September is National Service Dog Month. We have all seen those hard-working service dogs out in our communities. A service dog is one that has been specially trained to help someone with a disability. Service dogs serve various purposes, such the guide dog for those who are blind, or a dog who works for someone with a hearing impairment, or one that alerts a person with diabetes to a falling blood sugar level. Service dogs are critical to the day-to-day functioning of those humans with disabilities who depend on their dog as much as they depend on a wheelchair or cane.
Service Dogs Do More
In a preliminary report of a study from the Organization for Human-Animal Interaction Research at Purdue University, disabled people paired with a service dog had a higher quality of life as well as better emotional, social and work function than those on a list awaiting arrival of their service dog. The benefits of these service dogs extended to the other family members in the home. Those family members worried less about the disabled person’s health because of the dog.
New Job for Service Dogs
Physicians at Duke University are studying the impact of therapy dogs on pediatric cardiology patients. These poor kids have congenital heart abnormalities and need frequent echocardiograms. To get clear and accurate images, children often require sedation. Enter the therapy dog, calming and relaxing the anxious children. The study will investigate the quality of the echocardiogram images with sedation and with the dog to see if the all-round experience is better with a dog or with sedation. My bets are on the dog.
Healthy Service Dogs
A recent publication in the American Journal of Infection Control found many hospitals and other healthcare facilities had no policy covering the health of animals and safety of the humans participating in animal-assisted visits. Particularly concerning was a lack of a rabies vaccination requirement in 7% of facilities studied. If you and your pet are involved in animal assisted interventions, you might check this resource in the Journal of Hospital Infection Control and Epidemiology on minimizing risks associated with animal assisted interventions or talk with your veterinarian about the health of your therapy animal.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has more information on the legal definitions of the various types of assistance animals on their website.