FM/CFS/ME RESOURCES - Service Dogs for The Disabled


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SERVICE DOGS FOR THE DISABLED Service Dogs for The Disabled

Service dogs that are trained to assist the individual needs of a person with a disability can provide the amount of physical and/or psychological support necessary to help that person lead a more functional and independent life. Click the links below for information.

Basic Information About Service Dogs

Service animal describes any animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.

Service dog, adapted from the term service animal, is a species-specific term to generically describe any dog in the role of service animal. While the term "service animal" is legally defined, some organizations use the term "assistance animal" or "assistance dog."

The terminology used to label specific types of work dogs perform for people with disabilities has not been standardized. For example, a dog trained to help a person walk might be referred to by different sources as a "mobility dog", a "walker dog", or a "support dog." In addition to the wide variety of terms used, many service dogs are cross-trained to perform more than one category of work (such as guide and mobility for a person who is blind and has severe arthritis) and labeling them by the work they do becomes cumbersome.

Many individuals choose to identify their service animal generically (as "service animals", "service dogs", "service cats," etc.) because it identifies the roles of the animals without disclosing the nature of the persons' disabilities, and it is consistent with the terminology of the laws that protect them.

Service Animals:

Are animals legally defined (Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990) and are trained to meet the disability-related needs of their handlers who have disabilities. Federal laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in public places. Service animals are not considered "pets."

Therapy Animals:

These animals are not legally defined by federal law, but some states have laws defining therapy animals. They provide people with contact to animals, but are not limited to working with people who have disabilities. They are usually the personal pets of their handlers, and work with their handlers to provide services to others. Federal laws have no provisions for people to be accompanied by therapy animals in places of public accommodation that have "no pets" policies. Therapy animals usually are not service animals.

Companion Animal:

These animals are not legally defined, but are accepted as another term for pet.

Social/Therapy Animals:

Likewise, these animals have no legal definition. They often are animals that did not complete service animal or service dog training due to health, disposition, trainability, or other factors, and are made available as pets for people who have disabilities. These animals might or might not meet the definition of service animals.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Service Dog?

A: According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990), a dog is considered a "service dog" if it has been "individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability." To be considered a service dog, the dog must be trained to perform tasks directly related to the person's disability.

Where can I find a service dog?

A: There are many places online and offline that provide service dogs. Here are just a few:

How much does a service dog cost?

A: Trainer and acquisition fees may range from no cost to thousands of dollars. Each service dog trainer or training program sets their own fees. Some people choose to look for sponsorship for their service dog from local organizations such as businesses, churches, and civic groups. By helping sponsor a service dog, local organizations give back to their community, much like sponsoring a youth sports team.

How do I certify my service dog?

A: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require service animals to be "certified". This type of assessment and identification is not a legal requirement under the ADA and other federal non-discrimination laws, but is preferred by some handlers. Some service dog trainers and programs evaluate the dogs they train and provide the handlers with some type of identification card. Other trainers will test dogs they have not trained and provide the owner with identification cards.

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Who Service Dogs Can Help

Service dogs can benefit people with disabilities associated with many diagnoses, including (but not limited to):

  • Spinal cord/head trauma (injury, stroke)
  • Visual or hearing deficits
  • Arthritis
  • Ataxia/poor balance
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Spina bifida
  • Seizure disorders
  • Cardio/pulmonary disease
  • Arteriovascular disease (primary or secondary to diabetes, etc.)
  • Psychiatric disabilities

Any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity might be a candidate for a service dog. Consideration of a person as a candidate for a service dog should include not only the diagnosis of a chronic disability, but also the person's ability to function on a daily basis:

  • How difficult are activities of daily living?
  • Will the person have better stamina if he/she can conserve energy by having the dog perform tasks?
  • Would having a service dog help the person get more physical exercise, be more mobile?
  • Would a dog help socially by being a distraction from the person's disability, or help the person externalize his/her focus of attention?
  • Would the dog's presence alleviate some of the safety and well-being concerns of significant others who cannot be with the person all day?
  • Would the person eat better if the dog carried the food from the refrigerator, or if they synchronized their meals?

Health care and social service providers can help identify and evaluate their clients' needs to determine if a service dog might be a viable option for them.

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Tasks Performed by Service Dogs

Service dogs are versatile, reliable assistants for people with disabilities. No longer limited to guiding people with visual impairments, service dogs perform a wide variety of tasks suitable as intervention for an equally wide assortment of limitations.

Service dogs can be trained to reliably perform many tasks, some of which are:

  • Leading a person who has a visual impairment around obstacles, to destinations (seating, across street, to/through door, to/into elevator, etc.).

  • Sound discrimination to alert a person with a hearing impairment to the presence of specific sounds, such as:
    • Smoke/fire/clock alarms
    • Telephone
    • Baby crying
    • Sirens
    • Another person
    • Timers buzzing
    • Knocks at door
    • Unusual sounds (things that go bump in the night, etc.)

  • General assistance, including:
    • Mobility (helping person balance for transfer/ambulation, pulling wheelchair, helping person rise from sitting or fallen position).
    • Retrieval (getting items that are dropped or otherwise out of reach, carrying items by mouth).
    • Miscellaneous (e.g., open/close doors and drawers, help person undress/dress, carry items in backpack, act as physical buffer to jostling by others, put clothes in washer/remove from dryer, bark to alert for help).

  • Sense and alert owners to oncoming seizures. It is currently unknown why or how some dogs are able to do this, but a number of dogs have demonstrated the ability to warn their owners of oncoming seizures, enabling the owners to position themselves safely.

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Qualifying & Applying For A Service Dog

Trainers and organizations that have service animals establish their own qualifying criteria. Ask for a copy of their qualification criteria in writing. Some organizations require documentation of a particular degree of disability. Other organizations will not accept you unless you live alone or have no pets. Many organizations have online application forms.

When researching service animal organizations remember to ask what your cost will be. Many organizations offer dogs to patients free of charge, others require you to pay a fee of up to $20,000. For help in paying for a service animal visit Assistance Dog United Campaign. They have programs that offer assistance to people needing a service animal.

Where To Apply
Here are just a few places we've found that provide service animals. Be sure to research all organizations fully so you won't be surprised in the end.

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Types of Dogs Used

Some organizations will train your own dog. Other organizations will provide the dog and the training free of charge, or for a fee. Most breeders carefully select and breed Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and crosses of the two after an intensive evaluation process.

They check each dog's temperament, trainability, health, physical attributes, littermate trends and the production history of the dam and sire. Only then are the "best of the best" will be chosen as breeder dogs.

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Service Dog Etiquette

When you meet a person with a service dog, please remember that the dog is working. Don't do anything to interrupt the service dog while it is performing its tasks.

  • Speak to the person first. Do not aim distracting or rude noises at the dog.

  • Do not touch the service dog without asking for, and receiving, permission.

  • Do not offer food to the service dog.

  • Do not ask personal questions about the handler's disability, or otherwise intrude on his or her privacy.

  • Don't be offended if the handler does not wish to chat about the service dog.
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