Feeding the dogThere’s no doubt that dogs are pretty special. Having lived and worked alongside humans for thousands of years, dogs are capable of deep communion with us, bringing joy, love, companionship, and healing. Indeed, the relationship between human and canine is remarkable, and is treasured by anyone who has ever loved a dog, and service dogs are no exception.

The service dog takes this deep and nuanced communion with humans to the next level, providing unprecedented support and life-changing independence for people with disabilities. Discover the wonderful world of service dogs, and find out how you can participate in this amazing program.

What Is A Service Dog?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are defined as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of people with disabilities”.  Disabilities can be physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or mental. Dogs whose purpose is to provide comfort or emotional support don’t qualify as service animals under the ADA’s definition.

A service dog is not considered a pet, and thus enjoys certain legal protections that regular companion animals do not. Under the ADA, service dogs are allowed anywhere the public normally goes, such as restaurants, hotels, taxis and shuttles, stores, hospitals, theaters, and zoos.

The Essential Role Of The Service Dog

The tasks a service dog is trained to do must be related specifically to the needs of his or her handler/owner. The types of support that can be provided by service dogs is incredibly varied. Some of the most common forms of assistance include:

  • Mobility – A service dog may provide assistance to individuals with limited mobility by retrieving items, opening/closing doors, turning lights off/on, dispensing medications, and many other tasks.
  • Vision – For individuals with impaired vision, service dogs can provide support such as helping to navigate sidewalks and street crossings and avoiding obstacles.
  • Hearing – Service dogs that help hearing impaired people are trained to alert their handlers to important auditory cues, such as the doorbell, smoke detector, telephone, and oven timer.
  • Medical – For individuals with conditions such as seizure disorders and diabetes, service dogs can be life saving. These dogs are trained to detect an impending seizure or significant blood sugar fluctuation, and may also be trained to guide the handler to safety, assist with medication, or even contact 911.
  • Mental health – Most recently, we have started to recognize the incredible value that service dogs can offer to individuals with certain psychiatric conditions, such as soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. Service dogs can be trained to respond to various symptoms, such as dissociative states, night terrors, panic attacks, hallucinations, and agoraphobia.

Obtaining A Service Dog

If you qualify as legally disabled under the ADA, you may be able to apply for a service dog from one of the many organizations that oversees their care and training. Before submitting your application, make sure you have the following bases covered:

  • Talk with your medical providers and obtain documentation from them agreeing that you are legally disabled and would benefit from a service animal.
  • Be sure that you have the proper facilities and financial resources needed to care for a dog. If you can’t care for the dog yourself, do you have a trusted person who can help you?
  • Make a list of specific tasks you would like a service dog to help you with that would lessen the effects of your disability and make life more manageable for you. Protection, comfort, and emotional support do not count as trained tasks.

To learn more about service dogs, visit the American Service Dog Association website. As always, the staff at Dupont Veterinary Clinic welcome your questions and concerns regarding your own canine companions.