Animals are heroes; they impact people’s lives. Last week the Hero Dog Awards were presented by the American Humane Association and broadcast on the Hallmark Channel. These seven dogs all impact people, whether through their law enforcement or military service, bringing smiles to people in hospitals and nursing homes, or simply through their tenacious spirit after a time of abuse – dogs inspire us, if we let them.
I recently wrote post about Animal Heroes. This week, I’m pleased to present a guest blogger who will showcase some types of hero dogs, particularly service dogs who help people with various afflictions. For years, I’ve admired organizations who help people in need of service dogs, groups like Canine Companions for Independence, located in Santa Rosa, California, a community devastated by recent wildfires (thankfully, CCI’s facilities and dogs survived that inferno). I hope you enjoy Paige’s article regarding service dogs and the assistance they provide people – these types of dogs are truly heroes!
Guest Post by Paige Johnson
There are vast types of service dogs, including severe allergy alert dogs, autism assistance dogs, mobility support dogs, diabetic alert dogs, medical assistance dogs, emotional support dogs, psychiatric service dogs, and more. These distinctions can be broken down into three major categories: mental illnesses, permanent mental disabilities, and physical conditions that require assistance. The Great Danes from Service Dog Project, Inc., for example, are for mobility. You would be amazed by what this can do for someone who might become stuck behind a 6-inch curb.
This article will touch on each of the above-mentioned major categories, and how having a service dog can significantly improve day-to-day life for people with such conditions.
Perhaps the most complex of the three categories are service dogs that aid physical conditions such as mobility support, allergy alert, medical assistance, and seizure response. These dogs require a substantial amount of training, as outlined by Paws Training Centers. It can take years to fully prepare a dog for the complexities of physical support. Each situation is different. For this reason, training regimens vary greatly.
Common skills include the ability to notice people approaching, to respond to a name, recognize specific sounds or smells (such as detecting low blood sugar levels), seek help from others, press a medical button, wake up an owner or retrieve personal items. Physical support dogs should be able to apply pressure, cuddle on cue, respond to anxiety or panic attacks, and interrupt nightmares or night terrors caused by PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). As you can probably tell, physical support dogs accept a great deal of responsibility for the health and well-being of their owners. They are, quite literally, life-saving animals. Therefore, when you notice a support dog in public, you should never approach without asking first. These dogs are trained to detect danger and could perceive you as a threat, and they are working, caring for their special person. Physical support dogs are far from pets. They are considered companions and dogs with a job.
People with issues such as panic disorder, general anxiety disorder, and depression are aided by emotional support dogs. These dogs require little or no training. They can live in all rented spaces, much like other support dogs. However, they are not always allowed in public places. This is because any pet can be considered an emotional support animal. You can register guinea pigs, cats, dogs, rabbits, or ferrets. If you feel comforted in the presence of your pet, you can register him or her as a support animal. Most non-pet apartment complexes will ask for a record of your counseling or mental diagnosis to ensure that you aren’t taking advantage of the system.
If you choose to get a service dog for your mental illness, understand the difference between a physical and emotional support dog. Should you decide to bring your dog to public spaces as though he or she is a physical support animal, it is your responsibility to provide training. Learn more about access and legal issues through Nolo.
It’s also worth noting that many people who are in recovery from substance abuse addiction find that companion animals are great options for support when managing sobriety and navigating through the difficult aspects of recovery. Animals used in this aspect, while offering emotional support, are not eligible for registration as a support animal, but they still provide ample comfort at home.
Not sure if you need an emotional support dog for your anxiety or mental illness? Anxiety Guru can help you make an informed decision.
Permanent Mental Disabilities
Our final category involves permanent mental disabilities such as autism. Called Autism Support Dogs, these animals are somewhere between physical and emotional service dogs. They do, in fact, require training. They are also respected in public areas as a physical support dog. Their job is to calm and ground an individual through deep pressure or tactile stimulation. They may also help teach important life skills. There is special bond between children and dogs, and those youngsters (as well as teens and adults) paired with such service dogs can see improvements in their lives and therefore, also in their loved ones.
All three categories of service dogs can improve your daily life by making you smile, helping you accomplish otherwise impossible physical feats, or comforting you when you need it most. Remember though there are laws against “faking” a service dog, and those people who really need a service animal can be affected by others who decide to try to by-pass the rules about housing or traveling with a dog. True service dogs are vital companions and often life-saving ones for people with various mental and physical issues.
