It’s a common mistake to see a person with a dog in a public place where animals typically wouldn’t be allowed and think to yourself, “That person isn’t blind! How can they bring their pet in here?” But these days, blindness isn’t the only issue that can merit a canine companion. Aside from service dogs, two other common “dog jobs” are therapy dogs and emotional support dogs. Below, I shed some light on these important canine companions and the roles they play for humans.
Service dogs are the most well-known among these three. Simply put, service dogs are dogs that do a service or task for their owners; a service dog does something that its owner is incapable of doing. Legally, for an animal to quality as a service animal, the owner must have a documented disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As alluded to above, a popular use for service dogs is leading the blind. They have many other uses, however. They can alert a deaf person of loud noises, warn a diabetic of low blood sugar levels, or detect an oncoming seizure in an epileptic. Service dogs are permitted in businesses, even if there is a strict “no animals” policy – the reason being service dogs are not pets, they are a living, breathing aid to the disabled, akin to a wheelchair, cane, or hearing aid. To deny a disabled person access to a building because of their service animal would be discrimination.
What sets service dogs apart from therapy dogs and emotional support dogs is the training the dog must complete in order to become a service dog. They are trained to assist a specific person by doing specific tasks, such as picking things up and opening doors for those with mobility impairments or even pulling a wheelchair. They are trained to alleviate what ails their person and to assist him or her at all costs. A service dog is a working dog and should not be petted or fed by strangers and should not be distracted from doing its job. Service dogs are mandatory for their owners’ survival.
Therapy dogs are owned by one person, but benefit many. The dog’s handler, typically the owner, brings it into nursing homes, hospices, schools, daycare centers, and other places where the services of a therapy dog might be needed. These services might include letting a child read it a book, resting its head in a hospice patient’s lap, or snuggling with someone ill in the hospital. Although therapy dogs can go through training to become certified, it is not always necessary. The most important requirement of a therapy dog is a calm, even temperament. The purpose of a therapy dog is to provide comfort to the hurting and soothe the anxious. This cannot be done if the dog spooks easily or has too playful a demeanor.
There are many agencies that register therapy dogs, and most of them have the same requirements. Typically, a dog must pass the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen test, which has 10 challenges a dog must complete, including coming when called, supervised separation from its owner, walking on a loose lead, and accepting friendly strangers. There are many therapy dog certification agencies, dozens of which are recommended by the American Kennel Club. Testing is rigorous and not all dogs pass the test on their first try, but most groups allow dogs to try the test more than once. It is not mandatory to let a therapy dog into a building that does not allow animals, however, if a therapy dog is certified, it can be granted access to more formal settings like hospitals. Therapy dogs are considered comfort animals and are not needed to make it through day-to-day life.
Emotional Support Dogs
Emotional support dogs help alleviate symptoms of a disability, but they do not alleviate the disability itself. For example, while a service dog leads a blind man, an emotional support dog would comfort the man if he has panic attacks related to his lack of sight. While a therapy dog would comfort an entire nursing home, an emotional support dog would comfort solely its owner. Emotional support dogs are “prescribed” by doctors for people with mental and emotional disabilities. Some examples of disorders that might require an emotional support dog include severe anxiety, depression, phobias, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. There are not specific tasks an emotional support dog performs for the disabled individual; the dog is there to ensure its owner is mentally capable of getting through their day by essentially being moral support. The Fair Housing Amendments Act gives owners the right to live with their emotional support dogs in their homes, even if a “no-pets” policy is in place. However, unlike service animals, public facilities are not required to allow emotional support animals.
Each type of dog is a very useful tool for disabled or disadvantaged people and these dogs serve as yet another reminder of how important and wonderful our canine friends can be! – Jodi Thomas
Jodi Thomas is a secretary with OhioHealth and also works part time at a women’s clothing store. She loves to volunteer and is involved with a few different non-profit organizations. And of course, she loves animals!
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