By Joy Neighbors
Service dogs change lives! September is National Service Dog Month – a great time to learn more about and celebrate the role that service dogs play in our lives every day.
National Service Dog Month began in 2008 when actor Dick Van Patton launched an event to assist in gathering funds for guide and service dog training schools throughout the country.
What began as one fundraiser transformed into an annual celebration to raise awareness about service animals, their specialized training and the vital role they play in the lives of so many Americans.
Service dogs are specifically trained to assist those who have disabilities such as hearing impairments, vision impairments, seizure disorders, mobility impairments, diabetes and certain mental difficulties such as PTSD (Post Tramatic Stress Disorder), Autism and other emotional problems. The role of a service animal is to help a person regain their independence, provide confidence, companionship and protection to their person.
According to the American with Disabilities Act of 2010, “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities… Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.”
Most service dogs are larger breeds like Labradors, Shepherds and Retrievers, but other dogs of smaller stature and breed are also trained to assist people, depending on the impairment and situation. Rescue animals are also being trained to fill many of these roles. In 2013, more than 380 rescued dogs were trained and placed with individuals whom they now serve.
Service dogs, regardless of their size are invaluable companions for individuals with disabilities and most wear a special harness or vest that identifies them as service, guide or medical alert dogs.
Here are five ADA recognized types of service dogs that are allowed access to any place open to the public. And remember, not all disabilities are apparent in everyone so don’t ask questions and don’t judge.
These are the dogs we may be most familiar with. They are trained to assist their owners who are blind or have low vision in navigating in the world. At one time we called them “Seeing Eye Dogs.”
These animals assist people who are deaf or hearing impaired. They are trained to alert their owners via a signal to certain sounds like a doorbell, a ringing phone, an alarm or siren.
These larger dogs can pull a wheel chair, help steady an owner with coordination problems or retrieve items that are needed.
4) Medical Alert Dogs
Dogs in this group are trained to monitor their person closely in order to recognize the subtle signs of a life-threatening event such as a seizure, dangerous allergens or toxins, or changes in blood sugar.
These animals are trained to assist owners with situations such as PTSD, Autism or depression. The dogs are trained to help alleviate the clinical signs of the disability.
Although the ADA does not recognize therapy dogs and emotional assistance animals, many businesses, schools and other public places do. These dogs may be required to pass a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test and receive a Therapy Dog Certification.
Therapy dogs provide emotional and psychological assistance to people in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice centers, mental health facilities, schools and libraries. These dogs are allowed to interact with many different people instead of being handled by only one person. People are encouraged to pet therapy dogs. They’re known for boosting confidence, offering support and unconditional love to those they interact with.
An emotional support animalhelps those who suffer from depression, anxiety and other psychological disabilities. The animals are not trained to perform specialized tasks and cannot assist in reducing the effects of a disability. Both therapy dogs and emotional assistance animals must have documentation from a mental health professional stating that the animal is necessary to this person.
One rule to always remember, do not distract or try to interact with a service dog while it is working. The services these dogs offer their owners are vital to their everyday well-being. Please allow them to do their jobs without interference – someone’s life depends on them.