Quick – when you picture Service Dogs, what immediately comes to mind? Probably a German Shepherd Dog, or a Golden Retriever leading the blind. Right?
Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and the functions/tasks they provide are as varied as their breeds. An SD can render assistance as well as bring independence and comfort to their handlers (and in turn the handlers family and friends). I have had a Service Dog, for about 6 years now. I cannot even begin to express what he means to me. He has taken a world that I found extremely frightening, to one that is filled with bright and wonderful possibilities. I deal with the effects of brain damage and have multiple chronic illnesses. I suffer from social anxiety and agoraphobia. I used to be terrified of going anywhere on my own – I’m still afraid, but now I can manage to get myself out of the house and interact in social situations. I have a constant companion who alerts me to allergic reactions, helps me with balance and gives me much needed assurance when I’m having an anxiety attack.
Some of the many types of Service Dogs:
- Hearing Assistance Dogs (for the Deaf / Hearing Impaired)
- Medic Alert Dogs( for those with Medical Needs – such as Severe Allergies, Seizures, Diabetes)
- Mobility Assistance Dogs (for those in Wheelchairs, or who need Ambulatory Aid)
- Psychiatric Service Dogs (for those who suffer from Depression, Anxiety, PTSP, etc.)
- Autism Support Dogs (for Children and Adults on the Autism Spectrum or with Asperger Syndrome)
Service Dogs, can come from specialized training centers, or can be owner trained. There are a lot of misconceptions about where a Service Dog can go and what they do. Here is some vital information; The Use of a Service Dog and the Laws pertaining to them are covered by the Department of Justice Americans With Disabilities Act.
- All businesses open to the public MUST allow the admittance of a Service Dog – This includes stores, restaurants, medical offices, hospitals (other than in sterile environments such as operating rooms and burn units), etc.
- There is no certification required. A Gatekeeper (A gatekeeper is a person who controls access to something, for example entrance to a store or restaurant) can ask the following two questions only: “(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.”
- Gatekeepers are not to: “Ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require any special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or tasks.”
- Service Dogs are not required to wear any vests, specially marked collars, leashes, etc.
- Businesses cannot charge a fee for admittance of a Service Dog (such as hotels and airlines), nor can people with disabilities be isolated from other customers/patrons (as in seating in restaurants). Businesses cannot charge a fee to a Service Dog handler, that would be charged to a customer that has a pet with them (hotel, airline, etc.). These fees must be waived for Service Dogs.
In turn, Service Dog Handlers have responsibilities:
- Handler must be in control of their dog at all times.
- Handler must see to it that their dogs eliminate in a proper area and that waste be picked up and properly disposed of.
- Handler must supply feeding equipment, food, water, etc. for their Service Dog.
- Handler must keep their dog clean and properly vaccinated / regular veterinary care.
I’ve heard comments such as, oh it must be so nice to be able to take your dog with you everywhere, and, I so wish that I could make my dog a Service Dog. This is almost like saying, it’s great that you have a disability that requires a Service Dog for you to be independent and function like a person without a disability. It’s is not easy keeping up with the needs of a Service Dog. It’s not fun to be stared at, talked about, pointed at and questioned. If you encounter a person with a Service Dog, here are some basic tips of etiquette:
- Do not stare or point. It’s okay to look at the person and smile. If they smile back and seem to engage with their eyes, it’s okay to make a statement like “you have a beautiful dog”. Do not try to engage in a conversation if the person does not hold eye contact with you, or seems uneasy in any way.
- Do not ask what the persons disability is. Would you go up to a perfect stranger and ask why they are in a wheelchair, how they became bald, or what their religion is. NO! So why would you think that it is okay to ask about something so personal as a persons disability? Don’t judge – remember that not all disabilities are visible.
- Do not ask if you can pet the Service Dog, unless the dog is wearing a vest or bandana that say’s something to the tune of “I’m friendly, ask to pet”.
- Do not call out to, try to feed, or throw things at a Service Dog. Intentionally trying to distract (or harm) a Service Dog is an offense that is dangerous for the dog, the dogs Handler AND you can get arrested and have to pay a hefty fine.
- Teach your children not to run up, pet, shout at, feed or tug on a Service Dog.
- Remember that Service Dogs aren’t perfect 100% of the time. They have days when they don’t feel their best.
- When someone has a Service Dog in Training, be especially kind. Dogs after all, are DOGS. And puppies are like little kids. They get excited and don’t always behave as we would like them to do.
People with disabilities just want to be like everyone else. Treat them with dignity and respect. Realize the importance of the tasks that Service Dogs perform. They are wonderful creatures that show 100% trust and loyalty to their handlers. The bonds created have no bounds. Having my Service Dog has truly opened up a “new world” to me. A world where I feel accepted and safe. And please, don’t think that Service Dogs never have any fun. They love their jobs, and have plenty of down time when they are just like any other pet…part of a happy family!
Do you know anyone with a Service Dog? Have you ever encountered a Service Dog Team and not known what to say or do? Would you advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities that require the use of Service Dogs to help mitigate their disabilities? We would love to hear what you have to say!
Libby and Gabe, CGC, SD, PAT (Medic Alert/ Mobility Assistance)
Ladonna and Makia, SDIT (Hearing Assistance)