Dogs play an important role in many people’s lives. They are our pets, our companions, our best friends. When it comes to service dogs, they are more than just pets, they provide a vital job in their owner’s lives - assisting them in activities of daily life, and increasing their independence.
Just like their endless energy; the tasks these magnificent canines perform are nearly limitless. Depending on their owner’s physical or psychiatric disability the service dogs can be trained to help them in their everyday lives. The goal of one of these dogs is to aid their owners in such a way that they can live their best life, a life where independence abounds.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, which is sanctioned under federal law, defines a service dog as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” These dogs assist their owners in their routines, and above all, ensures that they are safe. The duties these dogs perform are directly related to their owners' disability.
A dog of an owner who is deaf or hard of hearing can alert them to important sounds. An epileptic owner can be warned by their service dog before a seizure comes on. A dog of a diabetic can notify them of low blood sugar. A person who is blind or has diminished eyesight can be helped to navigate the world around them. A mobility support canine can help someone in a wheelchair or one who has difficulty with balance. It’s really incredible to see what these intelligent animals can do and how they can help so many people.
For owners with psychiatric impairments, service dogs can help in a variety of ways. They assist with disabilities such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) , schizophrenia, among others. In a medical crisis they are able to bring their owner medication, water or other beverage they may need to take the medication. They can even bring a phone if outside emergency personnel are needed to be notified. Depending on the severity of their human partner’s medical condition, service dogs can even be trained to call 9-1-1, with a paw push of a special phone button. If one has PTSD a dog can be trained to enter a room before them and turn on all of the lights to help mitigate anxiety. They can also nudge their owners to remind them to take their medication.
For those on the autism spectrum, dogs can provide routine and predictability as they navigate unfamiliar social settings. They can also provide an icebreaker when approaching people, to help their owners improve their social skills.
With the rise of food allergies, medical service dogs can be trained to detect specific allergens, such as peanuts or gluten. Often paired with children, these dogs can accompany them to class to sniff out possible reaction-triggering foods- providing a greater sense of security for their parents.
Physically impaired human partners of service dogs can benefit from their labor as well. These marvelous animals can perform a multitude of tasks to help their owners with responsibilities and mobility-related functions. Some of the work they can do to help include:
- Answer and open a door by pulling a lever
- Brings items to their owner
- Pull a wheelchair
- Turn on the lights
- Throw away trash
- ……. and many, many more!
In addition, to all of these physical abilities, the emotional support service dogs provide is immeasurable. A dog is a wonderful companion, providing friendship and security for their owners. Just having the dog to help with activities of daily living is a big boost to one’s self esteem. They can help one feel more comfortable in group settings, as they are confident and won’t need to rely on other people to assist them.
Service dogs can be very small, or very large depending on what is needed of them. They are all trained to listen to their handlers and ignore outside distractions. It takes a special person to train these dogs to help others.
Providing unconditional love, acceptance, and companionship, is something that all dogs do. For those with disabilities who are blessed to have a service canine, they are able to create a world of possibilities, leaving an indelible mark of love and joy for their owners and everyone they meet. They open doors - both literally and figuratively - that people assumed they’d never be able to open, putting an end to isolation, and establishing independence.