Imagine being unable to open a door, unable to pick up items that fall to the ground, or not hearing an intruder enter your home.
Many individuals with disabilities live with those concerns on a daily basis.
Fortunately, assistance dogs have been incorporated into their lives so they can receive help in performing those daily tasks.
An assistance dog is broken down into three sub-categories: guide dogs to assist vision-impaired individuals, hearing dogs to assist with intruders or other sounds, and service dogs to aid with other duties.
Assistance dogs have been around since 1929 when the Seeing Eye Guide Dog association was established.
The American with Disabilities Act defines service animals as “animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service animals are working animals, not pets.”
“Service dogs provide an opening for people with disabilities to be accepted,” explains Dr. Alice Blue–McLendon, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
“Service dogs not only help individuals with disabilities complete daily tasks, but they give the individuals a new sense of freedom and independence.”
There are about 15,000 individuals who use assistance dogs in the United States and there are many who are on the waiting list to receive one.
“Some service dogs are even trained to pick up credit cards,” notes Blue-McLendon. “Each dog is trained to do specific tasks.”
There are several national organizations who train and place assistance dogs with their owners. Each organization has different methods that they use to train dogs. Some organizations get their dogs from shelters and help find a second life and purpose for the dog. Other organizations raise their own dogs to train with.