The Service Animal Registry of America offers the following definition of service animals:
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.
Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. “Seeing eye dogs” are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. However, there are many different kinds of service animals that assist persons with many other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. A few examples include:
o Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds.
o Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments.
o Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance.
o Alerting persons with seizures.
o Condition signal assistance
I have known a few families who have volunteered to raise dogs that assist individuals with disabilities and I’ve seen how much of a help and a friend these animals are to those they are helping and caring for. For those who are interested in possibly volunteering to train a canine companion for the purpose of helping others, here are a few links:
Their mission statement reads – “Canine Companions for Independence is a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships”.
This site offers many resources, but here is a page dedicated to Dog Guide Etiquette:
Their website describes what hearing dogs can do:
Our Hearing Dogs spend four to six months in training learning how to alert people to sounds in their environment. We train our Hearing Dogs to alert people to seven sounds: fire and smoke alarms, the telephone, oven timer, alarm clock, doorbell/door knock, and name call (and sometimes the baby cry). Many people go on to teach their Hearing Dogs to alert them to more sounds. Hearing Dogs can be taught to alert people to any repetitive sound that can be set up and practiced regularly. If a sound is inconsistent or too difficult to set up and practice, it is hard for the dog to learn to work it.
Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans
Check out the graduation photo of this group of dogs here.
Eye Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.
This site explains how you can raise a puppy to be a guide dog.
Guide Dog’s of America offers a helpful F.A.Q.
Dogs are not the only animals that assist individuals. Miniature horses are also trained to be assistants.
From the The Guide Horse Program:
The Guide Horse Foundation was founded in 1999 as an experimental program to access the abilities of miniature horses as assistance animals. There is a critical shortage of guide animals for the blind and guide horses are an appropriate assistance animal for thousands of visually impaired people in the USA.
In early experiments, Guide Horses have shown great promise as a mobility option, and people who have tried Guide Horses report that the Guide Horses perform exceptionally well at keeping their person safe. These friendly horses provide an experimental alternative mobility option for blind people. People who have tried Guide Horses report that the horses demonstrate excellent judgment and are not easily distracted by crowds and people.
Guide horses are not for everyone, but there is a strong demand for Guide Horses among blind horse lovers, those who are allergic to dogs, and those who want a guide animal with a longer lifespan.