      it. I hope you’re curious enough about doing the right thing to find out
      why by googling “There Are No Fake Vests”. That easy-to-read statement
      makes it very clear why CCI’s petition harms people with disabilities
      more than it helps anyone. Thanks for caring about this issue!

      • NDAlum

        I have a psychiatric service dog. She is trained in many specific skills that help me and she is also able to “sit” on command (along with 99 other commands). While I applaud Notre Dame for (finally!) being willing to allow assistance dogs for mental health on campus, I worry that Fred is setting a bad standard. Is he an emotional support animal legally allowed in the dorms? Most probably. Is he a properly trained service dog allowed access to all other parts of campus? Not if he can’t “sit!”

        Also, as a former (and founding) member of PSDP, I recommend you steer clear of that organization. They turn on anyone who disagrees with them in the slightest. They are far from knowledgeable and are absolutely NOT friendly. They are the bullies of the service dog world.

        • Ellen Jennie

          Please please read where I clear this up on our blog: https://theresadogoncampus.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/sit/

          • NDAlum

            I find your response unsatisfactory. “Sit” is a basic and critical command useful in many many situations. Making excuses for not training your dog does not reflect well on you.

            Moreover, you have yet to list even 1 thing that your dog does when you tell him to. A dog that “just knows” is awesome but not a service dog.

            I fought very hard for the rights of mentally ill students to have assistance animals on campus and you are making a mockery of my efforts.

          • anymous

            You only “clear up” Fred’s complete lack of any service dog capabilities, including obedience of the “sit” command, a basic for most any dog. You write, “He will not sit if I feel stressed or scared.” This is COLLEGE. Most every minute is stressful. Writing a paper? Taking a test? Somehow, I doubt he only sits when you are asleep. A recent sleepless night from your blog, “Immediately, Fred noticed [my tossing and turning], and even with his difficulty sleeping lately
            because of his recent surgery, he crawled up to little spoon me.” This sounds pretty stressful to me, yet you indicate he was lying next to you, not standing. “While I would like to
            have him sit when I tell him too, it is his training and I am thankful
            for it.” So, what is IT, exactly? What IS he trained to do? All dogs sense human emotions as a result of the ancient relationship between humans and canines. “Just knowing” is no kind of training whatsoever.

            Additionally, by simply taking up the issue of sitting, and neglecting the larger issues of service dogs and public access discussed here, you are only reinforcing the idea of disgusting service dog fraud.

            “To all of those claiming he is not a “real” service dog, read the whole blog, not one article. My dog does more than you think.” I have read everything in your blog multiple times. Nothing indicates that he is more than a friendly rescue dog receiving undeserved public access and privileges.

        • Brad Morris

          NDAlum, please reconsider your approach.

          Not everyone is going to agree with you 100% on everything, but that doesn’t make them your enemy. I agree with some of what you’ve said and disagree with some of it, and I am not your enemy. I don’t perceive you as my enemy, either.

          More to the point, I don’t think treating people you don’t know like they’re your enemy will have any desired effect in convincing them of your beliefs.

          To clarify something you’ve said, yes, you were on PSDP’s support listserv, but you were not a “founding” member of PSDP (your name was not on the articles of incorporation when I filed them, and you have not been on the board of directors or among the leadership at any point). I am familiar with the circumstances of your removal from the group, and without providing details I can say that the brusque, hurtful manner exhibited in your present comments is generally not welcome there.

          I referred Ms. Chaleff to PSDP so she can get help through an
          organization set up to educate the public and support those who can
          coexist in an environment safe for people with mental illness. Very few people ever need to be removed from the group to maintain that safety.

          You are free to disparage any party you wish if you are merely stating matters of your atypical perception, but if you choose to label a group as “the bullies of the service dog world”, you may find that an “internet mob” of two people or so will show up on a public forum to defend their contrary perceptions.

          I strive to self-evaluate, however imperfectly, so that my actions are more likely to have their intended effects; I encourage you to do the same. This is because you have accused others of bullying, but I perceive the numerous and continually harsh posts you’ve chosen to submit as bullying, NDAlum, whether you are intending to act as a bully or not. As mentioned above, there is historical precedent for my perception, as well.

          I imagine we both want what’s best for Ms. Chaleff & Fred (and the rest of the world), but I believe that your manner of attack is not going to help your case. So again, I’m asking you to please reconsider your approach. I’d like to see us work together to make the world better, rather than waste our energy this way.

          • NDAlum

            Mr. Morris,

            You must have me mixed up with someone else, as I was in no way “removed” from your group. I chose to leave, without any prompting from you, based in large part on the targeted attacks and immature name-calling that I was subjected to by your membership (and leaders).

            However, as I too strive to self-evaluate, you are correct that my posts here have been harsh. My only intention has been to continue to fight for the rights of mentally ill students at Notre Dame with the same gusto with which I have always fought. I do apologize to Ellen for the wording of my posts.

