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What You Likely Don’t Know About Service Animals, but Should

Thursday, October 17th, 2019
Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance

  • A service dog is “Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability”
  • Any breed of dog can be a service animal, as can miniature horses
  • Service dogs do not require professional training and there are no required ADA certifications for service animals
  • People with disabilities are allowed to bring their service animals to all public facilities and private businesses, without providing any type of “proof” of their disability or dog’s “service animal” status
  • A service animal may also be denied access if its presence interferes with “legitimate safety requirements,” such as a hospital unit that must maintain a sterile environment
  • Service dogs should not be approached, talked to or touched, unless permission is asked for and granted by the dog’s handler

Service dogs provide invaluable support to their owners, alerting them to potentially life-threatening medical problems or offering psychiatric or visual support. While most people will never experience the close bond that exists between service dogs and their owners, most everyone will cross paths with a service dog at some point in their lives.

Despite their prevalence — you’re likely to spot one sooner or later, since service dogs are allowed to accompany their owners virtually everywhere — many misconceptions persist about these generous animals. This is partly because service dogs look like any other dog, which leads some to believe they should be treated like any other dog — which isn’t the case if the dog is “working.”

Also problematic, the U.S. has no centralized process that allows people with disabilities to register service dogs,1 which means, even though service dogs are afforded special rights, there’s a lot of grey area when it comes to how those rights are protected, for both the dogs and their owners.

Clearing up common misconceptions is an important part of ensuring that service dogs and their owners get the respect and protections they deserve.

Service Dogs Are Not the Same as Emotional Support Animals

The Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (ADA) defines a service animal as, “Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition.”2

Miniature horses have been added as an exception, however, provided they are housebroken, under the handler’s control, can be accommodated by the facility and will not compromise safety regulations.

On the other hand, emotional support animals (ESAs), according to the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), can be any species of animal, who must fulfill a disability-related need and whose use is supported by a physician, psychiatrist or mental health professional. ESAs do not have to be trained to perform a particular task and do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Service Dogs Are Not Only for the Visually Impaired

Guide dogs for the visually impaired are just one type of service dog. Service dogs can be trained to help people with physical or mental difficulties, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If a veteran is experiencing anxiety or stress due to PTSD, for instance, a service dog can be trained to notice the signs and step in to provide calm and comfort.

They may wake a veteran up from nightmares and are also taught specific commands, including “block,” in which the dog stands in front of the veteran to provide for more personal space, and “cover,” in which the dog goes behind the veteran to “watch their back.”3 Other examples of tasks that service animals may perform include:4

Assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks Alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds Providing non-violent protection or rescue work
Pulling a wheelchair Assisting an individual during a seizure Alerting individuals to the presence of allergens
Retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone Providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities Helping people with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors

Not All Service Dogs Are Professionally Trained

Service dogs do not require professional training and there are no required ADA certifications for service animals. While most service dogs come from reputable trainers or organizations that specialize in training service dogs, according to the ADA, “People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.”5

That being said, many service dogs undergo about two years of training before they’re ready and will continue to learn and adapt to their owner’s changing needs over time.6 There are also misconceptions about what type of dog can be a service dog; according to the ADA, any dog breed can be a service animal.

In choosing a service dog, personality is often more important than breed; dogs who are fearful or aggressive are not well suited to be service dogs.

Can Service Dogs Ever Be Denied Access?

People with disabilities are allowed to bring their service animals to all public facilities and private businesses. The owners of a business may ask two questions to determine if the animal is a service animal — and only if the need for the service animal isn’t obvious (such as a dog guiding someone who is blind. Those questions are:7

  • Is this animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has this animal been trained to perform?

Beyond this, no further questioning or “proof” is needed. As noted by the ADA, “A public entity or private business may not ask about the nature or extent of an individual’s disability or require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed as a service animal, or require the animal to wear an identifying vest.”8

Generally, service animals are allowed to go where their owners go, but there are a few exceptions in which a business can ask for a service animal to be removed, including if the animal is out of control or not housebroken. A service animal may also be denied access if its presence interferes with “legitimate safety requirements,” such as a hospital unit that must maintain a sterile environment.9

Should You Pet a Service Dog?

