are reasons too numerous to list why people love their dogsbut
those who rely on a service dog each day also share a profound
sense of trust and loyalty with them. Dogs are terrific
helpers, and they quickly become a best friend. Did you
know dogs can learn more than 100 commands? That is quite
a vocabulary, but these animals are up to it. Some of them
even learn more than one specialty. Look at all that dogs
Adults and children with physical and/or developmental disabilities
can direct an assistance dog to retrieve dropped objects;
carry house keys, a phone, water bottle, coins or mail; open
and close doors or drawers by pulling on a rope or bracing
a shoulder; even activate light switches with their paws.
An assistance dog can aid someone with limited mobility by
pulling him or her short distances in a wheelchair while the
owner holds onto its harness. An assistance dog can brace
someone to stand up from a seated or fallen position by making
its body rigid. Dogs can also brace someone while he or she
climbs stairs. As the assistance dog performs its tasks, it
makes its owner's environment more accessible.
People with blindness can count on their guide dogs to keep
them safe by leading them to streets, buildings, parks or
anywhere their owners choose to go. Guide dogs gently guide
their masters and respond to verbal commands and hand signals.
JJ & Dave Monroe
Dave Monroe began losing his
sight when he was about four years old, due to hydrocephalus.
Today, Dave is 29 and works for the Springfield Independent
Living Center in Springfield, Illinois. Dave utilizes
Jawsú for Windowsú, which is a screen-reading software
program for blind computer users to
navigate the Internet, electronic mail and most other
text. Dave got his guide dog, JJ, from Seeing Eye, Inc.,
to help him navigate the rest of his world.
I first met Dave at a disability conference where he
patiently explained to me that you shouldn't pet a guide
dog because it is always on duty and shouldn't be distracted.
But because Dave is a nice guy, he did let me pet JJ
once, to say "hi." Dave told me the trainers at Seeing
Eye, Inc. jokingly refer to the dogs as "people," which
any pet owner will tell you is not far from the truth.
Indeed, guide dogs work very hard, responding to their
owners in a system of verbal commands and hand signals.
A person who is blind depends very much on "hearing"
his or her environment, such as hearing when a car or
people are approaching. Since many contemporary vehicles
have quiet engines, safety is more difficult on the
street. Guide dogs help their owners get around safely,
as well as quickly and efficiently. They help their
owner feel confident about moving around faster than
when he or she is alone utilizing a guide stick.
As with all languages, tone conveys several meanings
of the same word. Guide dogs must be as sensitive to
tone as their owners are to hearing. The main commands
given to a guide dog are "forward,"
"left," "right," and "hop
up." A guide dog will
sometimes take initiative by taking action before hearing
a command. For example, if JJ spots an object in the
way that Dave hasn't, JJ will refuse to move forward,
even after Dave told him to. This is referred to as
intelligent disobedience. Since dogs are creatures of
habit, communication between Dave and JJ became minimized
when they got to know one another.
Having JJ brought Dave a lot of luck because Seeing
Eye Inc. is where he met his future wife, Erin, in June
of 1991. Erin was also getting a new guide dog at Seeing
Eye Inc. Today the couple has a six-year-old daughter,
Shannon, who is fully sighted. Dave is now retiring
nine-year old JJ, who has kept Dave on track for eight
years and played match-maker. His work is done! Soon
Dave will get a new guide dog and the Monroe household
will have a total of three dogs.
Adults who are hard-of-hearing or deaf can enlist the help
of a hearing dog to alert them to a ringing TDD telephone
or knock at the door, to nudge them awake when the alarm clock
sounds, or warn them of danger if an intruder comes. A hearing
dog will bring its owner to any sound unless it is the sound
of a smoke alarm. Then the dog is trained to bring its owner
to the nearest exit. Hearing dogs will respond to hand signals
and mechanical clickers. Generally, service dogs learn to
respond to any mode of communication its owner uses.
Seizure Response Dogs
Seizure response dogs are trained to recognize behaviors associated
with its owner's seizures and to get help. They first get
the attention of someone else in the household by running
back and forth from the victim (it places a paw on the victim)
to the other person just as Lassie did in the Lassie
TV series. If necessary, the dog will repeat the alert signal
until help is on the way.
If no one else is around, a dog can activate a medical call
box in an epileptic patient's home. The medical call box is
set up in advance with emergency personnel who have the patient's
medical record and registered medications. The box is activated
when the dog pulls a cord attached to it. The dog will then
lie upon its owner until the seizure subsides or help arrives.
Having a seizure response dog allows an epileptic person the
freedom to live alone and to travel. It helps family members
relax about leaving their loved one alone.
Adults and children with disabilities benefit greatly from
a companion dog. The relationship encourages social interaction
with others and fosters a healthy sense of well being, and
that means better health. When someone is happier they literally
function better; this has been medically proven. Often, a
person's disease will calm down or certain symptoms will disappear
altogether after getting a companion dog.
Some professional care-givers, educators and therapists utilize
skilled facilities' teams of dogs while visiting a hospital,
nursing home, hospice, group residence, school or a disabled
individual. Dogs cheer people up! While easing loneliness,
skilled facilities dogs improve the mental, physical and emotional
health of those in their care.
Of course there are many people with multiple impairments
who will utilize a combination dog that has been previously
cross-trained, or they will send their dog for further training.
For example, some guide dogs must also assist their owners
by retrieving objects or performing other mobility-related
tasks. Sometimes a person's disability worsens or he or she
develops an illness such as epilepsy, which results in requiring
the dog to have further training.
Service dogs do important work that maximizes independence
in people with disabilities. And long before they hang up
their harness at night, service dogs are also loving, loyal
and non-judgmental friends who make a big difference in each