More than “Best Friends” Service and Therapy Dogs

By admin
July 10, 2013

Most of us have experienced the unconditional affection of a puppy or dog sometime in our lives, even if we were not lucky enough to have a canine pet of our own. But for some people, a service dog is much more than a “best friend.” A service dog is a partner and protector who performs functions for the individual that a disability or illness prevents him or her from doing for themselves. A service dog can, in fact, be a lifeline to a safer, more normal life. That is why the American Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 allows the owners of service dogs to take their dogs with them anywhere the general public goes. That includes many privately owned businesses that serve the public such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxis, theaters, concerts and sports facilities. Service dogs also are legally permitted to travel on any public transit system with their owners (not in cargo), including buses, trains, boats, and planes.

According to the American Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the owners of businesses that serve the general public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are allowed. The ADA specifies that a business owner is not allowed to ask a person with a service dog what their disability is, nor can they demand proof that the service dog is “certified.” Some states have additional laws that provide protection to service dogs and the people they serve.

How Service Dogs Help

When we think of service dogs, the first thought is usually of seeing-eye dogs for the visually impaired. While visual assistance is one important way service dogs help us, there are many other amazing jobs that these incredible canine partners perform.

• Alert for help

• Alert the owner prior to a seizure (diabetic, epileptic and other types of seizures)

• Alert their owner of a change in insulin levels

• Open/close doors, drawers and refrigerators

• Pick up dropped items

• Assist with mobility issues

• Mitigate the challenges of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

• Assist the hearing impaired

• Assist individuals with autism

How Therapy Dogs Help

Therapy dogs interact with people to offer feelings of wellbeing or encouragement. The wagging tail and wide “smile” of a trained therapy dog can provide comfort, relieve stress and help to calm fears in situations where people of all ages feel anxious, sad or lonely. They are used in hospitals, nursing facilities, schools and rehab centers to give their “patients” a sense of normalcy and to allow them to interact in a way they might not be able to achieve with a fellow human being.

There are two types of therapy dogs. Those that provide AAT or Animal Assisted Therapy, in which they are a part of the patient’s prescribed therapy plan. Interactions with the therapy dog are part of the treatment regimen designed by a healthcare professional to improve physical or emotional function. The other type of service dog participates in AAA or Animal Assisted Activities, where the animal is introduced to withdrawn people to encourage communication, because patients often respond by relaxing and opening up in the presence of a friendly loving animal. Service dogs such as these were used to comfort young survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy and as well as patients who were injured during the Boston Marathon bombing.

Could Your Pup Be a Service or Therapy Dog in the Making?

Service Dogs must be individually trained to help a person with a disability. Most service dogs attend a six- to nine-month training program in which professional instructors work with them to teach them the skills that their eventual owners will need. During this period the dogs are screened to be sure that they have the right temperament and ability to provide the assistance that is required. Service dogs should be well-behaved and may not bark disruptively or act aggressively.

Therapy dogs must be friendly to all kinds of people and must enjoy being touched by strangers. Generally older dogs make the best therapy animals, because they are less excitable and more obedient. Any type of dog breed or mixed breed of dog can be a therapy dog. The Delta Society offers home-study courses and training workshops for individuals who are interested in training their pet to be therapy dog.

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went.” ~ Will Rogers

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