For as far back as some us can remember, dogs – especially German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers – have been helping the visually impaired and others to get around more easily. They literally are the eyes and ears of people who depend on them to compensate for their own sensory impairments. There are other breeds of dogs that are important in this way, but these two types of dogs stand out as service animals.
It’s great that dogs are able to provide this assistance to provide visual assistance, hearing and often other senses for people to allow them to retain their independence and function in as normal of a way as possible. Dogs can often detect seizures and other imbalances before they are noticeable to people.
We get so used to seeing service dogs with their owners in public that we forget that they are animals. We understand how important they are to the people they help, and we have no issues with allowing them in places where animals typically are not allowed or prohibited – stores, banks, restaurants, churches, and grocery stores, for example.
Moving beyond the service animals that are trained to be the eyes for the vision impaired, ears for those with hearing challenges (dog have fantastic hearing), or to detect irregularities such as a seizure in someone before they manifest, we now have at least two other classes of dogs that are providing therapy and companionship for the public as well as their owners.
Neither of these classes of dogs is officially certified, and they do not replace service dogs working in that capacity,
People recovering from a loss or making other adjustments in life often find emotional support in a dog selected for this purpose. Having these dogs are prescribed by a healthcare professional, although some people seem to just feel the need for one and skip the paperwork. Many pet owners travel with their pets and take them into stores as their companions. These dogs do not require any special registration or training although there are online registration sites available.
These dogs, as well as the service dogs, are protected under the provisions of the Fair Housing Act and must be allowed in residences and place of public accommodation, including airplanes (where they typically fly at no charge).
In working with our aging in place clients who choose to have a dog for emotional support – even unofficially – we need to encourage them to select a breed of dog that is sized appropriately for them to handle and with a temperament that matches their personality. There are many from which to choose. Keep in mind also that these dogs are going into the public arena so they must be able to conduct themselves well and be a comfort to their owners at the same time.
There also are therapy dogs that are trained to go into hospitals, nursing homes, and similar facilities to provide support there. They are trained to perform this service and are registered.
Regardless of what type of dog is selected, they offer distinct sensory and emotional benefits for many people. We will be seeing more of them in public in the future. Dog groomers, breeders, and care facilities are people we should get to know because of this aspect of serving our aging in place clients.
Dogs can provide a valuable aging in place service, and we need to protect the contributions that dogs offer the public by insisting that responsible dog ownership, training, and registration (as necessary) are maintained.