Week pays tribute to hard-working service dogs

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This is the first in a two-part series about service dogs and the benefits they provide to humans. The second part will be published in August.

It’s a week worth howling about.

International Assistance Dog week, August 4-10, was created to recognize the devoted, hardworking assistance dogs that help individuals mitigate their disability-related limitations.

The goals are to: recognize and honor hardworking assistance dogs; raise awareness of assistance dogs; educate the public about the work these specially trained animals perform; honor the puppy raisers and trainers of assistance dogs; and recognize heroic deeds performed by assistance dogs in our communities.

International Assistance Dog Week was started due to the efforts of Marcie Davis, a paraplegic for over 35 years and CEO of Davis Innovations, a consulting firm based in Santa Fe, N.M. Davis is the author of “Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebook,” and is the host of the Internet radio program “Working Like Dogs.”

Assistance dogs transform the lives of their human partners with debilitating physical and mental disabilities by serving as a companion, helper, aide, best friend and close member of their family.

For 75 years assistance dogs have worked successfully in public. They have won the public’s acceptance by achieving high behavioral and training standards, which set them apart from pets and other animals.

It is estimated that 20,000 people with disabilities in the United States use assistance dogs. For many individuals these disabilities are invisible. Therefore people who are accompanied by an assistance dog may or may not “look” disabled, and under the Americans with Disabilities Act an assistance dog is not required to have any special certification.

Most agencies provide a laminated identification card that states the names of the assistance dog and the recipient, and shows a picture of the dog.

Assistance dogs are allowed to accompany their human partners to places of business, including restaurants and shops. Under state law and the ADA they are guaranteed equal access to any and all establishments and accommodations. No extra charge can be levied because of the dog.

Guide dogs, which many people are familiar with, assist people who suffer from vision loss. They perform tasks like leading these individuals to destinations and around physical obstacles such as street crossings, doorways, elevators and stairways.

While guide dogs are relatively common, the other types of assistance dogs may not be as well-known.

Service dogs assist people with disabilities with walking, balance, dressing, transferring items from place to place, retrieving and carrying items, opening doors and drawers, pushing buttons, pulling wheelchairs and aiding with household chores such as putting in and removing clothes from the washer and dryer.

Hearing alert dogs alert people with hearing loss to the presence of specific sounds, such as doorbells, telephones, crying babies, sirens, other people, buzzing timers or sensors, knocks at the door or smoke, fire and clock alarms.

Seizure alert dogs alert or respond to medical conditions such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, epilepsy, panic attack, anxiety attack, post-traumatic stress disorder and seizures.

Medical alert dogs warn of oncoming medical conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, epilepsy, panic attack, anxiety attack and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Since the 18th century, individuals with visual impairments have utilized dogs to improve their mobility. The precipitating event in history that led to the establishment of the first recognized training program for guide dogs was World War I. The first formal school for dogs to assist people who are blind was reportedly founded in Pottsdam, Germany, to serve blind war veterans.

Dorothy Harrison Eustis, a German shepherd breeder living in Switzerland, heard about the school and visited it. On November 5, 1927, Ms. Eustis published an article in The Saturday Evening Post describing her visit to the school and introducing the idea of guide dogs.

Morris Frank, who was blind, heard about her experience with guide dogs and contacted Ms. Eustis to inquire about obtaining a guide dog to provide him with independence. Ms. Eustis trained Buddy, a female German shepherd for Mr. Frank.

“The dog is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion,” she said.

In return, Mr. Frank worked to establish the first dog guide school in Nashville, Tenn. Incorporated on January 29, 1929, it was called The Seeing Eye.

The idea of working dogs coming to the aid of individuals with physical disabilities other than blindness has been attributed to Dr. Bonnie Bergin. In 1974 while on travel in Turkey, Dr. Bergin observed an individual with paralysis using a donkey to assist him with transportation. Based on this symbiotic partnership, Dr. Bergin developed tasks and associated command structures for dogs to provide service to individuals with disabilities.

Next month I plan to talk about the work going on in our Valley concerning training these wonderful service dogs.

Ernie Jones, a registered nurse who retired due to vision loss, can be reached at 529-9252 or at theolcrow@charter.net.

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