One important point to remember is that certain rules of etiquette apply when it comes to interacting with service dogs and their handlers. Generally speaking, don’t interact with them at all; let the dog and the owner go about their business uninterrupted.

Service dogs should not be approached, talked to or touched unless permission is asked for and granted by the dog’s handler, but take no offense if the handler asks you not to interact with the dog — doing so could distract him from his important role, which is to look out for the health and safety of his owner.

Why Fake Service Dogs Do More Harm Than You Might Think

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

From www.fearfreehappyhomes.com and Award-winning journalist Jen Reeder 

A service dog named Elmer has made a wonderful difference for a 7-year-old boy named Gavin Swearingen. As a toddler, Gavin fell off a swing and suffered a traumatic brain injury that led to complex medical issues, from strokes and epilepsy to cerebral palsy marked by weakness on his right side.

Elmer, a Labrador-Golden Retriever mix raised and trained by the nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence, teamed up with Gavin in November of 2018. The attentive dog assists Gavin in numerous ways: acting as a buffer in public places since Gavin has no peripheral vision on his right side, engaging Gavin with physical therapy tasks (that seem more like a game with a dog) such as throwing a ball or holding his leash, and supporting him through his tenth cranial surgery.

Having a service dog has given Gavin “an independence and a strength,” according to his mom, Amanda Swearingen.

“We’re just grateful,” she says.

The Trouble With Fake Service Dogs

While Swearingen has witnessed the positive effect a trained service dog can have for people with disabilities, she has also learned firsthand that fake service dogs have a negative effect.

For starters, after fraudulent service dogs misbehave in businesses, staff, owners, and other patrons can grow leery of legitimate ones. One woman got “really angry” at the Swearingens for having a dog in a restaurant soon after they brought Elmer home; in another instance, a man asked, “Is your son disabled enough to need a dog?”

Safety is another huge issue. Recently when Amanda, Gavin, and Elmer were trying to enter a hospital, they crossed paths with a woman walking a small dog – clearly not a true service dog – who started barking and snapping at them.

“We couldn’t go in,” she recalls. “And for me it’s scary because I had a child attached to a dog and he’s not a robot. He’s still a dog. He has been through years and years of training, but he’s still a dog.”

Dogs Outside the Law

Service dog fraud has become so widespread that one in five Canine Companions graduates feel their quality of life and independence has been moderately or severely impacted by fraudulent service dogs, according to a 2018 survey by the organization.

“We are committed to the safety and access rate of our graduate teams, which is impacted by the presence of out-of-control dogs, whether they are wearing a vest and purporting to be a service dog, or a pet dog that is in a public place where they are not permitted under the law,” says Wallis Brozman, outreach program specialist for Canine Companions.

It’s a professional as well as a personal issue for Brozman, who is a three-time graduate of Canine Companions.

“I actually had to retire my second service dog after two and a half years because he was attacked so many times that he was completely uncomfortable going into public places and didn’t want to work because he was constantly looking for other dogs to make sure he was safe,” she says. “At that point, if your dog doesn’t feel safe, that’s a safety issue for you as a person with a disability.”

Canine Companions for Independence®Canine Companions dogs undergo around two years of socialization and training, and the nonprofit invests about $50,000 in each service dog (and provides them free of charge to people with disabilities). A service dog’s early retirement is a significant loss to both the handler and the organization.

Even without an attack, a phony service dog can distract a legitimate, task-trained service dog from his or her job. Fake service dogs can also create a bias against actual service dogs if they have an accident or incident in a grocery store or other business that allows only service dogs, says Brozman.

“I think a lot of people see fraudulent service dogs as not really hurting anyone,” she says. “The reality is that people are actually getting hurt. We have someone like me, who has had to start over and lost a service dog because of this very issue.”

