Thanks to the ADA - Sarah's Story

  • July 2, 2020

Sarah* has a unique bond with her dog, Hugo, because he is her service dog. Hugo performs tasks that help Sarah manage her PTSD and Dissociative Disorder symptoms. Hugo has been trained to recognize when Sarah begins to have a dissociative episode. He then nudges her to help lessen the symptoms of it. Hugo is vital to Sarah’s mental health, stability, and independence.

Recently, Sarah decided to seek in-patient treatment to focus on her mental health and well-being. However, the treatment facility would not allow Hugo to accompany her, and Sarah had to kennel him. Without Hugo’s support, Sarah was not able to fully participate in her treatment at the facility.   

“Amidst all the chaos of seeking treatment and moving around and balancing life and mental health, Hugo has been the only anchor,” says Sarah. “Not having him at the treatment center meant that not only was I in an environment that was new and terrifying leaving me constantly hypervigilant, I felt like I had been stripped of the one thing in my life who could make me feel safe.” 

The ADA allows service animal users to take their service animals with them to public and private places. Service animals are defined as dogs and miniature horses under the ADA. A business cannot ask to see a service animal’s “papers” or require that the service animal wear a vest. Thanks to the ADA, Sarah was able to educate her health care provider about service animals and Hugo with her to in-patient treatment. Sarah successfully completed the program. Today, she lives a happy and healthier life.   

*not her real name 


Image description: A service animal lays at the feet of two people in a meeting. 

Link to DRT's Service Animal handout for reference.

Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) is a nonprofit legal services organization that provides free legal advocacy services to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities.

Middle Tennessee (Admin Office)

2 International Plaza, Suite 825
Nashville, TN 37217

Phone: 615-298-1080
Fax: 615-298-2046

East Tennessee

9050 Executive Park Drive, Suite 101-B
Knoxville, TN 37923

Phone: 865-670-2944
Fax: 865-470-7028

West Tennessee

1407 Union Avenue, Suite 1015
Memphis, TN 38104

Phone: 901-458-6013
Fax: 901-249-2933