Thursday, February 2, 2012

Service Dogs ~ More Than Just a Working Pair of Eyes and Ears (by Kristin Wells, Guest Blogger)

As most of you know, Harley is a certified Canine Good Citizen. He hasn't passed the Therapy dog test (that is a future goal of his) but the certification allowed him to go to work with my sister and spend the day with special needs adults. Just his presence helped them focus, have fewer behaviors, and enjoy their day. What he did every day was simple, but it had a huge effect on the happiness of those adults. All over the world, service dogs (like Harley, but way more talented), make a difference in the lives of people in need.

Today, guest blogger Kristin Wells put together a great article about Service Dogs. Enjoy!

Service dogs are the animal heroes of a dark, soundless and sometimes hopeless world for thousands of people suffering life-altering disabilities. They provide sight for the blind, sound for the deaf, and mobility for the immobile. They are a ray of light for those trapped in the darkness of depression and offer a small bit of hope and joy to those battling terminal conditions. For over 70 years now, service dogs have been helping those who can’t help themselves find a way to thrive in a world made harder by circumstances they cannot control.

The helpless isolation that plagues the impaired can be devastating. Service dogs help ease these feelings by providing assistance with day-to-day living. Hearing dogs alert their owners through physical contact when a sound requires attention. They are also trained to alert their owners to various danger signals such as smoke detectors, alarms and the sounds of a prowler. For the visually impaired, a service dog opens a whole new world. Where once they relied on memory and the assistance of others, the visually impaired are now more independent, going places they couldn’t before. A guide dog will help with everything from locating items around the house to safely navigating busy streets, shopping malls and other public destinations.

For those with autism, a service dog becomes an anchor, lessening the emotional trauma and alleviating the bolting behavior children with autism commonly experience in different environments. These dogs provide an increased level of safety for autistic children as well as a positive link between the child’s home and community environments.

Service dogs offer those suffering from debilitating medical conditions a life line in the form of trained alert responses to specific medical emergencies. Individuals suffering from conditions such as seizures and migraines are alerted before they experience an episode and can get help before it happens. Also, they help with various other terminal illness, such as Sarcomatoid Mesothelioma by giving them a loyal friend to be by their side and reduce their anxiety as long as possible.

Though more studies are needed to determine exactly how service dogs help the overall well-being of their human companions, national service dog organizations and individuals with disabilities around the world agree- the therapeutic value service dogs provide is immeasurable. They ease stress and anxiety, offer increased opportunities for exercise and social integration and improve overall psychological well-being. Service dogs offer more than just a working pair of eyes or ears. They offer confidence, comfort and a feeling of security and independence to individuals stuck in a world they cannot change.

Kristin Wells is a recent college graduate from The University of Georgia and an aspiring writer. She wants to make a difference in people's lives through her writing. Kristin also likes competitive cycling, running, and traveling as much as possible.

Even if you don't need a service dog yourself, you can make a difference by raising a puppy for those in need. Matt did this as a child. He helped raise a German Shepherd named Lynk for The Seeing Eye. Unfortunately the pup didn't make it to graduation, he enjoyed chasing cats too much, but the whole experience taught Matt a lot about dogs and how much joy they can bring into your life. I wouldn't mind raising a service dog again some day, but it sure would be hard to give him up!

1 comment:

Jen said...

Great post! One of my roomates in college and one of my best friends, Jen, grew up training service dogs and her parents still train them today. They just got a new "recruit" a few weeks ago and we've already seen a million pictures. Each time a dog has gone to take its tests since freshman year in college we've been on pins and needles waiting for the results and celebrating with Jen as if it was her own dog. I love how positive the whole thing is, even if it means that Jen's parents are constantly "giving up" pups that quickly become members of their family. It amazing how each dog becomes such a part of their lives and then goes on to provide even more hope and love to someone else who really needs it. Service dogs are amazing and I love that Harley's been able to be a part of such an awesome group of pups!! Yay Mr. H!