Whether in need of a service dog or not, consider adopting from breed-specific rescues or animal welfare shelters and getting involved in the Canine Good Citizen Program, which is considered the “gold standard” for dog behavior.
Paige Johnson is a fitness nerd and animal lover. She shares her insights on LearnFit. She loves offering advice on a variety of topics. As a personal trainer, she has a passion for fitness training and enjoys sharing her knowledge with those seeking to live a healthier lifestyle. She's also mom to three dogs, all rescues, and volunteers at her local animal shelter. Through her time with her own pups and working at the shelter, she's picked up some great tips on pet care and training.
Photos from Pixabay.com
They conduct search and rescue. They serve in the military. They lead the blind and alert the hard-of-hearing. They comfort people in crisis, visit the hospitalized and those in hospice care; they even provide a soothing balm for us, their guardians. They survive abuse and neglect to become someone’s beloved pets. They are animal heroes!
Images of the dogs searching for the trapped and injured on 9/11 and during last week’s earthquake in Mexico resonate in our hearts and souls. From fires in homes and cresting ocean waves to hospital rooms and school bullying problems, dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs and other animals provide rescue, comfort, security, and therapy to many humans, their own as well as strangers. From the military veteran suffering from PTSD or physical disability to the child lost in the woods or the trapped earthquake victim, animals respond to the needs of people as they fulfill their roles of service, comfort or search and rescue. They are K-9 officers protecting communities and military service dogs sniffing out bombs and bad guys.
Every fall, the American Humane Association partners with the Hallmark Channel to present The Hero Dog Awards. From a service dog named Roselle who guided her blind owner and others out of a building during 911 to an abused pit bull named Hooch, canines have been celebrated for their heroic story for more than five years – and their stories tug at the heartstrings!
This year’s Hero Dog Award winner’s story is no different. American Humane recently announced the 2017 winner: a one-eared pit bull named Abigail. A dog-fighting survivor who was rescued after nearly being euthanized, Abigail is a “spokesdog” for dog-fighting rescues and for forgiveness and second chances. She’s also a fashionista, thanks to her human-mom who dresses her in scarves and headbands to help cover some of her scars. Many nominated Hero Dogs have overcome the odds of abuse or neglect.
Cats are also known to be heroes. Last year the BBC reported on several cat heroes, including one that detected cancer in her special human and another who came to the rescue of the young boys he lives with.
Hero animals – whether they do incredible feats of bravery or are simply the companions of the household, they all deserve to be called the Heroes of Our Hearts!
In 2012, I wrote the article found below for a local publication. I am posting it to my blog today in honor of Luis Carlos Montalvan, former Army captain, author, and advocate for American veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD. Luis died in December; I learned about his passing just last week.
I followed him on Facebook and several years ago, had the honor of meeting him in person. Luis had a service dog named Tuesday, who received the 2013 American Kennel Club ACE Award (Awards for Canine Excellence). The two visited my local library after the release of Luis’ book Until Tuesday. Their story is moving and I was honored to have met them in person and later to follow Luis (and Tuesday) on Facebook. In their honor, I post this article published November 2012 in Our Town Casper magazine:
I recently finished reading an incredible book, Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him. I was privileged to meet and briefly speak with author and former Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan. Listening to Captain Montalvan, witnessing his service dog, Tuesday, and then reading about them in Luis’ book, touched my heart and soul. I’ve met a few service dogs and their human partners in times past; coupled with Captain Montalvan’s recent presentation and reading about him and Tuesday in the book, I possess a deeper appreciation for the service that assistance animals provide – as well as a deeper understanding about the horrors of war and the affects upon our service men and women.
In light of Veteran’s Day and my encounters with Luis, Tuesday and their story, I spent a bit of time researching and learning about animal assistance programs for veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will pay for guide dogs for blind veterans, hearing dogs for the hearing impaired, and assistance dogs for veterans with other physical disabilities. However, the agency ruled in September that it would not pay for service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) – see link: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/06/13708645-va-wont-cover-costs-of-service-dogs-assigned-for-ptsd-treatment. Yet, it will provide (and prescribe) nearly any type of pharmaceutical drug for treating mental and emotional distress.
