By Julie Sayres, Producer
Most people love dogs. They make you feel better just by seeing their faces when you get home. The dogs wag their tails, flatten their ears and show you just how glad they are that you’ve arrived. And you’re probably pretty glad too.
The pairing between dogs and humans goes back a long time, but the training of particular dogs to be service animals is relatively new. People like to be with their dogs, but only canines specifically trained to mitigate the symptoms of PTSD or a physical disability are considered real service dogs.
WHAT SERVICE DOGS CAN DO
As opposed to therapy dogs or emotional support animals (ESA), service dogs are trained to do specific tasks that mitigate the physical or psychological handicap of their handler. They can alert to seizures or a high glucose level in diabetics, help a blind person negotiate the world, turn on a light switch and pick up something from the floor.
For service dogs to be certified, they need to perform certain tasks. Other examples of what they do for people with PTSD, including veterans are: BLOCK: If the handler feels too crowded, the dog can open up a space and protect him from a crowd. Another one is COVER, where the dog will face behind the handler and cover his back. Another important task is INTERRUPT. If a veteran is having a nightmare, flashback or panic attack, the dog will literally interrupt it by pawing or licking the handler, bringing him or her back to the here and now and reducing the panic.
An emotional support animal is a well-trained obedience dog, but is not required to learn tasks.
WHERE SERVICE DOGS CAN GO
According to the ADA (American Disabilities Act), a certified service dog can have full access and go virtually anywhere the handler can go, except special places like an operating room, for obvious sanitary reasons. They are welcome on any form of public transportation, including airplanes. An ESA is also allowed on planes with a note from a doctor, but if they’re not well-trained, they can cause problems for a disabled handler with a real service dog. This is becoming more and more of an issue where untrained animals whose owners simply want them with them are creating problems on airplanes and other public transportation.
The Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans, a national organization, is striving to move forward with a standardized certification nationwide. This would prevent dogs who don’t meet these standards from having unlimited access to areas where service dogs are needed. The association is in the process of having meetings to bring these standards into law.
The ADA already has a PUBLIC ACCESS TEST, which requires dogs to demonstrate good control, like not picking food up off the ground. They should be neutral to outside stimuli and pay attention to their handler.
While all dogs, including emotional support dogs, can be of enormous benefit to their owners, they do not have access rights like highly-trained certified service dogs. A true service dog can prevent a veteran from taking his or her life by mitigating the isolation and despair that results from extreme trauma. They need to be protected by our laws.