Fulfilling Their Purpose

Registered Service Dog Boss Boi awaits commands while wearing a service animal vest. Photo by: Meghan Reed.

A service dog is a dog that is trained to perform specific medical tasks for their owner that they cannot do for themselves.

“[It’s a] companion that is willing to ease the mind of those who have gone through traumatic experiences mentally or physically,” Kylie Hendryx said.

Many people in need usually receive trained canines in an effort to make everyday life easier and provide them with more opportunities otherwise not possible without the dog.

“I think service dogs are extremely helpful,” Destiny Zachary said. “And I think it’s sad that we can’t touch them.”

People are not allowed to pet service dogs because it can be a distraction for them, and if a working dog is distracted because of something you do and their handler gets sick or injured, it’s your fault. They are not a companion dog for people with anxiety and depression. However, they are for people who have a physical disability. They can be any dog breed but they must be a dog or some miniature horse. Furthermore, nobody can have a service snake, pig, cow, goat, etc.

This can be a bit confusing, and they’re not to be confused with an ESA (emotional support animal). Emotional support animals, unlike service dogs, can be any type of domestic animal and are for people with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Since they are not technically service dogs the law doesn’t cover them as much, and people can’t take them everywhere. Places they can go to are like planes, hotels, Home Depot, and a few others. However, some establishments can tell them they’re not welcome in their place of business. Unlike service dogs where they can’t question anyone about their dog and the services they provide.

A Helping Hand… or Paw

How do I know so much about service dogs? well besides google, it’s because my mom has two. We have a girl (Baylee Belle) and a boy (Boss Boi). Baylee stays at home mostly because we do breed them, but Boss does go to work every day with my mom, who has been diagnosed with chronic pain syndrome. She has nerve damage that isn’t repairable because of her severe allergic reaction to anesthetics. When her blood pressure rises from increased pain levels he applies deep pressure, almost like acupuncture.

“I think service dogs are amazing. Service dogs are very helpful they help blind and [others],” Madison Porter said.

Taking Advantage

A problem in a lot of states right now is people trying to pass off their dogs as service dogs when they are really just a normal house pet they don’t want to leave at home. It’s difficult for establishment owners to deem if the dog is an actual service dog. Because anybody can go online and buy a service dog vest, the owners are only allowed to ask two questions: “Is it a service dog” and “what it is trained to do”. They are not however allowed to ask to see paperwork or certification or to see them perform what they are trained to do. With some cases, it’s fairly simple to tell that the dog is only there for enjoyment purposes.

“I think they’re really helpful in the right scenario but people abuse the power to be able to take them everywhere,” Collin Potter said.

Andrew Hendrickson, a northern Vermont resident who volunteers regularly at a local performance venue, has seen it all too often.

“We’ve had dogs bark through the whole show, sit in the middle of the aisle,” Hendrickson said. He even added that he once even saw one “hump the legs of a stranger”.

Exactly how big a problem the use of fake service animals isn’t clear. No organization keeps records of illegitimate service animals. But people who work in the service, hospitality, and entertainment industries have seen such events take place.

“I interacted with a service dog who helps to make connections kids and she was really sweet and nice and she was a good therapy dog,” Sara Davidson said. “I can definitely see how she calms down kids and helps.”

Types of Service Dogs

Examples of types of service dogs are as follows:

  • Guide Dogs- Guide dogs help individuals who are visually impaired or blind and they will help guide them around obstacles and with tasks like crossing streets.
  • Hearing Dogs- Hearing dogs help individuals with varying degrees of hearing impairments and alert them to sounds like doorbells, alarms, smoke alarm, telephone, or oven buzzer.
  • Mobility Assistance Dogs- Mobility assistance dogs help individuals who have mobility issues like brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, and arthritis by bringing them objects and pressing buttons like those in an elevator.  Some mobility dogs are even strong enough to pull a wheelchair up a ramp.
  • Diabetic Alert Dogs- Diabetic alert dogs help the individual by alerting them when they smell changes in the individual’s blood sugar.  When an individual’s blood sugar is either hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic there are scent changes that humans are not capable of smelling but dogs with their acute sense of smell can pick up on them and alert the individual.
  • Seizure Alert/Response Dogs- Seizure alert dogs help an individual who is prone to seizures by alerting them when they sense changes in it the individual’s behavior before a seizure. Seizure response dogs help the individual who is prone to seizure by barking or pressing an alarm to get aid for the individual and they also have the ability to keep the individual safe during the seizure and then help them after the seizure.  These dogs are not capable of sensing a seizure, but they can assist during and after a seizure.
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs- Psychiatric service dogs help individuals who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or depression by helping the individual feel safer and calmer in public helping them feel less overwhelmed when out in public.
  • Autism Support Dogs- Autism support dogs help children who are on the autism spectrum by reducing the isolation these kids feel due to their difficulty in social settings and interacting with others.
  • FASD Service Dogs- Fetal Alcohol Service Dogs (FASD) help children who were exposed to alcohol during fetal development as they often have physical, mental, behavioral, and learning problems.