September is NATIONAL SERVICE DOG MONTH…all month! Whoo hoo! Hug your favorite service dog (after asking!) Since the advent of seeing eye dogs early in the 20th century, the need for service dogs and now therapy dogs has risen exponentially. And our dogs, God bless ’em, have risen to the task, as always. I thought I would give you all some information regarding service dogs that you might not know.
The first service dogs were trained in Switzerland. There was an especial need after the ‘Great War’ for these dogs. Morris Frank, a young man who had lost his eyesight, traveled to Switzerland to be trained to work with his dog (much as we do today). He got his dog, he took a job promoting the seeing eye in the United States, and had much to do with them. Interestingly, Seeing Eye was first in Nashville, TN. It was deemed too hot for the dogs, so they moved the entire organization to Morristown, NJ. (Very close to where I lived as a kid!)
Morris Frank still ranks as the man having had the most seeing eye dog partners ever. He started so young, is why. His first dog was named “Blondie”. He just couldn’t see himself calling her that all day, so he changed her name to “Buddy”. He liked the name so well, he called each subsequent dog, “Buddy”, which seems a bit strange, but he said it helped him to carry on with a new dog, once his old dog had passed on. As the CEO and founder of Canine Assistants has said in her best-selling books (and to me in person) “There’s a piece of your old dog that goes on in your new one.” She’s right. There is. And it is every so comforting.
Through the years, and wars, it was seen that dogs could do much more than just seeing -eye work. They are fantastic for mobility work, which is what both of my dogs have helped me with. These dogs will wear a harness for this work. It’s common to get mistaken as a seeing eye team. I always correct them as soon as I figure out that they think I can’t see.
There are seizure-assistance dogs, like both of mine have been. Both my dogs could do both jobs. That’s a bit unusual, but it happens that way sometimes. A thing about the seizure assistants dogs…they are all taught to get there person to a safe place, get help, and return to stay at the side of their partner, licking their face to try to awaken them. It is a very lucky person whose dog starts to ‘predict’ their seizures.
Prediction of seizures is simply not taught. No dog-trainer in the world can do that. If they tell you they can. Walk away. The ability for a dog to predict a seizure depends on the closeness of the canine-human bond. The canine can tell by mannerisms, the breath, the smell of chemicals and endorphins rising from the skin…that their person is getting sick. They alert, (varies on the dog about how). Jet, my first dog would do most anything to alert me~ except the 10 piece marching band. That was his personality. Frax is much more subtle, he takes his nose and flips my hand.
Canine Assistants, where my dogs are from teaches BBT ™ , which stands for Bond Based Teaching…they center on the bond between the recipient and the dog, to bring forth the different skills each canine can do. They have better than an 87% success rate with their seizure response dogs eventually becoming seizure prediction dogs. Whether they do or not, the presence and comfort that one of their dogs imparts when a patient is has a seizure cannot be measured. Frax actually “pats” me awake, very gently, just as a human would. He’s obviously seen this behavior in a human,and adopted it as his own. They will do that. They are much smarter than you would ever imagine!
The question of the day is: what is the difference between a Therapy dog, and a Service dog? A service dog assists their person with a physical, mental or some combination of the above problem. They have full rights under US law to enter any venue with their person, right up to a recovery room or peri-operative holding area. They can go into bathrooms, restaurants, theaters, stores, libraries, on and on. The only thing you may ask a working team is what he helps you do. In my case I say “helps me walk, and monitors me for seizures”. Another person might say totally different. What you cannot ask, and what gets folks riled is: you cannot ask another person what their disability is. Illegal that. A service dog team cannot be kept from any venue, for instance a cab. The cab company faces stiff federal penalties if they decline a rider because they have a service dog.
How should one deal with a service dog? Ignore him. Pretend he isn’t there. Because he is meant to facilitate the person being able to do things the rest of folks take for granted. Always ask to pet. You might get turned down if they are working, or have had the request 400 other times that day, but you may not. I try to never turn down a young person. Sometimes it’s their first real interaction with a dog. I know my dog(s) and know that their interaction will be positive, and they will carry that first good impression with them the rest of their lives, God willing, and pass on good vibes about animals in general to the next generation. I also try to let others pat and say “Hi” (Jet always shook hands), Frax prefers a nice ear scratch. Different strokes for different folks!) If I need to refuse, I always give a card with Canine Assistants information on it, and what their dogs do. It has their website, which is much more in-depth than I can ever teach in five minutes of meeting someone. Why are Canine Assistants dogs ‘allowed’ by their partners to ‘visit’? Because of the type of training they have (BBT ™ ), the dogs like the interaction.
