Benefits of Service Dogs

Service dogs play a critical – yet oft-overlooked – role in the daily lives of many people. Service dogs can change the quality of life for many of those with disabilities and those with chronic conditions.

It’s essential to know how service dogs can help improve life, if for no other reason than to appreciate and respect these animals and their important work truly. Listed below are some of the benefits of service dogs – though it is by no means a complete list.

Aiding Mobility

Service dogs are trained to provide physical aid to their owners. For example, they can reach wheelchair users’ items and provide basic tasks for those that can’t, fetch objects, press buttons, etc. 

Medical Alerts

Some service dogs have been trained to be on alert for people experiencing a medical crisis. Specific episodes can be alerted in advance, allowing the person to either get to a safe place or request help. Otherwise, service dogs can provide a safe space, get help, or stand watch as needed.

Fall Prevention

Service dogs provide a critical service for those that deal with fatigue, physical challenges, pain conditions, or just have trouble walking. These dogs are specially trained to help a person who is struggling with their balance. They can brace a person about to fall or help soften their landings. Furthermore, they can provide help by fetching items (reducing the risk of getting up needlessly). 

Independence

Thanks to service dogs, many people have gained a level of independence that they would otherwise not have been able to reach. They no longer have to rely on those around them and can always trust their service animal to provide whatever aid is needed.

Companionship

Having a service dog comes with the added benefit of always having a companion around. Yes, that companion is working, but they are incredibly loyal and willing to help out however possible.

As such, service dogs can help reduce certain adverse emotional states, such as anxiety, depression, and loneliness. All while boosting positive ones, including self-confidence and happiness.

It’s important here to note the significant differences between a service dog and a therapy animal. While both have their benefits, ultimately, they do provide vastly different tasks. Be sure to properly research both before deciding which one is right for you.

The Fight for Service Animals

Alan Rasof | The Fight for Service AnimalsIt’s been a long uphill battle for people with disabilities to earn the rights to take their service dogs with them into classes, jobs, and recreational spaces like restaurants, but the movement scored a big win a few weeks ago when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Elhena Fry and her service dog, Wonder.

The case, Fry v. Napoleon, centered around the state of Michigan’s obligations to supply a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that complied with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The school in Michigan argued that Elhena, who suffers from severe cerebral palsy, could not bring her service dog Wonder into her school because a human aid could provide all the attention and extra help she needed, as per her Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Elhena Fry’s family felt that the person who was aiding her was not, in fact, providing enough support to fulfill the obligations of the school set forth by the IDEA and consulted the ACLU for further action. The family sued the school and the principal for emotional damages for monetary compensation.

In an 8-0 majority with Thomas and Alito writing concurrences, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Fry family. As written on SCOTUSblog, “Exhaustion of the administrative procedures established by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is unnecessary when the gravamen of the plaintiff’s suit is something other than the denial of the IDEA’s core guarantee of a “free appropriate public education.’”

This is a huge victory for people with disabilities who use service animals for improved mobility. FAPE cases continue to make their way to the Supreme Court as education budgets shrivel, specifically for students with disabilities, but cases like Elhena’s ensure that the most vulnerable students have access to the best public education experience possible. With Wonder by her side, Elhena can make friends more easily, visit the bathroom on her own, and navigate the physical terrain of the school building.

The public has rallied around the cause, praising and supporting people with disabilities across social media. In December, Lowes made headlines by hiring a US Air Force Veteran and his service dog to work in their store. After his discharge, Clay Luthy started looking for a job that would be amenable to his sidekick, Charlotte, a yellow lab he’s had since she was a puppy. Lowes publically stated that Luthy was the best man for the job, and bringing his dog on board was a no-brainer.

The cause for service animals, however, is being hurt by those who take advantage of “service animal” loopholes for the sake of keeping personal pets. Most landlords who don’t allow for pets make exceptions for service animals to be more accommodating for people with disabilities. The easiest way people hide under the protection of service animals is by claiming their pets are “emotional support” animals. While it’s uncontested that animals are excellent companions for individuals suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, loss, etc., there is no legal classification for a “comfort animal,” whereas there are a lot of legal rights for animals that provide a service to those with severe physical limitations like blindness or neuromuscular problems.

Going forward, we need to encourage more protection for people who rely on service animals for independence and mobility. Service animals provide people with handicaps a freer, more “normal” life than they might otherwise have.