          • Brad Morris

            NDAlum, I apologize if I mixed you up with someone else, and if you had a bad experience with PSDP. If the listserv was not a good fit, I hope you can still take advantage of the resources on the website.

            I appreciate your enthusiasm, and especially your kind response. Best regards in the future!

    • MJ

      “Fred cannot be called a service dog because Chaleff utilizes him for mental comfort, not out of physical necessity.”

      Mental illnesses (of which bi-polar disorder is one) absolutely is physical. The brain is a physical part of us, and opinions like this do an incredible disservice to all the people who are working to improve mental health care in this country. Service dogs like Fred have been shown to help some returning servicemembers with PTSD as well. Not every disability has outward visible manifestations such as needing help with doors and lights.

      • anymous

        I’m not exactly sure what you are arguing here. Yes, the brain is physical and tangible, and bipolar disorder does have outward, visible manifestations, such as panic attacks. I have a neurodegenerative disorder that has outward, visible manifestations also, though more obvious. The sentence of mine you picked out means to convey the physical aid that a real service dog provides can actually alter just about every physical obstacle in a person’s day, whereas a dog like Fred can only promote mental health. Say you’re alone at home when you fall and are unable to right yourself. You are in a lot of pain and bleeding. Fred sits with you on the cold, hard floor until somebody (hopefully) notices you are missing, at least a few hours later. An actual service dog would retrieve a phone for you, or even dial 911 itself, and you could be cared for within half an hour. This is just one example of such difference. Most animals, I argue, are emotional support animals due to their acute sensitivity to humans, like for service members with PTSD. Public access and fraudulent clothes and certificates should not be granted because emotional support animals are in no
        way trained service dogs.

        Also, I take up the issue of service dogs and their fraudulent use, not mental healthcare.

    • NED

      anymous – or is that anonymous? — So mental disability does not deserve support as would a “physical” disability? That distinction is outdated. The key attribute of a service animal is that they enable their master to overcome their disability and function better in the world, and clearly Fred does that. BTW, there is no ADA requirement that service animals wear any kind of “vest”, if that is your objection.

      • anymous

        Not my point either. Fred and other “emotional support” animals, particularly domestic dogs, do not deserve classification as service animals because animals are already intrinsically sensitive to human emotions. Service dogs are trained very rigorously for several years by professionals to very nearly simulate normal human capacities a disabled person cannot fulfill. I’m sure I would function very differently, with or without a disability, if I hadn’t grown up with a dog. Does that make it a service dog? No. Fred and other emotional support animals, with sparse, if any, training and qualifications, have not earned the privileges of calling themselves service dogs or accessing public places where animals typically aren’t allowed. Greater permissiveness only creates more hurdles for those actually needing a service animal to shop, eat in public, and attend indoor events a lot more difficult. Additionally, it really soils the reputation of real service dogs, who spend most every second of every day working hard and actually doing things to enable human beings to live in the most basic sense.

        • Kathy Fuerst

          While I do have some physical disabilities, a big part of my disability classification is because I have anxiety and adjustment disorders along with PTSD. I had never heard of psychiatric service dogs until I was in treatment for cancer and was talking with a counselor who works’s with local cancer patients. He had asked about my dog because he knew she was having health issues. I explained that I had had to have her put down. I had reverted to being afraid to leave my home after a week, so I had adopted another dog from a local shelter. I mentioned that she was already housebroken and obedience trained. As we talked about the new dog, he said she sounded like a service dog and encouraged me to do some research since she was already instinctively doing some of the work I would need a service dog to do. I found the PSDP listserv group a big help in learning what I would need to do to further my dog’s training. Everyone was very friendly and helpful and I have learned a lot.

          She not only grounds me when I have panic attacks, but signals me when my blood sugar is crashing, reminds me to eat and take my meds, gets me outside the house, and has even gotten my phone when I was unable to get to it when it was ringing. But her main responsibility is as my PSD. She has given me the ability to be out in public without having massive panic attacks within 15 minutes of entering a store and while that isn’t always “visible” by just looking at me, it’s a very real disability. She is definitely a service dog!

    • Ellen Jennie

      Please read where I clear this up on our blog: https://theresadogoncampus.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/sit/

  • anonymous

    Having run into this student on campus several times, I immediately realized her dog was a service animal, for two reasons: he wouldn’t be in the dining hall otherwise, and it is stated clearly on his leash. However, the second I smiled at the dog, Ellen (I do not know her but I now know her name from this article), immediately told me “Please don’t pet him,” in what I felt was a condescending manner. As I had made no indication of touching the dog, I felt being told what to do was completely unnecessary. However, I do understand that there must have been people before me who petted Fred and caused her to react prematurely to someone who even just looks at her dog. This is a top 20 university, with pretty intelligent people. Please assume at least some of us have the respect and knowledge to treat your service animal properly.

    • Mikki Solodow

      She may be saying something right away due to insecurity. However, as her dog cannot and does not obey basic commands he should not be out doing anything. For the most part he is an ESA and not a SD. A Service Dog knows all their basic commands. And smiling at a dog and the handler jumps like she did indicates to me she is not really in control of him. As someone with a trained SD, I have no problem with people coming up and asking however, I do not allow anyone to just touch. They must ask first.

