By Linda Cole
Many people rely on service dogs to help them get through their day. Therapy dogs bring a smile to sick children in hospitals or an older person living in a nursing home. Our amazingly talented canine friends can assist people with disabilities, detect medical issues and make it possible for people with disabilities to live a normal life as best they can. Service dogs are in a class all their own. What are some of the different jobs service dogs do?
There’s a difference between therapy pets and service dogs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as one that has been trained to give assistance or perform a specific task to aid a person with either a mental or physical disability. A service dog is a working dog. The correct definition of a therapy pet is an animal that has been trained to give comfort and affection to people in nursing homes, hospitals, schools and retirement facilities, and to help disaster victims deal with stress. The therapy pet usually belongs to the person handling him/her.
A disabled person assisted by a service dog has access to businesses because the person’s rights are protected under the ADA. Therapy dogs are not under the protection of the ADA and their access can be limited or restricted. It’s important to point out, the ADA protects the rights of the disabled person, and not the rights of the dog.
Mobility assistance dogs help people who have physical impairments. These dogs are trained to help open/close doors, push buttons, and retrieve objects for their owner. They can give assistance to people who need help with balance and to walk. Larger dogs can be trained to pull a wheelchair with a specially made harness to prevent the dog from being harmed or injured.
Walker dogs are in the same category as mobility assistance dogs. They provide help for people who are recovering from a physical injury and need help walking. If a dog’s owner falls or loses their balance, the dog is trained to be a brace the person can lean against or use as a “crutch” to get back up. Walker dogs are important for people with Parkinson’s disease; they assist them with walking and helping them keep their balance.