If you think you have come upon a seeing eye team…Do not ask to pat them. Their very lives depend on that dog being focused. Interruptions could be fatal. If that sound melodramatic, it isn’t. A young blind girl attending UT here in Knoxville, was sitting on the end row of an amphitheater type lecture hall. Her dog was beside her. Someone interacted with her dog and she got very upset and ‘blasted’ them verbally! And I understand why. What if her dog lost concentration in that venue? She could fall all the way down those many concrete steps and fatally injured herself! If you aren’t sure, leave them alone.
Frax and I had a horrifying incident not long after he had come home with me. Frax was heeling next to my pink wheelchair (“pinkie”) and suddenly a couple came towards us, bent over, started making kissy noises to Frax, and clapping for him to ‘come’! He was only 18 months old! A big BIG baby! He did what any other socialized dog would do~ he went to go say “hi!” In the process, he pulled my chair halfway over on the left, nearly spilling me onto the concrete floor! Luckily Bill, my hubby was there, he grabbed the arms of the wheelchair and muscled it back onto its wheels! Bill and I got Frax’s attention, and corrected him, praised him, and settled him down next to me, where he belonged! And the people who narrowly caused a real disaster? They kept going past us, pointing and giggling as though it was some party of novelty that Frax and I were there for their express entertainment. Luckily no one was hurt, except “pinkie”. The wheelchair was literally pulled out of joint, and some joints still don’t fit properly together because of that experience.
So, what is the difference between a Therapy Dog, and a Service Dog? Briefly, a Service Dog has all the privileges I outlined above. Therapy Dogs don’t. They have a narrow scope of practice, and it’s up to whatever facility the owner is trying to bring them into, to say yes or no for them to come in. Therapy dogs help people usually with what we would say would be mental health issues. PTSD, bipolar, anxiety, autism. There is some cross-over though. What if a person with autism also has seizures? Well, then they need a seizure response dog that will also be attuned to their autism issues. They would work with a Service Dog.
The reason that there is confusion, is because there isn’t any legislation that much governs service and therapy dogs in this country. There’s no central database, or registration. A private citizen can train their own dog. They then need to take the ASPCA’s or some other organization’s good canine citizen test’, to wit, they have proof their dog is highly trained and safe to be among human beings in the public. It doesn’t attest to their skills. The DELTA organization online goes into much more depth than I have here, about training, and private training, and should be able to answer all your questions.
Then there are all the myriad other service/therapy dogs. There are grief-councilor dogs in funeral homes (has to be requested by the family), there is councilor and support dogs for people going to court (especially child-abuse cases). There’s a dentist that has two highly trained dogs that lie across his patient’s legs while he fills a tooth or cleans teeth. They relax the patients. And the patients have to ask for them. There are the Therapy dogs that go to hospice patients. The brave dogs that go into hospitals and cheer up little children from 8 to 88! There are those that sit with the dying.
K-9’s help keep us safe. They work with our police departments in general work and crowd control, narcotic interdiction also. These are dogs you do not want to walk up to and pet unless it’s OK with the officer in charge of them, and all that. Quite a few of the retired ones will still go out to see our kids in schools. K-9 units police our airports, schools and military bases. K-9 sniffer dogs keep us safe from terrorists with bomb residue still on them. K-9 bomb sniffer dogs find bombs left in sedentary places. K-9 bomb detection units save our troops from terrorists, they ferret out IEDS.
There are so many types of K-9 teams throughout the US doing such good work that I know I may miss some of you….but in my heart till I draw my last breath…each one of you has a blithe spirit about you, that is the memory of Jet…my loving Jet, my first dog. Who saved my life in so many ways I cannot tell you. It’s in Jet’s memory that I pay attention to K-9 deaths to hyperthermia. It’s in Jet’s memory that I tell you what living with a canine assistant is like~ through my life with his successor, his loving and sweet successor, Frax, who with a heart as big as those big xl feet he wears, has lifted me up from losing Jet, and showed me what moving on is like and borne valiantly and truly my sorrow and helped me to heal going forward. For all this and the love and teamanship of each of these teams we celebrate National Service Dog Month!