Sarah Newton MP: Legally-Recognised UK Public Access Test for Mental Health Support Dogs
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To Sarah Newton MP, Minister for Disabled People: Justice for people with mental health problems who rely on their dogs – a legally-recognised Public Access Test.
In the UK there is no support or recognition for people with mental health problems who rely on their animals. In fact, the situation is painfully unfair. For example, only people with physical problems have a real chance of getting an officially-recognised Assistance Dog that can get into shops, taxis, and so on. Meanwhile, people with mental health problems who do try and have a dog with them in similar ways are routinely accused of having 'fake assistance dogs' – because they have zero support to get dog training, and face bafflingly vague regulations.
It's a truly cruel predicament. But a legal Public Access Test for dogs, that would allow them into public places, will make things fairer.
"A Public Access Test for my dog Jack would change my life. Here's why.
I won the Best of Friends award at Crufts in 2018 with my Border Terrier, Jack. He helps me with my mental health problems - I've got multiple diagnoses; Borderline Personality Disorder, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dissociative Disorders and an Eating Disorder. Yes, it's a lot!
I had a traumatic, neglected childhood. I have terrible problems feeling supported and connected to people. In the past, I have been sectioned in hospital, and I have attempted to take my own life. Looking after myself properly is still a constant challenge. But Jack has transformed my life.
Jack is the first thing I've ever attached to. He taught me what love is. For the first time, I feel some of the most fundamental emotions that humans should have, emotions that are taken for granted by most people. He saves my life every day.
And I need him with me. Like a walking stick does for physical problems, he supports my vulnerable mental health. But at the moment, only Assistance Dogs (such as Guide Dogs for the blind) get access to shops, taxis and so on.
So a while ago I decided to try and train him as an Assistance Dog. But it’s incredibly hard. Assistance Dogs are trained to astoundingly high standards and they have to do all sorts of special tasks – which is why the training is usually done by a big organisation, like a charity. I'm trying to train him while coping with my complex health problems, without help from any charity. There is no 'Guide Dogs' organisation for mental health Assistance Dogs. I’m on my own – or should I say we are on our own!
A Public Access Test that simply ensures the dog is well-behaved would be far more achievable than the extra-tough Assistance Dog Test, so it would totally change my life. In fact, I’ve already trained him to that kind of standard! If the rules were changed, I could have Jack with me in all public places. And that truly would be like someone with a mobility problem finally being allowed to lean on a walking stick to help them stay stable.
And I know that it would change the lives of other people too, perhaps millions. Many people with mental health problems would benefit being accompanied by a dog. A recent study shows that pets do help people with mental health problems. UK charities are bombarded with people asking for help getting an animal to support their mental health – and they all have to say ‘no’, because of rules like the Assistance Dog Test. There are people all over the UK, living with a mental illness whose lives would be radically improved just like mine is by Jack. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say it could be truly life-saving for some people ...but the system is 100% against us, at the moment.
A Public Access Test, properly recognised in British law, would put dogs like Jack within reach of people trying to cope with mental health problems around the country.
So please, support this petition. Let's make a Public Access Test that is legally recognised in the Equality Act.
- Nessa and Jack, Winner of Friend For Life at Crufts 2018
The Government must create a Public Access Test, and give dogs that pass it equal access status with Assistance Dogs in the UK Equality Act (2010).
There are similar tests in other countries around the world that are fair and well-established. Why is Britain behind the rest of the world in this respect? Is it because we are a nation of dog-lovers - but not of support for mental health?
That's got to change!
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