Therapy Animals and How They Can Help You
Service and therapy dogs are changing the way people who often were limited in their ability to move about and function comfortably in this world live. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 opened up access to people who were already using service dogs to assist them in their daily lives as well as to those who were not yet being aided by an animal assistant.
Everyone who has been even partially aware is familiar with Seeing Eye dogs and Guide Dogs. It is amazing to watch these dogs working, making sure their partners are safe, stopping where they need to stop, waiting for traffic signals, steering around hazards and seeing to their master's overall safety and well being.
Dogs and other animals -- even chimpanzees and miniature horses -- are being called to help human partners with disabling impairments to be able to move about freely and function in the world. The majority of service animals are still dogs, most notably German Shepherds, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, but other breeds and species are beginning to make their mark in careers as service providers.
German Shepherds are being seen less and less, mainly due to the perception of the public that they are “police dogs” and look threatening. The retrievers are stepping into harness, along with other breeds. Breeders in Australia are breeding Labrador Retriever and Standard Poodle crosses in attempts to produce a new breed that will breed true and result in intelligent, moderately sized dogs with coats that don't trigger allergic reactions. They have had modest success achieving this aim, far overshadowed by the unfortunate opportunism of unscrupulous breeders and puppy mills crossing untested, unproven dogs and charging exorbitant prices for these “designer” breeds.
Miniature horses are an unexpected but sensible alternative, especially when you take into account the lifespan. Where a dog would be looking at retirement from service at around eight years of age, a miniature horse is just getting started. They are also perceived as less threatening than many dogs.
Different species provide assistance for those who are hearing impaired. Many do have canine assistants, but this is an area of service where other animals can be just as helpful. The occasional devoted cat has proven its worth in the deaf community. An animal trained to work with someone who has a hearing impairment notifies the person of noises, things like doorbells, telephones, stove and oven timers, irregular sounds at doors and windows, just about any sound that is out of place, alerting the owner to possible break ins.
Service animals are performing more and more tasks, even sensing the onset of seizures, psychological episodes, anxiety attacks, very nearly any kind of trouble we humans find ourselves vulnerable to, even including some of the unfortunate side effects of medications taken to control certain conditions. There are parrots who have proven to be invaluable at alerting their owners and literally talking them down from a psychotic episode. Animals have proven themselves to be particularly valuable companions to those affected by autism, not only serving to warn their master of any impending episodes, but truly allowing them to learn how to interact with other human beings. Small monkeys, like the capuchin, can be trained to help quadriplegics care for themselves, even to eat. These animals give their partners the gift of freedom and independence.
The rights of owners of service animals to have their helpers accompany them wherever they go is assured by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It is recommended that anyone using a service animal carry a card with a copy of relevant portions of the act printed on it.
Anyone who believes animals -- particularly dogs -- aren't capable of true thought, reasoning and problem solving hasn't been paying attention. But there's probably a service dog for that condition too.
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