Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What is a service dog and can one help me?

Service dogs are trained to assist an individual who is visually or hearing impaired, experiencing mobility limitations or dealing with psychological disorders. There are distinctions between service or guide dogs, sometimes known as assistance dogs, and therapy, emotional support or companion dogs. A service dog has legal access to accompany the person where ever they go; a therapy, emotional or companion dog does not.

Fully trained service dogs are governed by the Americans With Disabilities Act, which defines a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler's disability.”

Service dogs in training are governed under state statutes not the ADA; each state statue has different points and should be researched and understood by the service dog trainer. Key to the NC statute are provisions that the service dog in training must be identified, must be under control of the trainer by leash or harness, and must be the only service dog in training being handled. Further, the NC statute is clear that falsely representing an animal as a service dog is a misdemeanor.

Airman 1st Class Ashlee Galloway
Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Dean Suthard sits with his new service dog, Esther, during a ceremony at the Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston May 9. During the ceremony, NCBC, in partnership with Carolina Canines for Service, presented Suthard, a wounded service member, his service dog. Suthard deployed three times to Iraq, second tour with the 1st Battalion 8th Marine Regiment. In 2004, while on his second tour, he sustained spinal injuries while on combat patrol. CCFS is a non-profit health and human services organization that trains service dogs for people with disabilities. Through this program, military prisoners are taught to train service dogs for veterans with disabilities

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Canines for Service trains service dogs to assist people with mobility limitations, traumatic brain injury and, for Veterans, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After an average of 2,500 hours, the dogs know 90 commands and can pick up dropped items, open doors, be harnessed to assist someone walking or help to pull a manual wheelchair. The service dog can load a washer and unload a dryer, turn on/off light, pick up coins and give them to their person and lay quietly for hours if their person is in a meeting or just relaxing at home. The service dogs are constant assistants and can help someone with PTSD by creating space between the person and someone near them, assist them in exiting a room or provide tactile (touch) stimulation to help relieve their anxiety. Each service dog is carefully matched to a person considering many factors including the person’s needs, height, life style and the skills the dog is best at. When a match is made and the person receives their service dog, the training is done one-on-one with the person and their dog; not in a group of others receiving service dogs. And, because Canines for Service owns the dog after placing it with a person for five years, liability insurance coverage is provided by Canines for Service.

How do I find a service dog provider? There are numerous service dog providers that use many training methods, set their own selection criteria for the dog (age, temperament, size, health screening) and decide how much training a dog receives before providing it to a person. Most organizations have an application process and often there is a wait list of two or more years to receive a service dog. Some providers charge a fee for a service dog or require the person receiving the dog to fundraise to help off-set the costs of the training. One resource of service dog providers is Assistance Dogs International (ADI). While ADI does not train and place service dogs, they are a coalition of service dog providers that have agreed to define standards of training and have had a review of their practices by peers in the industry. So, what should you look for in a service dog provider? Here are just a few points to consider:
  • How old are the dogs when provided to a client? 
  • How have the dogs’ been evaluated for temperament and health? 
  • Are the dogs hips assessed by x-ray? 
  • Can the dog handle the public settings or is it timid or fearful? 
  • If a private trainer or a paid provider, is there a written contract with clear deliverables and expectations of what the service dog will be able to do? 
  • When training is done with a client is it provided in a group or individually? 
  • Is follow-up training provided? 
  • Who owns the dog after it is placed with a client? 
  • Is there liability insurance coverage provided by the organization providing the service dog? 
  • Is the organization a legal organization in compliance with state and federal laws? 
If you are looking for a service dog and are interested in a Canines for Service and Canines for Veterans service dog, visit our website to learn more or call for information 866-910-3647.

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