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Service Dogs and Disabilities

Any disability poses challenges in navigating your activities of daily living, but people who suffer from certain conditions may experience greater functionality with the assistance of a service dog. Service dogs can help people living with a wide range of disabilities, including diabetes, ALS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, vertigo, arthritis and narcolepsy, among others.

With the help of a service dog, you may achieve greater confidence and independence, not to mention the loving relationship that will develop between you and your dog. He or she can help you balance when standing or walking, retrieving items for you, turning lights on and off, opening doors, reminding you to take your medication, and alerting others in the event you are about to have or are currently experiencing a medical emergency.

What kind of dogs can be service dogs? Any dog that has been individually trained to perform tasks that help a person living with a disability. It is important to note that disabilities do not have to be physical for a person to benefit from the help of a service dog and can include psychiatric, sensory, mental or intellectual disabilities.

Please note that comfort animals, therapy dogs, or emotional support animals and service dogs are not the same things under the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A service dog must work or perform tasks directly related to your specific disability, and none of the former animals are required to go through that kind of rigorous preparation. That is not to say that emotional support or therapy animals cannot help with your condition, but the law only requires businesses to allow service dogs to assist you, so service dogs are provided full public access rights, which includes public transportation and restaurants.

There are different categories of service dogs, depending on your condition. A seeing eye dog or guide dog helps those with visual impairments or blindness, signal or hearing dogs are trained to help those with hearing loss or deafness, and sensory signal or social signal dogs are trained to help people living with autism. Allergy detection dogs are trained to note the odor of allergens, such as eggs or peanuts, and diabetic alert dogs can smell when a human’s blood sugar is too low or too high and can alert their humans to test their blood.

Psychiatric service dogs can detect the start of a psychiatric episode before his or her handler may even know what is happening, thereby saving crucial time in taking medication or getting help to lessen the effects of a psychiatric episode. And seizure response dogs can either help to predict a seizure and warn their humans to sit or move to a safe place before the seizure occurs or stand guard or get help after one is underway.