Service animals aren’t just for people who experience seeing or hearing-related disabilities. A brand new breed of guide dogs are available to assist anyone with limited mobility. From picking things up to delivering needed extra stability, these boon companions can dramatically reduce the impact of many everyday struggles. Here’s a brief guide to these wonderful working dogs and how they can assist those who regularly rely on a cane, crutch, prosthetic or wheelchair for assistance.
Who Needs One
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service dogs as those who are “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” That means that anyone with a disability can benefit from the abilities of a service animal. Only dogs and miniature horses are covered under the act, but there are no breed restrictions. Indeed, smaller dogs can be just as invaluable as larger breeds when it comes to offering assistance. If you or a loved one struggle with limited mobility that prevents you from easily bending over, picking up objects or walking, a brace and mobility support dog may be an excellent solution for alleviating the stress of many daily tasks.
What They Do
Brace and mobility support dogs (BMSDs) are specifically trained to assist those with mobility-related disabilities. They are commonly called “mobility assistance dogs,” and their training makes them an invaluable part of recovery or everyday life for individuals with disabilities. Their work specifically assists with “locomotion,” which includes movement of all types. It’s near impossible to come up with a definitive list of locomotion-related tasks, as each action is likely as unique as the individual who needs assistance. The kinds of tasks that mobility assistance dogs perform regularly include:
- Provide gait and balance correction during walks (weight-bearing BMSDs).
- Retrieve items dropped by wheelchair users or other seated individuals.
- Relieve stress on joints by ensuring proper spinal alignment during movement.
- Alerting bystanders and medical personnel of emergency situations.
- Rolling fallen individuals into safe positions and protecting them until help arrives.
- Retrieving medications and opening some types of doors or cabinets.
- Covering injured individuals with blankets or delivering emergency medical supplies.
The training programs designed for other forms of service dogs also work for BMSDs. The animal must be aware of the surroundings at all times and not easily distracted by others in the environment. It must be well-behaved in even the most stressful of circumstances, and it must be properly housebroken and socialized. In addition to regular behavioral training, BMSDs undergo training for their specific tasks. This training may be handled by a doctor, certifying institution or even an owner, but the animal must be able to actively demonstrate its training as needed (often in court, not in public) if its position as a service animal is challenged.
As with all service animals, businesses may only ask if the dog is a service animal and what task it provides for the disabled owner. The normal rules of service animal access, granted under the ADA apply to BSMDs. This means that owners may take them along to grocery stores, theaters and other places where dogs are normally not allowed. It does not grant access to private areas or areas where the public at large would not be given the same level of access.
Service dogs are not a substitute for assistive medical devices, but they can be a major boon for those who rely on other tools. They can even work independently of canes, walkers or wheelchairs for individuals who have limited mobility but don’t rely on assistive devices. If you think a BSMD could be a benefit to you or a loved one, check with a doctor and look for local breeders or trainers in your area.
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