Arizona State Hospital patient struggles for 2 years to get his service dog

Arizona Department of Health Services

Arizona State Hospital was originally called the Arizona Insane Asylum when it opened in 1887 at 24th Street and Van Buren in Phoenix.

From airplanes to cafes to classrooms, it’s not uncommon to see a service animal. And not just the classic guide dog – today there are emotional support horses and therapy parrots.

But there’s one place that doesn’t allow any service animals: Arizona State Hospital.

This is where Matt Solan has been for two years. Solan had a video visit this spring with Foxy, his 16-year-old Pomeranian.

“Let’s go. Hey, baby,” he cooed the stuffed dog on screen. “Hi. Hi. Come on. Hey, sweetie. How are you?”

After pleading guilty except insane to an aggravated assault charge, Solan was sent to the forensic unit at Arizona State Hospital in April 2020. Two days later, he filed a formal request asking for his dog assistance. Repeatedly denied, Solan sued the hospital in federal court.

Solan is 32 years old and has been diagnosed with autism, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. During a phone call this spring, he explained why he needed Foxy.

“I’m more of a human interaction problem than a dog interaction problem,” he said. “Autism doesn’t lend itself too well to good social interaction, but I get along very well with animals and can bond with them.”

After adopting Foxy in 2015, Solan spent months training her.

“If I panic, she will do everything possible to lock me in a zone, to calm me down by jumping on me or pressing me against me,” he said.

Matt Solan and his dog, Foxy

matt solan

Matt Solan and his dog, Foxy.

Solan said Foxy would be especially helpful to him in the hospital.

“Part of not being able to deal with being in a group here in the hospital is just the overwhelming noise, the visual and auditory noise that this situation creates,” he said. “So I haven’t been to any groups since I’ve been here. And because the hospital claims their only treatment modality is group therapy, that means I’m not getting any treatment here.”

It’s not uncommon to find a therapy dog ​​in a traditional care setting – visiting a sick child or comforting an elderly person with dementia. But a hospital administrator says it’s not the same in a psychiatric setting.

Dr. Dallas Earnshaw is superintendent of Utah State Hospital, where he has worked since 1983. Earnshaw said infection control, allergy, resources, patient behavior, and patient and patient safety animals themselves are all factors that must be considered in a hospitalized patient. , psychiatric environment.

“Most facilities across the country agreed that it was just too overwhelming and there were too many complications and hurdles to allow a patient to have a support animal with them,” a- he declared.

The Arizona Center for Disability Law, which wrote to Arizona State Hospital in support of Solan and Foxy, disagrees. And in March, a federal judge ordered the hospital to conduct an evaluation to determine whether letting Solan have Foxy with him would create more than a “minor inconvenience.”

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is not enough to assume there will be a problem, the judge wrote in the order, which said in part, “Although the defendant’s safety concerns are legitimate, the ADA requires that he demonstrate any requirements arising from these concerns are based on actual risks, not mere speculation, stereotypes…or generalizations about people with disabilities.

Foxy the dog sitting on a bed

matt solan

Matt Solan’s 16-year-old Pomeranian, Foxy.

Officials from the Arizona Department of Health Services, which operates the Arizona State Hospital, and the Attorney General’s Office, which represents the hospital, have repeatedly declined to comment on the story.

Solan initially represented himself, but now has an attorney, Holly Gieszl. She said one of the good outcomes of the case was that the hospital brought in a therapy dog ​​to visit patients.

“It’s recognition that this is an important addition to services for some patients who could benefit from it,” Gieszl said.

But Solan insisted he had to be with Foxy 24/7.

“It’s a psychiatric service animal, which is different from an emotional support animal,” he said. “…I don’t need her every second of the day to do this, but when I need her, she has to be there.”

Wrapping up his video visit with Foxy and Foxy’s caregiver, Angela, Solan expressed his thanks for taking time for him.

Angela tells him he’s welcome and then directs her attention to Foxy saying, “Real goodbye, huh?”

“Goodbye, Foxy,” Solan replied. “You like your chicken. OK ? »

In May, the court determined that more evidence needed to be gathered to make a decision about Foxy – and set a deadline of 2023.

Earlier this month, Foxy passed away.

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