Brozman says it’s important to note that while people might want their pets to go everywhere with them, their pets might prefer to be left at home. When a dog reacts negatively to other dogs or strangers, it’s often a sign of fear or stress.

“I think a lot of dogs love their life of leisure where they’re at home,” she says. “That’s something to keep in mind with any animal in your life: ‘Am I doing what’s best for my animal?’”

For more information or to take a stand against service dog fraud, visit: CCI.org/StopFraud

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Cover photo courtesy Liz Kaye Photography; inset photo courtesy Canine Companions for Independence®

Award-winning journalist Jen Reeder is former president of the Dog Writers Association of America.

Pet Partners at Petco in La Habra

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

Several AHF Pet Partners teams were at Petco in La Habra on Saturday, October 12th, CA to talk to people about Pet Therapy!

Team from Left to Right are:  Katy Trumbo and Delilah, Daleen Comer and Cloud the Dove, Ingrid Eck Pullen and Cody and Jane Horsefield and Kiss.

 

Owning a dog tied to lowering your risk of dying early by 24%, says science

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

By Sandee LaMotte, CNN

Updated 2:40 PM ET, Tue October 8, 2019
“Our analysis found having a dog is actually protective against dying of any cause,” said Mount Sinai endocrinologist Dr. Caroline Kramer, lead author of a new systematic review of nearly 70 years of global research published Tuesday in “Circulation,” a journal of the American Heart Association.
The review of the health benefits of man’s best friend analyzed research involving nearly 4 million people in the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.
“Dog ownership was associated with a 24% reduction in all cause mortality,” said Kramer, an assistant professor in the division of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of Toronto.
The meta-analysis found an even bigger benefit for people who had already had a heart attack or stroke.
“For those people, having a dog was even more beneficial. They had a 31% reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease,” Kramer said.

Dogs and surviving illness

separate study of more than 336,000 Swedish men and women, also published Tuesday in “Circulation,” likewise found people who owned dogs had better health outcomes after suffering a major cardiovascular event such as heart attack or stroke.
Heart attacks and stroke are the leading causes of death globally, according to the World Health Organization.
The benefit was highest for dog owners who lived alone.
“The most interesting part of this study was that people who lived alone actually seem to get the greatest benefit in both the heart attack group and the stroke group,” said dog owner Dr. Martha Gulati, who is the editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org, the American College of Cardiology’s patient education platform.
“People who lived with a dog actually had less mortality than people living alone who didn’t have a dog,” said Gulati, who was not involved in either study.
Heart attack survivors living alone who owned dogs had a 33% lower risk of death compared to people who did not own a dog. Stroke survivors living alone had a 27% reduced risk of death.
“We know that loneliness and social isolation are strong risk factors for premature death and our hypothesis was that the company of a pet can alleviate that,” said study author Tove Fall, an associate professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden.
“Single owners have to do all the dog walks and we know that physical activity is important in rehabilitation after a myocardial infarction or stroke,” Fall added.

Observational but significant

Both published studies were observational, meaning that researchers cannot prove that dog ownership was the direct cause of the increased life expectancy or the better health outcomes after heart attack and stroke; only a randomized clinical trial could answer those questions.
“Is it the dog or is it the behaviors?” Gulati asked. “Is it because you’re exercising or is it because there is a difference in the type of person who would choose to have a dog versus somebody who would not? Are they healthier or wealthier? We don’t know those things.”
The American Heart Association points to studies that found pet owners who walk their dogs got up to 30 minutes more exercise a day than non-walkers.
“There are studies suggesting that individuals who have dogs have a better cholesterol profile and lower blood pressure,” said Kramer, who is a dog owner.
“One study, my favorite, found just the effect of petting a dog can reduce your blood pressure as much as a medication,” Kramer said.
Other studies suggest dogs provide companionship and affection that can reduce anxiety and depression. That’s especially important after a major illness, such as a heart attack or stroke.
“We know that if you have depression after a heart attack, you’re more likely to have a poor outcome,” Gulati said, which is one reason so many hospitals have begun using therapy dogs for cardiac patients.
In fact, a number of cardiologists believe in the benefits of dog ownership so much they will actually prescribe a dog for their patients, if they believe the person can appropriately care for a pet.
“I know a lot of my patients often say to me after they have a heart attack or stroke, can I even take care of a dog? They worry because they don’t want to leave the dog alone if something happens to them,” Gulati said.
“But if possible, I always encourage them to get a dog,” she said, “perhaps an older dog who needs to be rescued and not a puppy that will be harder to manage.”

