petMD.com Pays Tribute to Service Dogs with a List of the Top 10 Pet Assistants

[title]

Today is Specially-abled Pets Day, a time to commemorate pets who are handicapped, but also a time to celebrate the pets that help humans every day.  While many people are aware of service dogs such as Seeing Eye dogs, they are much less aware of the other tasks service dogs can perform. To generate awareness of the amazing work service dogs do each and every day, petMD.com has put together a list of the top 10 pet assistants.

  1. Service Dogs: It is important to make the distinction between therapy, assistance, and service dogs. Service dogs, by definition, are specially trained to assist people with disabilities, including physical, emotional, and other health impairments. Because service dogs are professional assistants, they are not considered pets. Due to this, service dogs are allowed access to areas that otherwise prohibit pets.
  2. Therapeutic Companion Dogs: Therapy dogs differ from service dogs in that they provide comfort and companionship to people with disabilities, or those hindered by illness. Therapy dogs are usually part of a volunteer program that is made up of naturally good-tempered, docile, and friendly house pets. Unlike service dogs that have had specialized training, therapy dogs are not professionally trained; but they are often tested and accredited for therapy.
  3. Skilled Companion Dogs:  For people who are isolated or socially challenged due to autism, Down's syndrome, and cerebral palsy, skilled companion dogs help improve the quality of their lives. Trained to give therapeutic affection and assist in mobility tasks when necessary, these dogs help socially challenged individuals develop bonds and connections. 
  4. Facility Dogs: Proven to speed up recovery in people who are hospitalized or in long term care facilities, facility canines are trained by organizations like For Better Independence Assistance Dogs to visit and socialize with patients. By minimizing the feeling of loneliness, facility dogs help improve patient attitude, which can help aid the healing process.
  5. Autism Service Dogs: Autism service dogs provide physical and emotional support to children living with autism. While at school, service dogs provide a calming presence that can minimize and often eliminate emotional outbursts. By more actively participating in school activities, the child has a greater opportunity to develop social and language skills.
  6. Service Dogs for the Mobility Impaired: For those who have a limited range of motion, service dogs can help carry and retrieve items, and even pull a wheelchair. Certain service dogs for the mobility impaired can even help physically support individuals with stability and balancing issues.
  7. Hearing Dogs: Trained by the National Education for Assistance Dog Services, hearing dogs help individuals who are hearing impaired by signaling them with head butts and other sensory stimuli. Besides vital assistance, these dogs also provide companionship for their owners.
  8. Hypoglycemic Alert Dogs: Due to the increased level of sensory receptors dogs have compared to humans, certain canines can detect when a diabetic person is about to experience a drop in their blood sugar level. Although these dogs have become lifesavers to their owners, they are not covered by medical insurance and are very costly to obtain.
  9. Seizure Alert Dogs: Although not understood how it occurs, certain dogs are capable of predicting when an individual is about to have an epileptic seizure, sometimes even hours in advance. Seizure alert dogs inform their owners of the impending seizure by displaying marked changes in behavior, such as close eye contact, pawing, and circling.
  10. Seeing Eye Guide Dogs: The most familiar service dog position, the seeing-eye dog helps visually impaired individuals move about safely and offers them a feeling of independence. The role of Seeing Eye dogs was first implemented after World War I when veterans returned home from war, blinded by injuries and in need of assistance.

The ability of service dogs, whether innate or trained, helps improve people's lives by giving them a means to emotionally connect, a feeling of independence, and a sense of security. Understanding just how influential a service dog can be to an individual helps others appreciate the role animals play in our lives.