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Observe National Service Dog Month in September

Friday, September 1, 2017  
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National Service Dog Month in September celebrates the hardworking dogs that provide independence for a variety of people with disabilities, and the people who prepare those dogs for their life of service.  The Arizona Veterinary Medical Association encourages developing a better understanding of the important role they play in many lives.


 “The bond shared between service dogs and their handlers is among the strongest veterinarians see between pets and their people,” said Dr. William Griswold, DVM, of Priority Pet Hospital in Gilbert.  “It’s hard to overstate the incredible impact that trained service dogs make in the lives of their handlers.  The contributions of service dogs — in terms of safety, independence, and overall quality of life — make an enormous difference in the lives of those they serve,” he said.


Most people are familiar with guide dogs that assist blind and visually impaired people; service dogs also serve in an amazing array of other capacities including helping those with hearing loss, psychiatric conditions, diabetes, seizure disorders, and those needing brace and mobility support, to name a few.  Service dogs are specially trained to assist in alleviating the difficulties of daily living due to their handler’s specific disability.  They may assist by calming anxiety; finding exits; alerting to sounds; carrying, picking up and retrieving items; turning lights on/off; and even calling 911.


While common service dog breeds include golden and Labrador retrievers, and German shepherds, any dog breed, as long as they are the appropriate size and temperament for their required duties, may become a service dog after the proper training.  Essential qualities that a service dog must exhibit include a steady, friendly temperament; a desire to please; calmness in a variety of social and environmental situations; alertness and responsiveness; and intelligence and common sense.


There are costs associated with acquiring a service dog, from a possible purchase price of as much as $25,000 (some are donated or subsidized) to food and veterinary expenses.  Many veterinarians offer a discount for service dogs, and for major medical procedures, it is possible that the agency that provided the dog has assistance programs.  Because of their importance to their handler’s well-being, service dogs should receive regular veterinary care to keep them at their best.


Establishments must allow service animals.  Only two questions are legally allowed to be asked of their handlers:  is the dog a service animal required because of a disability and what tasks or work does the dog perform for the handler?  Establishments are not allowed to ask the nature of the handler’s disability, require documentation, or ask for a demonstration of the dog’s tasks.  The handler is responsible for controlling their service dog at all times. Establishments are entitled to ask that the dog leave if it is not under control.  Those using service dogs are protected under the law in regard to housing, air travel, education and employment. 


Other types of assistive animals include emotional support animals and therapy animals.  The Americans with Disabilities Act does not extend to the use of these animals. While these animals provide valuable emotional support, affection and comfort for adults and children, they are not considered service animals under the ADA, although emotional support animals are covered under the Fair Housing Amendment Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.  Cats, rabbits, reptiles, horses and birds are used as therapy animals at hospitals and nursing homes, but service animals may only be dogs under the ADA, however there is a special provision for miniature horses if they are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a specific handler’s needs. 


The monthlong observance also honors the many people who contribute to the success of a service dog – from puppy to working dog.  It starts with a puppy handler teaching basic obedience and socialization.  The dog then works with special trainer(s) for several months to two years learning specific tasks that will help keep their eventual handler safe and more independent.  Service animals may also be trained, with guidance, by their owner.


The celebration month, originally known as National Guide Dog Month, was created in 2008 by actor Dick Van Patten after a visit to Guide Dogs of the Desert in Palm Springs, California motivated him to start a fundraising campaign for service dog training programs nationwide.   In support of National Service Dog Month, consider a donation of time or money to your choice of service dog nonprofit organizations.

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