What’s the takeaway?

“While these non-randomized studies cannot ‘prove’ that adopting or owning a dog directly leads to reduced mortality, these robust findings are certainly at least suggestive of this,” said Dr. Glenn Levine, chair of the writing group of the American Heart Association’s scientific statement on pet ownership.
However, the AHA also says that pet ownership is a caring commitment that comes with certain financial costs and responsibilities, so “the primary purpose of adopting, rescuing, or purchasing a pet” should not be to reduce cardiovascular risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies show dogs decrease stress and promote relaxation and impact nearly all stages of our lives.
“They influence social, emotional and cognitive development in children, promote an active lifestyle, and have even been able to detect oncoming epileptic seizures or the presence of certain cancers,” the CDC said.
Does that mean that even younger people benefit from having a dog?
“The overall understanding of cardiovascular health is that the earlier that we implement healthier behaviors, the better,” Kramer said. “So like walking, not smoking. And I think that maybe dog ownership is part of that.”

Old Dogs Don’t Die; They Can’t

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

From:  K9 Companion Dog Training
September 3, 2018 at 8:06 PM

Old dogs don’t die; they can’t.

They’ve merely run up ahead; they’re waiting for us just out of sight. Close your eyes late at night and you may smell his musky odor, or perhaps hear his snuffle from the next room. Pay attention and you may feel his nose on your hand or the back of your calf. When your final day comes, you can go on to meet him; he’s never left you and never will, and when you close your eyes for the last time, you’ll open them again to be met with his Bright eyes and wagging tail.

Old dogs don’t die, at least, not those dogs who take the biggest chunks of our hearts with them when they leave us. Those dogs are inextricably part of our souls, and they go with us wherever we are. Though we may not see them, we know they’re there because our heart is still beating; we still breathe, and those of us who have been truly touched by a good dog know our lives really started the day we met them.
Magnificent dogs don’t die. They shepherd our dreams and only allow the good ones through the gates of our consciousness. They watch over us much as they did in life, and that moment when we step just barely outside of death or disaster, it’s because they moved our feet or they stopped short in front of us as they did in life.

You see, a good dog is something only given to a few people. They are a gift from the universe and, though they’re with us only a short time, they never really leave us. They are loyalty and love perfected, and once we are graced with that sort of love we can never lose it. We merely lose sight of it for a time, and that is our fault; for how can love like that ever go away?

It can’t. It can’t, and it never will. For these brave souls trade their hearts for ours, and they beat together beyond sickness, beyond death. They are ours, and we are theirs, for every sunrise and every sunset, until the sun blazes its last and we once again join the stars.

By Leigh Hester,
K9 Companion Dog Training
Port Jervis, NY

Stages of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

From www.dogdementia.com

When Is the Right Time for Euthanasia?

Monday, August 19th, 2019

Beau

My sister and her husband have a really old Schnauzer-mix named Beau. He might even be a real Schnauzer. He’s so old, it’s hard to tell! They took in Beau when a friend in distress couldn’t keep him. The friend had gotten Beau as a puppy when her son was 10 years old, and that son is in his late twenties now, so… Beau is old. He has limited vision, limited hearing, has had several strokes and can’t walk a straight line, and is growing increasingly incontinent. On his bad days, it seems almost cruel that he is being kept alive. He may stagger or not be able to get up, he acts like he doesn’t know where he is and is anxious, and he may just suddenly completely empty his bladder on the carpet while standing still, seemingly unaware he is doing so.

