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Service Dogs Help More Than the Blind


When most people see a service dog they automatically assume it is a seeing eye dog.  I get that all the time when I am out with my mobility service dog. I hear parents telling their children, “Don’t pet that dog, it’s a working dog and is guiding that blind person.”  That’s because the seeing eye guide dog is so ingrained in Americans’ minds, they don’t realize there are so many different types of service dogs performing a huge range of functions for many types of disabilities.  People  are  usually very surprised to find out just how many different types of service dogs there are besides seeing eye dogs.

The ADA ( Americans with Disabilities Act ) states that Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.

Joy Cahill walks her service dog Sam. Joy, born with Down syndrome, also suffers from respiratory distress and epilepsy

Examples of such tasks are

  • Guide Dog:  This Service Dog would assist an individual that has vision loss; either fully or partial.
  • Mobility Dog:  This Service Dog may retrieve items, open doors or even push buttons for its handler.  Also, this Service dog may assist people with disabilities with walking, balance and transferring from place to place.
  • Hearing Alert Dog:  This Service Dog will alert its handler with a hearing loss to sounds.
  • Seizure Alert Dog:  Also known as Medical Alert Dog, this Service Dog alerts to oncoming seizures and is trained to respond to seizures such as “Get Help” or stay with the person until help arrives.
  • Medical Alert Dog:  This Service Dog is trained to alert to oncoming medical conditions, such as heart attack, seizure, stroke, diabetes, epilepsy, panic attack, anxiety attack and even post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and life threatening allergies such as peanut allergies.
  • Autism Service Dog:  This Service Dog can alert its handler of certain behaviors so that the handler may keep these behaviors to a minimum or keep the autistic child or adult calmer and more attentive.

Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support and Therapy dogs do not qualify as service animals under ADA. Therapy Dog and Service dog are vastly different.  A service dog is any animal that has been individually trained to provide assistance or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability which substantially limits one or more major life functions.  Some states have their own laws which follow up on the federal law in more detail.

A Therapy Dog refers to a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, mental institutions, schools, and stressful situations such as disaster areas and do not have the same rights and public access as a service dog.

Service Dogs must be allowed to go anywhere their handler goes, including restaurants, schools, buses, taxis, airplanes, stores, movie theatres, concerts, sporting events, doctor’s offices, and any other public place. It is REQUIRED under
federal and state laws that they be allowed. They do not have to wear any specific identifying gear, including service dog vests , but many chose to do so to avoid confrontations and make access easier and avoid questions,  but it is  NOT REQUIRED UNDER THE LAW.

It is also illegal to be asked for any special identification from Service Dog organizations. Many people do carry ID cards, and may present them voluntarily, but this is not required, and should not be expected. You may NOT be asked for
“proof” or certification of  your dog’s training as a condition of entry into any business. The only questions that can be asked : “Is this dog a service dog?” and “What task has this dog  been trained to do?”

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