Scientific studies show people with pets are less prone to depression, are more active physically, and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Dogs, cats and other animals trained as therapy pets visit nursing homes and hospitals and help lessen anxiety among those with whom they spend time. Emotional support animals (ESA) are used with people who have an emotional disability, and can be prescribed by a licensed mental health provider (learn more at the National Service Animal Registry website: http://www.nsarco.com/emotionalsupportanimals.html).
Our wounded warriors can use such assistance. The Pentagon reported earlier this year that suicide among American active-duty military personnel rose to an average of one per day. Additionally, according to the Army Times in 2010, about 18 veterans each day committed suicide. It’s estimated that 30 to 40 percent of veterans suffer from PTSD. These are startling, and scary, statistics.
Capt. Montalvan suffers from PTSD as well as remnants from traumatic physical injuries to his brain and vertebrae from an incident in Iraq. He also experienced nightmares, sleeplessness, hypervigilance, and isolation, common threads in PTSD.
Although his condition improved after being partnered with Tuesday, his service dog, Montalvan will never be completely healed, either physically or emotionally. He relies on Tuesday to get through his days and his nights. Tuesday is trained to respond to Luis’ needs, the physical and the emotional. Tuesday provides Luis balance, steadying him on the bumpy, concrete sidewalks and helping him navigate stairs (Luis walks with a cane). Tuesday provides Luis balance emotionally as well, navigating the signals of anxiety as they walk through towns and travel on subways or airplanes.
Luis admits in his book, “I don’t look exactly like a typical disabled person with a service dog.” And for that, he, and numerous others, have been and are discriminated against. Service animals who are trained to perform tasks to help disabled people wear a vest, often with the words “service animal” or “working animal” on them; there are laws which allow such animals into places where most typical “pets” are not: restaurants and other public buildings, airplanes and public transportation, housing. However, Luis recounts numerous times the discrimination he encountered.
Although Emotional Service Animals are not always allowed in the same places as certified assistance animals, there are federally protected rights for these animals and their human partners, including flying on an airline not being allowed into “no pet policy” housing.
I am grateful those who need such physical or emotional service can and do receive that. Numerous others do not. May this Veteran’s Day be the eye-opener we need to recognize and honor those service men and women who have lost limbs, experienced traumatic brain injury and PTSD, or perhaps even suffer silently yet can greatly benefit from the devotion and care a service animal provides. Our wounded warriors deserve whatever medical treatment suits them best… and sometimes that’s lick in the face or a paw on the knee from a four-footed creature that adores (and sacrifices) for them.
If interested in learning more about Captain Montalvan and Tuesday, visit: http://until-tuesday.com/.
From the Blogger/Author: Although Luis has passed, an upcoming book will continue his and Tuesday’s legacy. Tuesday’s Promise is scheduled for release in May. Tuesday, now 10 years of age, is being cared for by the organization that brought them together: Educating Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD). If you are so inclined as I was, you can make a donation in Luis’ memory and Tuesday’s honor at this website: https://connect.clickandpledge.com/w/Form/9f980d6d-5bbf-4162-be1c-3821bc674d0f
Veterans Day is upon us, a time to honor and thank our military men and women and their families. Without their loyalty to country and their sacrifice, oftentimes to the point of major injury or death, Americans would live with a lot less freedom.
During the past nearly two years, I’ve met and written about several Wyoming veterans who served in Vietnam. I’m part of a project spearheaded by the Casper Star Tribune and Casper Journal, called “They Served with Honor,” in conjunction with the state of Wyoming Veterans Services; I am one writer of at least six around the state charged with interviewing veterans of the Vietnam War and writing their stories. It’s been a very amazing and humbling experience.
Many military service personnel suffer from PTSD, not recognized so much 50+ years ago, but certainly recognized now. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of American service men and women experience PTSD, including more than 30 percent of Vietnam veterans. It’s also estimated that about 50,000 U.S. veterans are homeless, more than 8 percent of the entire homeless population. Some studies show a 50% rate increase of suicide among veterans (deployed and nondeployed) than in the general population. We need to do better by our military and their families. We ask for their service, they give it, and now it’s our turn to serve them by caring for and about them.
