Fairfield County Edition

Helper Dog Varieties

Service, Therapy and Emotional Support Differ

When we watch two giggling teenagers pull into a handicapped parking spot and run into the store, it’s pretty easy to figure out they are misusing a courtesy designed to help disabled people. It can be far more difficult to make a snap judgment on service dogs, since service vests can be purchased online and the law forbids asking for proof.

Three Types of Helper Dogs

Service dogs are specifically trained to help a person with a specific disability. They can be trained to detect impending seizures, sense drops or spikes in blood sugar, act as a guide for the blind, or help with many other life-threatening or harmful conditions.

Therapy dogs are trained to provide emotional support to large groups of people or those in institutions. They are used in nursing homes to improve the quality of life of the elderly residents, in schools settings after traumatic events and hospitals to visit children as well as juvenile detention facilities, group homes, dialysis clinics, rehab facilities and libraries.

Emotional support dogs are trained to provide emotional support to one individual.

Service dogs undergo from one to two years of specific training that can cost around $50,000 in order to do their job. They are the only category of helper dogs that is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Service dogs can go anywhere people can go. But here is where a problem arises; according to the ADA, a person does not have to disclose anything other than the fact that this dog is a service dog. Depending on the state, a person can face fines or jail time of up to six months for misrepresenting a personal dog as a service dog. On the other hand, fines can reach thousands of dollars for interfering with a legitimate service dog.

Therapy dogs may attend formal classes, though it is not a requirement. In order to get an official therapy dog certification, they must first get their Canine Good Citizen (CGC) designation. CGC is a 10-step test that ensures the dog is well behaved and responsive to its handler. Dog trainers can work with a dog towards CGC, and therapy dog designations. They can then undergo therapy dog evaluation testing through one of the official organizations.

Emotional support dogs do not require any training. A medical doctor just needs to certify that someone’s personal dog is necessary for their medical well-being.

Therapy and emotional support dogs do not have automatic access to public locations such as airports, stores and restaurants.

Service dogs, as well as some therapy dogs, are trained to behave in public and have a job to do. They should not be approached without permission nor will they approach you unless they are therapy dogs in the proper setting.

A “service” dog that is poorly behaved or overly friendly is taking advantage of the protections that service dogs need in order to do their jobs. It is a great disservice to those people whose lives may depend on their service pet being with them at all times.

Mary Oquendo is a Reiki master, advanced crystal master and certified master tech pet first aid instructor. She is the owner of Hands and Paws Reiki for All. She can be reached at HandsAndPawsReiki.com. See ad, page 51

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