But on his good days, he runs up the hall with the rest of his housemates, eats with gusto, goes outside through the dog door and potties without assistance or a reminder to do so, and enjoys his time on the sofa and in bed with his human and canine housemates. So they are very much afraid that if they call the vet to make a euthanasia appointment on one of his bad days, and he’s having a good day on the day of the appointment, the vet may decline to euthanize, or the staff may make them feel like creeps! In fact, they feel sort of pre-emptively guilty about even just talking about “Beau’s time.” My sister and brother-in-law love Beau and want him to have a good end. But when is the right time?

Chaco and Lena

There is Chaco, one of my former foster dogs. She’s younger than Otto, but has two failing knees and severe arthritis, and her owner lacks the health insurance or budget to pay for two knee surgeries. Her declining mobility has contributed, it seems, to weight gain, which compounds her problems.

Another friend is in a similar position with Lena, Otto’s very first playmate and friend. She has had one ACL surgically repaired, and underwent “conservative management” when the second one tore; her veterinarian says her hips, too, are quite dysplastic, and would have benefitted from surgery. Both hips and both knees, too? Her very devoted owner, my friend, could not have possibly paid for four surgeries – nor could she have gotten or afforded insurance after the first knee injury and x-rays showed the hip problems. Lena is maintained on daily pain medication and various joint supplements, and my friend takes her for frequent drives to places where she can take short, gentle walks. My friend has also been shopping for some sort of wagon or cart she could use to take the 70-pound dog on walks, so she at least can enjoy the changing scenery and odors. Lena, like Chaco, is getting fairly crippled, but is in otherwise good health and appetite. How long can my friends maintain them in this condition?

How to know when to let them go

Super dedicated owners can provide hospice care for dogs, if they are physically and emotionally able and have an appropriate home and time to do so. We ran a great article about this in 2010; it holds up well today. But not everyone has a schedule and home that would permit, as just one example, helping a large non-ambulatory dog outside to potty several times a day.

Not unrelated: Between all my dog-loving friends, I am aware of exactly ONE DOG who died peacefully in his sleep.

I just went looking; here are some links for information on how to know when “the time” is right for euthanasia:

https://www/americanhumane.org/fact-sheet/euthanasia-making-the-decision/

https://www.petmd.com/blogs/fullyvetted/2009/march/ten-ways-you-know-its-time-euthanize-your-pet-6745

https://www.lapoflove.com/Quality-of-Life/How-Will-I-Know-It-Is-Time

When it is getting close to time to make an appointment for euthanasia, we have some other helpful articles to read. This one is by a long-time contributor to WDJ, trainer Lisa Rodier.

Also, trainer Jill Breitner’s article on what to ask before making an appointment for euthanasia and the companion piece to that article by Dr. Sally J. Foote are excellent sources of information about what you should know in advance.

Which Dog Is Relaxed?

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

The Yellow Dog Project — Giving dogs their much-needed space

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

The Yellow Dog Project — Giving dogs their much-needed space

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
  • If you see a dog with a yellow ribbon tied to her collar, do not approach her, pet her or otherwise bother her in any way
  • The Yellow Dog Project (TYDP) is a global movement trying to popularize the use of yellow ribbons as a way to educate and alert people about dogs who need their space
  • Dogs wearing yellow ribbons may be rescue or shelter dogs who have behavioral problems, dogs in pain from recent surgery, service dogs in training or dogs who are fearful and anxious
  • If your dog is aggressive, a yellow ribbon is not enough of a warning or a substitute for proper training
  • Avoid approaching any dog you don’t know without first asking the owner’s permission — whether she’s wearing a yellow ribbon or not

If you see a dog with a yellow ribbon tied to her collar, do not approach her, pet her or otherwise bother her in any way. While it’s a good idea to take this stance with any dog you’re not familiar with, The Yellow Dog Project (TYDP) is a global movement trying to popularize the use of yellow ribbons as a way to educate and alert people about dogs who need their space.

