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Service Dogs Dianne Finley GSV
Dec 06, 2018

At Your Service

By Diane Grigg Finley

Service Dogs Dianne Finley GSV

Service animals are not pets. They are working animals whose intense focus and training brings a disabled individual many gifts. The gift of sight, the gift of mobility and freedom, the gift of independence, the gift of dignity and security, and the gifts of companionship and love.

These highly trained animals engage in search and rescues all over the world. They are an integral part of local police forces helping to keep communities safe. Many have assisted disabled veterans to assimilate back into society, saving them from the horrors of PTSD and suicide. As the holiday season is upon us, it is important to remember what these animals do and who they do it for – day in and day out.

The first service animals were probably domesticated dogs whose skills and natural instincts became useful for doing tasks. In 1929, Seeing Eye Inc. was founded in the United States to train guide dogs for blind individuals. People’s lives dramatically improved due to their highly trained companions. Dogs for the Deaf was founded by Roy G. Kabat in 1977. Assistance Dogs International, formed in 1987, established a way to identify service and assistance dogs with embroidered collars and leashes.

Search and Rescue Dogs of the US began in 1992 to assist local, state and federal search and rescue dog teams by providing education, training and certification to a national standard. These dogs have proved invaluable all over the world in numerous disaster aftermath situations. And in 1997, the National Police Dog Association was formed for the development and certification of canine law enforcement teams.

As of March 15, 2011, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), recognizes only dogs as service animals. These dogs are specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Establishments must permit service animals in all areas where the general public is allowed. Under NJ’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the ADA, people with disabilities may bring service animals to public accommodations such as hotels, restaurants, stores, museums, and more.

Laws also include those who operate transportation services to allow service animals. The ADA has recently revised regulations and now allows miniature horses to be individually trained to work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. When reasonable, places must permit these horses into public areas.

New Jersey laws offer broad protection to people with disabilities who use service animals to improve their quality of life. There are guide or seeing-eye dogs who assist people with visual impairments to navigate their surroundings safely. Hearing dogs alert those with hearing impairments to alarms, ringtones, and other important noises. A seizure dog is trained to alert its handler to an impeding seizure.

Other services these animals perform are manual tasks such as pushing elevator buttons, pulling wheelchairs, and holding and retrieving items. Psychiatric service animals are trained to interrupt destructive behavior, alert users who take prescribed medications, and diminish the effects of acute anxiety.

The cost of training a service animal can range from $7,000 to $20,000, depending on the organization doing the training and how intensive it is. Guide Dogs for the Blind can spend about $30,000 a dog for specialized training.

Neither the ADA or NJ’s service animal law recognize pets who are referred to as “emotional support animals”. These animals provide a sense of safety, companionship and comfort to those with emotional conditions. In the past year, much controversy and debate has emerged as to what an emotional support animal actually is and what species of animal is recognized as such.

Even though the therapeutic benefits of emotional support animals are clear, they are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers and are therefore not recognized as service animals. They are not entitled to be in places that service animals by law are allowed to go.

The gifts that service animals give to thousands of people are immeasurable. So many of them have become productive citizens, sharing their unique perspective of the world. Without the assistance of a service animal, a disabled person remains isolated. Don’t take for granted the simple tasks done every day – be grateful for the gift of mobility, sight, hearing and emotional stability. When you see a service animal doing its job, say to yourself, “Thank you for the gift of life you are giving to this individual.”