As an animal lover, seeing an unexpected dog wearing a “Service Animal” harness might be the highlight of your day. Service dogs big and small provide valuable – and sometimes lifesaving – services to their owners and deserve all the “good boy” pets in their off time.
September is Service Dog Awareness Month and is intended to bring our furry friends and their owners into the spotlight, highlighting their importance and reminding us to be respectful of their space.
According to Military Benefits, a website that serves as an information hub of services offered to our military men and women, Service Dog Awareness Month began in 2008.
The idea originated in Palm Springs, Florida, where an organization called Guide Dogs Of The Desert caught the attention of “Eight is Enough” television series actor Dick Van Patten. Patten was so impressed with the operations’ mission of training guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired that he organized a fundraiser to benefit them.
Patten became so invested that he served as an honorary board member for Guide Dogs Of The Desert and began supporting non-profit guide dog schools through his dog food company Natural Balance Pet Foods. He grew public recognition of Service Dog Awareness month and was able to take things to the next level with the Petco Foundation. Service Dog Awareness month now rests in September with several states across the U.S. proclaiming special intra-state recognition.
What is a Service Dog?
American Humane defines a service dog as a dog trained to perform a certain task for someone with a disability as defined by the American Disabilities Act (ADA).
“They can be trained to retrieve objects, assist with balance, give seizure or diabetic alerts, or assist those with psychiatric disabilities. They also serve our nation’s wounded warriors suffering from conditions including Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury,” American Humane details.
The requirements of service dictate which dogs are best suited to help. Someone suffering from mobility issues and needs helps opening doors, retrieving potentially heavy items, and so forth will need a bigger dog such as a Labrador Retriever. A dog trained to detect low blood sugar or fainting spells can be smaller, like a Toy Poodle.
American Kennel Club (AKC) writer Sassafrass Lowrey suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and her (now retired) service Chihuahua mix would wake her up from nightmares, paw her when it sensed a panic attack developing, and provided her comfort in stressful situations.
Numerous studies have proven animals of all shapes and sizes reduce cortisol levels (a stress hormone), lower blood pressure, and increase your activity. Dogs are some of the most common pets and naturally fall into this secret superhero category. If you own a dog I’m sure you’ve experienced the healing power of them simply laying in your lap after a long day or acting like you coming home is the best thing ever.
When you see a service dog, make sure you respect their space and don’t distract them. If possible, open the door for their handler and remember that disabilities are not always visible.
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