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Service and Therapy Dogs Support People with Physical and Developmental Disabilities

Published: September 15, 2020

When it comes to service and therapy dogs, the benefits they offer to those who need it are limitless. From enhancing one’s physical abilities, to improving the quality of one’s emotional well-being, service and therapy dogs can assist in all aspects of life if someone needs it. Dogs can grant them independence by performing essential actions one needs to live their best life.

In 2016, Sully was trained by America’s VetDogs and placed with George H. W. Bush.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog 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.” A therapy dog is defined as a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people who need help with their mental health, or suffer from psychiatric or developmental disabilities.

Physical Benefits

Different disabilities require dogs to perform different actions. The dogs’ training will reflect what is needed of them, starting from when they are puppies. Depending on one’s disability these canines can help in a variety of ways. When one thinks of a service dog, we frequently picture a seeing eye dog to assist those with impaired vision, which is a wonderful duty these dog’s provide, but the scope of what they can help someone with goes far and wide.

Support for Physical Disabilities

If the owner is in a wheelchair, or has limited mobility, mobility assistance dogs can open doors, retrieve items, even turn on/off light switches. If a wheelchair user needs to transition from their chair to a bed or toilet, the dog can help with that too. Some physical disabilities service dogs can assist with include muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, paraplegia, among other ambulation disorders.

Support for Medical Issues

Some dogs are trained to alert their owners of impending medical issues or emergencies. For instance, someone with epilepsy can have a support dog that has an innate ability to detect an oncoming seizure. When they sense one coming on they will alert their owner by giving a signal, like barking or putting their paw on them. This will give their owner a chance to get somewhere safe before the seizure occurs, and when it does the dog will lay close by to keep them safe.

Using their superior sense of smell medical alert dogs can also detect other health emergencies for people suffering from a variety of ailments including diabetes, heart irregularities, allergies, asthma and many others.

If one has a disorder that causes dizziness or difficulty standing, dogs can help with that too. Dogs can help people maintain their balance, as some are trained in bracing maneuvers. Like dogs that help those in wheelchairs, they can also help carry things if one is too weak.

Overall, when one is blessed to have a service animal in their lives, they have a better sense of safety, knowing that their pet is there to help them when they need it. It also increases their independence, leading to a better quality of life.

Emotional Benefits

When thinking of a service or therapy dog, the physical benefits seem to be what we often think of first. However, were you aware that these wonderful animals also provide immeasurable mental health support to their owners? Having a dog is a wonderful support for companionship. In the midst of securing their independence, it’s nice for owners to have a buddy to keep them company. Just having the dog to help with activities of daily living is a big boost to one’s self esteem. They can help one feel more comfortable in group settings, as they are confident and won’t need to rely on other people to assist them.

A therapy dog can assist people with various mental health issues including autism, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Just having the dog nearby to pet can bring a sense of calm. Research has also shown that therapy dogs can lessen people’s pain and anxieties.

For more information, to volunteer or to make a monetary donation there are several organizations in our area.

America’s VetDogs 1-866-838-3647

Long Island Chapter of Canine Companions for Independence 1-800-572-BARK

Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind out of Smithville 631-930-9000

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