One of the ways we can show we care, in fact a way for our service men and women to function in society and heal from their emotional and physical wounds is through dogs. Scientific studies show people with pets are less prone to depression, are more active physically, and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Dogs, cats and other animals trained as therapy pets visit nursing homes and hospitals and help lessen anxiety among those with whom they spend time. Emotional support animals (ESA) are used with people who have an emotional disability, and can be prescribed by a licensed mental health provider, and service dogs help people with tasks they cannot do themselves. There are many organizations that pair veterans with animals that can provide the service and comfort many of our military need, and some even train former shelter, often saving these animals’ lives. Our wounded warriors can use such assistance. Learn more at these websites: http://www.petsforvets.com/ and https://petsforpatriots.org/.
On Veterans and always, let’s remember and honor those who serve and those who sacrificed on our behalf and the four-footed companions that help them.
Pet owners don’t need a special time to honor and celebrate their pets, but throughout the year there are various recognitions in honor of pets. For example, the second week of May is Be Kind to Animals Week, the month of June is Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat Month, and November is Adopt-A-Senior-Pet Month. The last week September is considered National Dog Week, when dog owners and various organizations honor dogs.
William Judy, who started Dog World Magazine in the 1920s, first set aside this special week as a way to celebrate those special creatures deemed “man’s best friend”.
The American Kennel Club (www.akw.org) honors both dogs and owners during National Dog Ownership Responsibility Day. The AKC is hosting a major event in North Carolina on September 21, and various AKC organizations will host activities highlighting the joy (and responsibility) of owning a dog throughout September. People and organizations can register the many activities they do with their dogs to impart responsibility. To learn more, visit http://www.akc.org/clubs/rdod/index.cfm.
In my community, we're having a Pet Fest on Saturday, Sept. 14. The Central Wyoming Kennel Club will be there as well as many other organizations and people who love dogs.
Dogs have served humankind for thousands of years, from protector to bearer of burdens. Native Americans, for example, used dogs to transport loads prior to the horse. Still today, dogs serve people in a variety of ways: herding and protecting flocks; finding fowl in the field; guiding the blind; assisting deaf and wheel-chair bound individuals; rescuing lost children; and bringing smiles to those in hospital beds. Here’s a quick look at some of the ways dogs help people:
Assistance dogs are specially trained to help people manage physical or emotional disabilities. Guide dogs assist the blind, deaf assistance dogs alert people to the telephone or doorbell, and assistance dogs help those in wheelchairs open refrigerators and building doors.
Search and rescue dogs look for the lost. From hikers and skiers to victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, these hero dogs put their health and life in the balance in the line of their duty.
Military and police dogs also put their lives on the line. From sniffing for drugs or bombs to patrol duties, these dogs serve our country in the United States and abroad.
Visiting hospitals and nursing homes, therapy dogs bring smiles to the faces of ill children and lonely senior citizens.
Read-to-the-dog programs are popular in many libraries across the country; these programs help children become better readers for they aren’t as nervous reading to dogs as they are reading with adults. The Butte Public Library, for example, has a program called Paws for Reading, at which time children interact with special visiting dogs.
Sporting dogs, including spaniels, retrievers and pointers, help bring home dinner in the form of ducks, pheasants, and partridge,
Herding dogs, like the Australian Shepherd and the Old English sheep dog, have the genetic instinct to drive and gather livestock. Historically, they have been used to assist shepherds and farmers; many of these dogs, such as the collie and the Canaan dog, have been used for centuries.
A variety of dogs are working breeds, including the Siberian husky and the Bernese mountain dog. Others, including German Shepherds, Akitas, and Doberman pinschers, help protect people and property.
Dogs help people in many ways, including the simple acts of helping us exercise, lowering our blood pressure, and getting us to laugh and smile more often. So, honor your special pooch during National Dog Week with an extra ounce of kibble, a special hug, or a day outdoors in the field. And, consider attending a special event near you for Dog Ownership Responsibility Day.
Also, remember those wonderful canines you don’t know, like those that search for lost hikers, those who dig skiers from avalanches, those which have given their lives sniffing for bombs, dogs that bring a smile to a grandfather’s face when visiting the nursing home, and dogs that spend time in libraries listening to children hesitantly read aloud… dogs in service to others for the sake of all.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.