  • Amanda Larsen

    I just found PDSP and I find them the farthest thing from being bullies. They are supportive and compassionate. I finally have people I can talk to that understand and support me. I think that CCI’s petition is discriminatory towards home trainers. There are pro’s and con’s to both program dogs and owner trained dogs. It really depends on the persons needs and should be left to them how best to obtain the right dog. On another note, a real SD does not need a vest we just use them because they make public access easier. If the public was more educated about the questions they can ask and the way a service dog should behave and understand their rights about removing an unruly one then the vest shouldn’t even be part of the decision. I say way to go Chaleff and Fred for navigating that which was probably a bureaucratic mess! I had to do that with my housing and I cannot imagine the difficulty with the college. Great Self Advocacy Skills!

    • anymous

      So….because Chaleff filled out the paperwork and jumped through several bureaucratic hurdles she should be able to call this minimally-trained, rescue dog a service dog and take him out in a public?
      As I’ve previously written, there are serious problems with fraudulent utilization of vests for public access. The more people do it for emotional support animals, the less chance people with legitimate service animals who truly require help 24/7 of being allowed public access. The vest is a symbol of fraud in this conversation.

  • Amanda Larsen

    It takes courage to go through those hoops. Do I have to sit at the back of the bus because you missed the civil rights revolution?

    • NDAlum

      It does not take true courage to misrepresent your dog as a fully trained service dog. All it takes is a total lack of concern for others (and for your dog).

  • Scooter Peterson

    I’m seeing a LOT of red flags. It takes 18-24months to train a SD; not just 3 months. The dog’s age and health (the handler states in a blog comment that the dog has vision issues). Lack of basic obedience. Use of the term “Guarding”; a SD should never guard. Watch your back, but when push comes to shove, the dog isn’t there for personal protection.

    The school might want to rethink letting untrained dogs, ESAs, and SDITs in class. In Michigan, one must be on a specific state list of trainers in order to take SDITs into public while ESAs & SDITs are not covered by the ADA.

  • Ellen Jennie

    I realized a few people think he is not well trained, and I have cleared that up on our blog: https://theresadogoncampus.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/sit/

  • ashlyn page

    Not a service dog. Please have him properly trained if you’re going to use him as such.

  • Oops, Nice try.

    An emotion support animal is not a service dog. This is stated explicitly in the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA governs service dogs and what constitutes a service dog ad opposed to other animals such as therapy dogs and emotional support animals.

    Emotional Support Animals are just that — they are pets who provide emotional support; however, being there is not a task, they are not considered service animals. They legally do not have public access rights and are not covered under the ADA.

    Not like you or the author appear to even know what that is. I recommend checking it out. You will come out smarter.

    Psychiatric Service Dogs do exist, but they are not emotional support pets. They are working dogs. They retrieve medicine and help, crowd control, check rooms, disrupt dangerous behavior, perform direct pressure therapy, and so much more.

    Your dog is not a service dog. Seeing this article makes me sick. I’m so disgusted by the lack of legal knowledge presented. Get your facts straight, learn the ADA, train your dog, and for God’s sake, stay out of public before you damage the reputation of real service animals.

    PS. News flash! Business do NOT have to give you access because that’s only granted to service dogs, not animals with no manners and limited training.

    This whole article is a joke.
    I hope you at least do some research.

  • anonymous

    The dog is not going to harm anyone. It is there for her comfort and to make Ellen a more happier and stable person. So instead of you all running your mouths how about noticing how the dog is aiding an individuals mental needs. Overtime the dog will become trained and gain all the necessary training and commands it needs as a service dog.

    • NDAlum

      First, do not assume that an abused dog with poor health and vision and little training will not bite when put into a stressful situation (like public access). He very well may. Especially given that he just had major surgery and is in pain.

      Second, An untrained dog masquerading as a service dog *is* harming people. In this case in particular, Fred is acting as a representation of all psychiatric service dogs for Notre Dame administrators and students. He is their first prolonged experience with one and how do you think they are going to feel about such service dogs when all they see is a sick and ill-behaved dog? Is that fair? No. But it is reality.

      Think I’m being dramatic? This is an unfortunately common problem that service dog handlers encounter. I have had the exact same thing happen to me. On more than one occasion, a “service dog” has left a sour taste in the mouths of business owners local to me. When I arrive they treat me like a second class citizen because they expect the same behavior from my dog.

      So, until the dog is actually trained, Ellen needs to call it what it is and stop demanding rights that she doesn’t have.

  • Rachel Carlson

    Yes, I appreciate service dog helps to treat physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual. Thank you for sharing informative blog with us. One of my friend was suffering mentally illness, but your father brought a service dog with the help of animalidshop.com,and that service dog helps to improve mentally stability.

  • Tom Bradly

    It’s great to read here that more schools allow service dogs inside the campus to “offer” the student emotional support.