AC Pup: Some animals are more than pets

Folks who love animals have known forever that pets provide numerous benefits. Of course they offer companionship, unconditional love and total acceptance. But have you thought about how some pets even offer their humans help and independence they may otherwise find challenging to achieve?

The ability of some dogs and even miniature horses to enhance our lives goes beyond offering love and companionship alone. Some are considered working dogs or service dogs, and they can help people with disabilities in their lives every day.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for someone with a disability. And the tasks performed must be directly related to the person’s disability.

I think it means whenever a person needs help related to their disability, their trained dog can assist. So someone with a visual impairment would have his dog assist him in way-finding, or someone who is a diabetic would have his dog alert when his blood sugar reaches certain levels. Or maybe even a trained dog of someone who is hearing impaired would let them know when the doorbell is ringing. And that’s just a few of the areas where dogs can help.

Dogs can be trained to help for any number of conditions. In fact, in addition to visual impairment, diabetes and hearing impairment, there is specialized training for assistance dogs to help people with Parkinson’s disease, autism, severe allergy, seizures, psychiatric problems and other medical issues.

There are even dogs trained to offer brace and mobility support. If someone needs help keeping his balance, a larger service dog may be just the answer. Or two larger service dogs may be the answer, because you’re not limited to one if your disability requires two.

Speaking of larger dogs, did you know any size dog and any breed might be a trained service dog? You typically see golden retrievers or Labrador retrievers as service dogs, but you can have tiny Chihuahuas that fit in a pocketbook serve as assistance dogs. No breed is restricted. The dog just needs to be trained and under the control of the handler.

The training required for the dog to be classified as a service dog does not need to be done by a professional either. The person with the disability may do the training themselves since no certification or registration is required to be shown when entering a business with a service dog. But the dog must be fully trained before taking him in public places.

And the service dog is allowed to go almost anywhere his handler goes. That means the trained dog can go into most public buildings without obstruction, including restaurants, with his handler, and the handler is not required to produce any proof of certification to gain entry. The handler simply must be able to confirm the dog is required because of a disability and tell what task the dog has been trained to do if asked.

Dogs have been humans’ best friends for a really long time. It’s great to know many of them can be trained to be there when their human needs them, too.

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