My Service Dog; My Lifeline
What flashes in your mind when hearing those words? A blind man with a vision dog, a veteran who is an amputee? While these are two valid types of work of service dogs, there are different types that help people negate their disabilities daily.
According to the ADA, which is the American Disabilities Act, a service animal is a dog or miniature pony that aids an individual with a disability that he or she (or they) are unable to do themselves. For example, a guide dog aids with sight, a PTSD dog alerts to flashbacks and is able to bring their owner to doors and ground them back into their now; diabetic alert dogs can alert to blood sugar and bring medication and help; seizure dogs can alert to seizures before they even occur, etc.
Service dogs play critical roles in the lives of people with disabilities and medical conditions. They are literally lifesavers. But it takes a lot of training, a lot of bonding and hard work to get them to a point where they can be responsive and alert to the person they are there to care for and who will care for them.
Previously I had a service dog for 5 years, but due to health reasons, she had to be rehomed, and now I have my newest dog in training. You see, both of them had this way of saving me and keeping me safe that I didn’t even think was possible until connected with a service dog. Jasmine saves me daily. She can sense before I am going to pass out or have a seizure, and if I do, she stays with me until I can get up safely.
There is a progress level of knowing their alerting (which is different for each individual) but she is able to tell when I need to lay down. I can ask if it is safe for me to move or if I have to stay. Somehow she knows and will let me get up if I’m safe or continue to alert if I’m not. This type of service, cardiac and nervous system isn’t something that can be trained, they just have it.
Jasmine is still learning a lot, and she has the natural alert of my pulse, blood pressure and my seizures. We are working on being able to pick things up off the ground, hitting the handicapped buttons, finding people in case of an emergency, as well as learning items by name, such as my EpiPen, phone, water, or other things that are necessary for me to live life, as well as being safe.
The challenge of untrained “service dogs”
Due to people trying to pass off untrained dogs and ESA’s (emotional support animals) as service dogs, there are challenges to going out in public with a service dog.
I have been attacked by untrained dogs. And how does one know if it’s a fake service dog or a real one? 9.99 times out of 10 a real service dog isn’t going to come lunging at you, isn’t going to come barking in your face, or come and try attack and hurt your dog. That behaviour is typically shown from pets, untrained animals, or ‘cart dogs’.
Legally here in the United States, no one can ask for proof that they are a service dog. Yet time and again, I am asked for proof that Jasmine is a “real” service dog. The two questions that they can ask are
- 1: Is your animal a trained service dog? Yes/No.
- 2: What tasks do they provide?
Unfortunately, people have started thinking it’s OK to try and pass their untrained dogs off as service dogs, which causes a lot more problems for those who need a service dog to access the community safely.
Unfortunately, people have started thinking it’s OK to try and pass their untrained dogs off as service dogs, which causes a lot more problems for those who need a service dog to access the community safely. Click To Tweet
But if we look at those questions again that someone can ask of a service dog owner, the task of “making me feel good inside” or “making me feel warm and fuzzy inside”, or “bringing me happiness” is not usually a necessary task in most situations. Just making you feel good isn’t enough to make it a service dog. It may be an emotional support animal.
I have been asked, “Well they’re not really your service dog are they?”That is someone making an assumption or judgement about my disability and my right to have a service dog; we do have to remember that not all disabilities are visible.
So please, don’t get me wrong, there are legitimate psychiatric service dogs that do aid in trauma, severe depression, severe anxiety; that is when the psychiatric illness of the individual has gotten to the point of being disabling for the owner. These are service dogs, not ESA’s. However, if an individual states that the animal makes them “feel good” or they “comfort them” then they are likely not a service dog, but an ESA. It’s an important distinction, and the proof is usually in the training and behaviour of the animal in public.
The areas that ESA may be most beneficial or most appropriate would be at their house. Some hospitals allow therapy dogs or animals in their rooms, if not under isolation guidelines, which can also be appropriate and therapeutic for patients. But recognizing the difference between an ESA and service dog is a safety call and consideration for legitimate teams out there.
My service dog is still a puppy, and we have our good days and our bad days, and she still sometimes gets a bit excited when she sees another dog working (we’re still working on that), however, she’s only 7 months old. But otherwise, she works so well! The biggest compliment I get is that “I didn’t even know there was a dog under there”. To me, that means she is doing an amazing job because nobody even knows she was there! That is how a service dog should be behaving when working.
Dogs are incredible beings, they love so much and deserve that same love in return. Daily, I don’t feel like I deserve Jasmine. The task work that Jasmine is able to do is so much more than just alerting or ‘responsing’ or getting my meds when I am in an emergency. She gives me protection when I’m scared to go out; when my mind won’t shut up; and I feel like no one cares, she does. She also brings a smile to my face, which is an added bonus (and no that doesn’t make her an ESA, because she actually performs lifesaving tasks and things which I can’t do for myself). And I wouldn’t change anything for it.
Am I glad I have a service dog? Yes, very much so.
Am I glad I need to have a service dog? No, not really.
I have heard many times, “Oh my gosh, you’re so lucky you get to bring your dog with you”; I wish I didn’t have to bring my dog with me! I love having her with me, I love having my fur-ever side-kick, but at the same time life would be so much simpler and so much quicker; it wouldn’t take me 2 extra hours to go shopping, have kids running away from me screaming (afraid of dogs), I wouldn’t have to fight for rights, be discriminated against in restaurants, e.g. pushing me away to the furthest table is actually discrimination; explaining that paperwork for a service dog registry doesn’t exist; explaining to people that, no you can’t just walk up and pet my dog; and yes, my dog has a job she is doing, even if it just looks like she is just laying there.
These are all things I wish I didn’t have to do. But since I do, I’m glad I have the dog I do, and happy this dog is the one that gets to be on this journey with me, and that we get to go through this together. Through a variety of training, team building and task training; learning how to love and listen in both directions.
Some videos of Jasmine alerting.
A video of Emmie alerting
Just a reminder: Each country is different. This article is based on the laws for the USA with the American Disability Act, so make sure you’re up to speed with your own countries laws.
If anyone has any questions about service dogs, and training and how it works, please feel free to get in contact with me via Facebook Messenger.
Mind Dog (Psychiatric Assistance Dogs)
Brittany is a contributer who experiences several chronic illneses that are comorbid to EDS, but she uses her hardships and struggles to help support others in her counseling private practice as a licensed therapist. She is able to provide empathy, understanding, and can be the support for others throughout the community as a mentor. Jasmine is her service dog who loves working, pupachinos, and tennis balls.