PTSD Awareness: Service Dog Laws in Louisiana

June was National PTSD Awareness month which holds a special place in our hearts here at Sheppard Law.

Aside from being a Slidell family law attorney, Amber Sheppard also helps individuals and businesses navigate Louisiana and federal law as it relates to Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, and Therapy Dogs. In July 2019, Amber wrote an article on Service Dogs for the lawyer magazine Louisiana Association for Justice which you can find here. It was such a hit that she wrote another article detailing the differences between Service Dog and Emotional Support Animals for the September 2019 issue.

PTSD Can Affect Anyone

PTSD does not just affect those in the military or law enforcement. That is typically what we associated PTSD with as those men and women are involved in situations daily that can result in severe traumatic experiences.

Why is this so important to us? Well, for starters, Amber has PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) herself which is why Tubbs is her shadow as a service dog. Did that surprise you? It shouldn't. According to NAMI, PTSD affects 9 million individuals in the United States alone with women being more prone to it than men. It can affect men, women, and children: anyone who has been exposed to trauma can suffer from PTSD.

So what is a trauma? According to NAMI, it is typically associated with direct exposure to an assault (physical or sexual), accident, war, or natural disaster.

PTSD Symptoms & Treatment

A diagnosis of PTSD requires a discussion with a trained professional many of whom are located here in Slidell, Covington, and Mandeville. Symptoms of PTSD generally fall into these broad categories (taken directly from NAMI):

  1. Re-experiencing type symptoms, such as recurring, involuntary and intrusive distressing memories, which can include flashbacks of the trauma, bad dreams and intrusive thoughts.
  2. Avoidance, which can include staying away from certain places or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. A person might actively avoid a place or person that might activate overwhelming symptoms.
  3. Cognitive and mood symptoms, which can include trouble recalling the event, negative thoughts about one’s self. A person may also feel numb, guilty, worried or depressed and have difficulty remembering the traumatic event. Cognitive symptoms can in some instances extend to include out-of-body experiences or feeling that the world is "not real" (derealization).
  4. Arousal symptoms, such as hypervigilance. Examples might include being intensely startled by stimuli that resembles the trauma, trouble sleeping or outbursts of anger.

Treatment for PTSD varies from person to person but can include:

  1. Psychotherapy: Talking with a licensed counselor, psychiatrist or psychologist. This can mean you undergo Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (talk therapy), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Group Therapy, Personal Therapy, etc.
  2. Medication: Prescribed medication from a trained professional to help alleviate some of the symptoms of your PTSD.
  3. Self-soothing Techniques: tapping, mindfulness, yoga, exercise and movement
  4. Service Dogs
  5. A combination of the above

Service Dogs In Louisiana

Some may claim a dog is a service animal when it is just a support dog or their pet. There are people who abuse the system to take their animal places, but there are also others who truly have a service animal. The following may help you better understand when a dog is a service dog, emotional support, therapy, or a facility dog but make sure you exercise caution should you approach someone questioning their animal. If you interrogate them and they do have a legitimate service animal, you or your business may be in some hot water with an Americans With Disability Act claim.

Slidell small business attorney Amber Sheppard at a public event hosted by Fortitude CrossFit at the Harbor Center with her Service Dog Tubbs

So what is a service dog? These dogs are “working dogs” and protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),Title II and III. The ADA defines a service dog as “a dog" (fun fact: the only other service animal allowed under the ADA is a miniature horse) that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.  The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability.” Examples of tasks: guiding a blind individual, alerting when it is time for medication, pressing elevator buttons.

Under the ADA and LSA-R.S 46:1953(A-C), a service dog can go anywhere the owner is allowed without restriction (there are some exceptions but minimal). This includes, but is not limited to, transportation vessels, restaurants (even if food codes apply), public places, hotels, schools, cinemas, museums, and offices. If a landlord or housing association requires a pet deposit, a service animal is exempt.

In Louisiana, “White Cane Laws” further define and protect the animal. Under LSA-R.S. 46:1952(1), a service dog is defined as “a dog who has been trained or is being trained to do work or perform a task for a person with a disability.” This covers dogs who are actively being trained to perform a task by Service trainers. A disability can be documented or perceived. Meaning if someone thinks another person has a disability or limitation, then under this definition, they have a disability. Specifically, the White Cane Law names the following as service dogs: hearing,guide, seizure alert, mobility, autism service dog, “a dog providing assistance during a medical crisis”, and “a service dog providing assistance to persons, including veterans with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.”

What Can You Ask Someone With a Dog You Believe Is a Service Dog?

1. Is the dog required because of a disability; and

2. What type of work (or service) does the dog perform? You cannot ask to see a service task performed by the dog for its handler if ADA applies.

When Can You Ask a Person and The Animal to Leave?

Only when it is apparent, the service animal is not house broken and/or it is not controlled. Owner/handler will be liable for any damages done to the property at that point. Any sign of unprovoked aggression is also a sign it is likely not a service dog and you would have the right to ask the person to remove their animal from the establishment. You cannot ask the PERSON to leave, but if they become violent or affect the safety of the business or public, then, as a separate matter, you can ask them to leave so long as you would do the same for anyone else in the same situation.

Personal Story

Mandeville small business lawyer Amber Sheppard with her service dog Tubbs at Bella Salon in Olde Towne Slidell, Louisiana

At the end of the day, remember to be nice to everyone you meet. While a lot of folks will try to manipulate Louisiana service dog laws or finagle federal laws know that some folks have a disability and need their service dog.

Tubbs was rescued from a shelter and trained at Northshore Canine Academy here in Slidell.

I'm a very competent attorney and make yall laugh so remember that when you think someone may not "present" with a disability. In my past, night terrors, extreme startled reactions, and a slew of other symptoms were common but that did not always happen in public.  

I cannot tell you how humiliating it can be when someone asks me, "Is she a real service dog" or "What kind of disability do you have?" On more than one occasion, especially early on, I burst into tears or left where I was. Once a man screamed at me "Why are you bringing a dog where I eat?" while Tubbs was obediently laying close at my feet. Fortunately I mustered the courage to say, "She is my service dog" (she was wearing her vest) and his wife apologized for him. As time passed the feeling of shame and guilt I associated with it lessened.

So, like the Sheppard Law motto says, "Be Fierce and Kind". If you need more information on service dogs, PTSD, Suicide Hotlines, or Substance Abuse please see the Local And National Resource List below. It is not exhaustive by any means nor are we saying it is: it is just to serve as a jumping off point for those suffering or who love someone who is suffering.

Local & National Resources

  1. National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI)
  2. NAMI Louisiana
  3. National Center for PTSD Awareness (Veteran's Affairs)
  4. ADA concerning service animals
  5. LSA-R.S§ 46:1951 - 1959; LA R.S. § 21:52; LA R.S. §32:217; LA R.S. § 14:39.
  6. Slidell area PTSD therapist list by Psychology Today
  7. Cranwell Canine Academy in Slidell trains service dogs
  8. Northshore Canine Academy in Slidell also trains service dogs
  9. Louisiana Warriors Unleashed is a nonprofit that provides service and support dogs for veterans
  10. Veteran's Crisis Line: 1.800.273.TALK (8255)
  11. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Hotline: 1.800.622.HELP (4357)
  12. PTSD Coach App For Your Phone

Contact Us and Follow Us Online

Need help navigating service dog laws in Louisiana? Want to get started with a paid personal or business consultation with Amber & Tubbs? You can shoot us an email to start a conversation or reach out to our Assistant Brielle via phone or text at 985-265-7069 to schedule or get pricing information.

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