The Role Of Service Animals

Posted on: 15 December 2016


Service dogs are not an uncommon sight. They often can be seen walking next to a person with a disability who might require some extra help. The most commonly seen service animals are dogs that help people who are seeing or hearing impaired, but a variety of animals can be trained to assist people who have a variety of conditions.

A Short History of Service Animals in the US

In the US, dogs were first trained to help people with visual impairments in the late 1920s, though there were documented cases of service dogs as early as the mid-1700s in Paris. In the 1970s, the role of service dogs was expanded and they began to be trained to help the hearing impaired. In the 1990s, the Americans with Disabilities Act formally outlined the role of service animals and since then, the types of animals trained and the conditions they can help with has greatly expanded to include those with autism, PTSD, and mobility problems.

Types of Service Animals

Dogs, miniature horses, monkeys, birds, cats, and even dolphins can be trained to help people with disabilities. Businesses are required by law to allow service dogs into their establishments, but that legal requirement doesn't extend to all types of helper animals.

Role of Service Animals

Service animals can be trained to take on many tasks. Service dogs can lead a visually impaired person through a crowded street. They can alert a hearing impaired person to a crying infant or a ringing telephone. People suffering from PTSD may keep service dogs that can provide comfort or massage by draping themselves over a person in the midst of a flashback. Animals that have had seizure dog training can sense when their human is about to have a seizure and can either alert another person in the area or clear an area to keep their human partner safe while he or she experiences the seizure. In some cases, service dogs can alert emergency services by using a phone with oversized buttons.

Monkeys have dexterity in their hands similar to that of humans, so they are especially useful to people who have lost use of their limbs due to spinal cord injuries. Monkeys can help open bottles, fetch medication, or even microwave food.

Service Animal Etiquette

It may be tempting to greet a service animal on the street as you would any other dog out taking a walk. However, it is important to remember that these animals are hard at work helping their human partner. Often service dogs will wear a vest to alert passersby of their important role. If you see a dog wearing a vest, simply ignore him rather than distract him from his task. 

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