Yellow Dogs are not necessarily aggressive or dangerous, but might have issues with fear or be in pain due to recent surgery. If approached, such a dog could snap, growl or become anxious and stressed, which is what the yellow ribbon is intended to prevent.

The Yellow Dog Project identifies dogs who need space

The Yellow Dog Project was founded by Tara Palardy, a graduate of Animal Behavior College, in 2013 to support dogs who are anxious and may display reactive behaviors if approached. The color yellow was chosen for ribbons because it’s widely understood as a cautionary color.1

In addition to dogs who may be fearful or in pain, dogs wearing yellow ribbons may be rescue or shelter dogs who have behavioral problems they haven’t yet overcome. They may also be dogs in training to be work or service dogs. According to the not-for-profit Yellow Dog Project:2

The Yellow Dog Project seeks to educate appropriate ways to approach or make contact with a dog with permission of a dog owner only, whether or not a dog is a ‘yellow dog.’ They also seek to promote the use of yellow ribbons to identify yellow dogs needing extra space.”

The Project makes it clear that putting a yellow ribbon on your dog is not a way to mark her as a bad dog or a confession that people must stay away or risk getting bitten. Some people may avoid using a yellow ribbon for their dog for this reason, but doing so shouldn’t bring about embarrassment.

“Wearing a yellow ribbon is NOT an admission of guilt,” TYDP notes. “Dogs can have space issues for a variety of reasons and you are not the only person with a yellow dog. There are most likely many people in your community who are ‘hiding’ their pet issues rather than working on them. Be proud of your furry family member and the work you are putting into him/her!”3

A yellow ribbon is not a substitute for proper training

As the word gets out about what a yellow ribbon on a dog’s collar means, it may become more common in public places. However, if your dog truly is aggressive, a yellow ribbon is not enough of a warning or a substitute for proper training.

“If you have an outright aggressive dog, you must seek proper training from a qualified professional. This organization promotes the awareness of dogs who need space, but it is not an excuse for lack of training,” TYDP explains.4 If your dog has been abused, has fear aggression or territorial aggression, basic obedience training is important, but so is evaluating the dog’s history and environment to determine what may be driving the problem behaviors.

Behavior problems in dogs can almost always be traced to their environment, past or present, and may include the food they eat, the way they spend their time, the bond they have with their owners, previous training (or lack thereof), training methods and many other factors. Reward-based training is one effective and compassionate way to change unwanted behaviors in dogs, including some forms of aggression.

Always ask before petting

TYDP is a great idea to alert passersby that they shouldn’t approach your shy, nervous or recuperating dog. Your dog is a good candidate for a yellow ribbon if she behaves aggressively or acts timid, shy or skittish when approached by strangers or other dogs.

If you feel your dog could benefit from wearing a yellow ribbon, be prepared to explain its meaning to strangers, and also talk with your veterinarian, a positive dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist to help your dog work through any undesirable behaviors. That being said, for some dogs, a yellow ribbon may always be recommended.

It’s a good idea, however, to simply assume that you shouldn’t approach any dog you don’t know without first asking the owner’s permission — whether she’s wearing a yellow ribbon or not.

Sometimes, it’s possible to easily observe a dog’s body language to understand whether it’s friendly, relaxed and open to being approached or frightened, stressed and not interested in interacting. Other times, a dog’s shyness or stress signals can be far more subtle and easy to miss. For instance, yawning and licking her lips are ways your dog may signal that she’s feeling stressed.

Further, many dogs dislike being petted on their heads, especially when it’s from a stranger. Yet, this is the way many strangers approach dogs they’re not familiar with. A far better option than approaching a dog in passing is to ask her owner if it’s OK to pet her. Even then, respect boundaries, let the dog initiate contact first and avoid invading her personal space.

How Do I Exercise My Overweight Cat?

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019
https://www.kittywire.com/exercise-overweight-cat/

How Do I Exercise My Overweight Cat?