Trained service dogs assist with many disabilities
Many of us know the comfort a pet offers. Some know a relationship that goes deeper.
In 2007, I was privileged to spend time with service members who were wounded in action. Many lived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, for more than a year. These men and women suffered amputations, blindness, hearing loss, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and severe emotional trauma, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some lived through physical and mental horrors that only a true warrior would have the courage to overcome.
We saw one veteran with a gorgeous black German Shepherd upstairs in the living quarters where pets were not permitted. The dog calmed the soldier by helping him in crowds and was definitely not just a well-trained pet. It was cautious and alert. Because it wore a service dog vest, I never asked to pet the dog, and it was a struggle not to because I love dogs. But this amazing dog was a working dog that the veteran depended on for his very survival.
“Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him” by Bret Witter and Luis Carlos Montalvan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4dz5KSYbTs) is the true story of U.S. Army Captain Montalvan and his service dog Tuesday, who helped the veteran have the peace of mind to do something as simple as walking out on the sidewalk after suffering from agoraphobia (fear of crowds) after his last incident while serving in the military.
Service dogs are trained in many disciplines
But service dogs are not limited to veterans of war. Maybe you have seen a guide dog for a blind person or hearing assistance dogs. Some dogs are specially trained to assist with mobility. Mobility assistance dogs increase the independence of a person who uses a wheelchair or has trouble standing or walking. Sometimes the dog pulls the wheelchair. I saw a Great Dane that assisted his human when the man fell. The dog was tall enough and strong enough for the man to pull himself up with the dog’s help. Mobility assistance dogs even retrieve dropped items and open doors. Other dogs alert and protect a person suffering from seizures or complications from diabetes. Psychiatric and emotional animal service dogs remind their handlers to take prescribed medications and wake them from nightmares, while autism assistance dogs calm their owners.
Service dogs are essential for so many people who have certain struggles in life, but they are not cheap. In fact, many people who are blind, deaf, or have another disability or disadvantage that requires the love and security that a service dog provides cannot get one due to the financial side of things. Fortunately, many visit sites like GoFundMe to help afford their own service dog, and by taking the time to read about the financial programs available, owning a canine companion is made much easier.
4 Paws for Ability (4 Paws for Ability.org) offers a wide variety of service dogs, including those for children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). The dog learns scent specific training so it is able to find the child who wanders or bolts away, even in a crowded mall! They also redirect the response of a child suffering from sensory overload.
Service dogs require special training
Some people think if they have a friendly dog or a dog that supports them emotionally, the dog is a service dog. But “service dogs are highly trained and become nearly invisible in public. They don’t jump, bark or eat off the floor. They quickly obey their handler’s commands and stay passive. Passing off a dog as a service dog is a crime and owners can be fined or, in extreme cases, face federal fraud charges,” according to http://www.wral.com/service-dog-scams-putting-people-at-risk-/13111411/#edI0zI82gMP10HKQ.99
Service dogs are specifically trained to help their handlers, and the training takes several months, or even years. Emotional support dogs are not trained as service dogs, but the dog must be prescribed by a medical professional. Therapy dogs provide support to people other than the dog’s owner.
A local organization that provides service dogs for veterans is Patriot Rovers http://patriotrovers.org/. Like most service dog trainers, they seldom train a person’s pet because pets do not have the temperament to behave as a service dog.
Federal law protects service dogs and their owners
The federal law regarding service dogs was revised in 2010. http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm
“A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. 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. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA (emphasis added).
“When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform.”
Some states allow broader interpretation of ADA laws, but a service dog must be allowed anywhere the public can go unless it is a threat to a sterile environment, such as an operating room. If someone is allergic to the dog, the dog and handler must still be permitted service and entry, and the place of business should accommodate both by separating the dog and handler from patron the with allergies as reasonably as possible.
Interestingly, in North Carolina, dogs picked up by local authorities that are not claimed must be donated to a nonprofit agency engaged in the training of assistance dogs, upon the agency’s request. Patriot Rovers participates in this program. So in such cases, both the dog and the person are given a new chance at life.
For more information on service dogs, visit http://www.workinglikedogs.com/service-dog-resources/service-dog-training-programs-se/ , servicedogcentral.org/content/node/28, and http://www.theservicedoginstitute.org/. Veterans can look into service dogs at www.PatriotRovers.org. Or research “Service Dogs in (your state)”. Training facilities are available in both Carolinas http://www.workinglikedogs.com/service-dog-resources/service-dog-training-programs-se/, as well as many other states. To determine if you are choosing a reputable service dog training facility, visit servicedogcentral.org/content/node/591.
By Beth Crosby
Many disabled individuals find assistance from service dogs
Guide dog for the blind (www.guidingeyes.org)
Psychiatric service dogs
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder assistance