September marks National Service Dog Month, which celebrates and spotlights working dogs who provide both emotional and physical support.
The month-long celebration was founded by Dick Van Patten, an actor and animal rights advocate. Over 12 years ago, he had a life-changing experience at the Palm Spring-based non-profit, Guide Dogs of the Desert, that assists those with visual impairments through the use of service dogs. The trip served as an inspiration for Van Patten to host a fundraiser, which raised money for various service dog training courses throughout the nation. Eventually, the event turned into what we now know as National Service Dog Month.
Now, there may be some misconceptions about service dogs, particularly how they differ from emotional support animals. Please Don’t Pet Me, a service dog advocacy resource, has noted that “Differentiating between service dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support animals is not a matter of splitting hairs or political correctness. Each of these dogs has a very different job from the others and the terms are not interchangeable.”
Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 states, “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.”
Service dogs can be trained for a variety of responsibilities. Some dogs assist those who are blind, hearing impaired, or have issues with mobility. Others are used to alert their handlers if they are about to have a seizure or a diabetic emergency. Those who have neurological or psychiatric disorders may also benefit from having a service dog.
While pups of all breeds and ages can be service dogs, it’s a rather difficult process. You can either train your dog or take home a pup from a service dog program. Either way, the dog must be trained for 120 hours, which may take up to two years to complete.
Just a reminder, if you happen to see someone with a service dog, it’s best to not pay attention to the pup, even if he’s super cute. After all, what he’s doing is very important and he can’t risk being distracted.
Here at The Gentle Pit, we love National Service Dog Month but think that service dogs and their incredible handlers deserve to be celebrated all year long.
image courtesy of servicedogcertifications.org