At Your Service: Canine Offering Life-Altering Assist

At Your Service: Dogs Providing Life-Changing Help

Zido may not have a stethoscope or blood pressure cuff, but he does monitor vital signs and alert Courtney Williams if her heart starts racing or her blood pressure drops.

The 8-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever is trained as a heart alert dog. He spends around the clock with Ms. Williams, commuting from her home in Lorton, Virginia to her job in Washington, DC, sitting under her desk while she works and runs errands. He even had a reserved seat in the front row at their wedding.

Zido will step in front of Ms. Williams when she leaves, offering a deep, purposeful lick, or rubbing his nose on her leg when he needs to alert her to a change in her vital signs that is causing her to faint due to an autonomic nervous system disorder.

"Before I got zido, I had one episode a week," Ms. Williams, 26, told Medical Daily. "(In the 6 years since our partnership, I have had 1 episode. There was never a time when he (me) alerted and was wrong."

Ms. Williams is one of 500,000 Americans with disabilities who have service dogs.

The American With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service dogs as “dogs that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. … Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support are not considered service animals under the ADA. “Your responsibilities can range from guiding blind people to pulling a wheelchair to warning of low blood sugar or providing medication reminders.

Service dogs are carefully selected and subjected to rigorous training and socialization lasting anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. According to Michele Ostrander, President and CEO of Freedom Service Dogs of America, most organizations train breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Poodles, and mixes like Labradoodles and Goldendoodles as service dogs. The ADA only recognizes dogs and miniature horses as service animals, she added.

These breeds are large enough to reach drawers and refrigerator handles, push elevator buttons, or provide stability when their owners need help with mobility or assistance getting up after a fall. "These races also have the right temperament," said Ms. Ostrander. "They try to please and enjoy working."

When service dogs are off duty, they go for a walk, fetch play, chew on squeaky toys, and snuggle with their owners. But unlike pets, service dogs have jobs to do.

Even therapy animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, rats, miniature horses and llamas that are used when visiting airports, hospitals and nursing homes are not considered service animals.

"They offer comfort, bring a smile and have therapeutic benefits, but are not trained for specific tasks," said Ms. Ostrander.

Companies often invest more than $ 30,000 in training service dogs because of their intensive training and special skills. Nonprofits such as Freedom Service Dogs, Guide Dog Foundation, and Canine Partners for Life collect donations through grants and donations so that their customers are not charged the full fees for their dogs.

The waiting lists for service dogs are long. At Freedom Service Dogs, customers wait up to 4 years to match. It is also possible to purchase trained service dogs from private trainers. The fees are substantial, but the assistance dog experience is invaluable.

Ms. Ostrander was the partner of a military veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and a service dog. The veteran, once afraid of leaving the house, took his family on a Disney vacation. In another family, a service dog helped an autistic son feel safe enough to sleep in his own bed for the first time in his life.

"Service dogs really change lives," she said.


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