Dogs are man’s best friends because of their loyalty and dedication toward their owners. Service dogs take that dedication even further, helping people with disabilities navigate their everyday lives. International Assistance Dog Week is celebrated from August 2 to 8 this year. It is meant to honor service dogs and their trainers. We want to recognize all the devoted, hardworking assistance dogs that are helping individuals to mitigate their disability related limitations. Together, service dogs and their trainers have improved countless lives across the globe.
There is documented evidence that dogs were used in Europe in the 1700s to assist wounded soldiers during the war. In 1942 the Guide Dogs for the Blind started its mission. This is a California based organization that began creating partnerships between people, dogs and communities. Service dogs were first officially recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. The act defined that service dogs could be guide dogs, signal dogs, or dogs in any other capacity trained to help persons with disabilities.
There are some very exceptional service dogs out there, doing extraordinary things and working hard every day. There is a golden retriever that has a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling. His name is “Kirsch” and he was awarded an honorary master’s degree after he attended all classes with his wheelchair-bound owner. A guide dog helped his human to complete a 2,100-mile hike. The dog was a German Shepard named Orient who helped his blind owner complete the Appalachian Trail. We want to honor the dedication of these service dogs and recognize the special skills that they have and how they make such a big difference for their owners. We also want to especially recognize the trainers. They put in a lot of hours to teach and develop these animals. Their work is critically important.
As more and more people with disabilities are paired with assistance dogs to help them lead more independent and productive lives, service dog teams are becoming an increasingly familiar sight in public places around the world. But how many of those dogs are just pets in vests? It is important to understand and to raise awareness about the harm that can be caused by untrained pets posing service dogs. When these fake service dogs behave badly, people who truly need assistance dogs can face added discrimination and lose access to public places. Recently more and more legitimate partners of accredited service dogs have been asked to leave businesses. They are being told that it is because the business has had so many people try to pass off their unruly pets as accredited service dogs, now they suspect all dogs as fakes. The Assistance Dogs International is a coalition of not-for-profit organizations that set standards for the industry. This group has seen a dramatic increase in the number of fake service dogs within the last few years. A major part of the problem is with the online sales of service dog jackets, certifications and ID cards. This easy access to cards and vests just adds to the ease of committing fraud. Very few countries have national laws around proper use of a service dog makes prosecution of fraudsters very difficult.
We understand that people love their dogs and don’t want to leave them at home, but they don’t realize that pretending that their pet is an assistance dog can be really harmful to people with disabilities that depend on service dogs for essential daily tasks at work, in public and at home. Service dogs are more than a fad or a vest purchased for a few dollars online. They require years of expert training to perform specific commands and provide calm, reliable assistance to people with disabilities. This includes veterans and first responders injured while fighting for our country or supporting their community. Please remember that fraudulent service dogs cause legitimate harm to the people that really need service animals. Preventing people from having fake service dogs will help to make sure that no one will be denied the benefits of a trained service dog if they truly need them.
If you are interested in more information Assistance Dogs International www.assistancedogsinternational.org Their purpose is to improve areas of training, placement and utilization of assistance dogs, staff and volunteer education as well as educating the public about assistance dogs and advocating for the legal rights of people with disabilities partnered with assistance dogs.