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September has been a month devoted to the dogs! If you’ve been following our blogs, then you learned about dogs’ scent-sational sniffers, their red-green color blindness and how they evolved from wolves into human’s best friend. On this final day in September, we’re giving you one last dog blog— though let’s admit it, we could write about dogs until the cows come home!

Since 2008, September has been designated as National Service Dog Month, offering humans an entire 30 days to honor and celebrate the works of some of the world’s most exceptional canines. According to the website, Dogtime.com, National Service Dog Month–originally known as National Guide Dog Month— was established by actor and animal rights activist Dick Van Patten to raise funds for service dog training schools in the United States. In the ten years since its inception, the dedication of this month has shifted its focus from fundraising for guide dogs to spotlighting the significant work performed by all canines of service. Today, the American Human Society estimates that over 20,000 dogs work as assistance animals in the United States helping those who suffer from a wide range of medical conditions including blindness, autism, hearing impairments, seizures, depression, and PTSD.  As September comes to a close, HWF would like to take a moment to recognize the extraordinary efforts of service dogs working around the globe.

A service dog named Moxie leads the parade for athletes into Soldier Field for the opening ceremonies of the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the United Center in Chicago, July 1, 2017. Moxie has been with retired Army Sgt. Christina Gardner for seven years. DoD photo by EJ Hersom. From: https://dod.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1241343/service-dogs-provide-care-support-for-dod-warrior-games-athletes/

A Timeline of Service

Seeing-Eye Dogs—Humans have had a special and companionate relationship with dogs for thousands of years and it is likely that the first relationship of dogs in service to the disabled is lost in time. However, historical records indicate that the first systematic attempt to train seeing eye dogs happened around 1780 at ‘Les Quinze-Vingts’ hospital for the blind in Paris.  The modern guide dog story, though, begins during the First World War, with thousands of soldiers returning from the frontlines blinded by toxic gases.  A German doctor by the name of Dr. Gerhard Stalling began training a number of dogs to help those affected after he observed a dog looking after a blind patient. This observation encouraged Dr. Stalling to train dogs to help his patients and in August 1916, he opened the world’s first guide dog school for the blind. As word of the guide dogs got out, Dr. Stalling’s training schools expanded to provide dogs to blind people throughout Europe and in the United States, Canada. Today, training academies can be found in nearly every corner of the world!

Emotional Support Dogs—During the late 19th century, companion animals (as they were then called) became progressively common features of mental institutions around Europe.  In 1919, following WWI, the  United States began using service animals in a therapeutic setting.  St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. was the first US hospital to introduce canine companions as assistance for returning soldiers who experienced PTSD.  By 1945, the American Humane society started a program to provide therapy dogs for recovering World War II veterans. Since then, emotional service animals are working all across the globe to assist people suffering from conditions that are often invisible to the naked eye.

What to do when you encounter a Service Dog? 

Fight the impulse to pet every dog you see—If you’re anything like me, it is hard to pass a dog without exhibiting an obvious display of excitement. When you meet a service dog, it is important to resist the urge to pet them— no matter how strong this urge may be— and to remember that these are working dogs.  In the same way that it might distract you if your new best friend came over and asked to hang out in your work cubicle, service dogs can get distracted by strangers approaching them while they’re at work. So, maintain your composure and try your best not to interact with a working dog.

How do you know when a dog is at work? Contrary to popular belief, service dogs are not required to wear a vest that proclaims their service dog status, so it’s not always easy to distinguish a service animal from other dogs on the street. The best way to determine whether a dog is approachable or not is to ask the owner. Often times, they will be happy to let you know when a dog is at work or at play. Moreover, it’s always a good idea to ask an owner whether their dog is comfortable with strangers because you can’t tell a dog’s history just by looking at them. Some dogs suffer from anxiety or a fear of people, and while your intention may be to show them some love, they may not always understand that.

What kinds of things are Service Dogs trained to do? 

According to AnythingPawsable, an online educational resource for those looking to learn more about service dogs, “task training is the meat and bones of Service Dog training because, without trained, specific tasks, a dog cannot be a Service Dog.” Tasks vary widely from Service Dog to Service Dog, but they’re always related to their person’s disability and needs.  Here are a few service dog tasks shared by AnythingsPawsable:

  • Opening and closing doors

  • Pulling a wheelchair

  • Helping a fallen person stand

  • Transition someone from lying down to sitting

  • Turning lights on and off

  • Retrieving a phone

  • Picking up dropped items

  • Helping remove clothing or blankets to assist with temperature control

  • Providing counterbalance for an unsteady person

  • Offering deep pressure stimulation to someone having an anxiety attack

  • Waking up someone having a nightmare

  • Alerting a caretaker to medical equipment malfunction

  • Alerting to dangerous blood sugar levels or the presence of deadly allergens

Photo of a “Bark Ranger” from the National Parks Service.

The Havasi Wilderness Foundation works to create an understanding of the need for environmental education and awareness among world citizens. It is our job to help preserve and protect our planet and all those who live here. If you would like to help support our work, please make a donation to us today.

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