Recently, we discussed the benefits of pets for senior citizens. But the benefits of animals—particularly, service dogs—can extend far beyond the companionship and other benefits of sharing your home with a furry, four-legged friend.
What is a service dog?
Service dogs are specially trained dogs who provide tremendous benefits to people with physical disabilities, including seniors. Service dogs are probably most recognized for their ability to help individuals with vision impairment navigate their homes and neighborhoods, but they are used to aid people with a variety of disabilities and in a variety of circumstances. Service dogs are even being used to help Veterans cope with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and physical limitations resulting from service injuries. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are permitted in any public place where the general public goes.
Is a service dog right for your aging loved one?
According to Philips Lifeline, service dogs are being used to help the elderly today more than ever before. But how do you know if a service dog is the right choice for an aging loved one?
There are several types of service dogs who can serve seniors, including:
- Seeing Eye dogs for the visually impaired
- hearing or signal dogs for the deaf or hearing impaired
- mobility assistance dogs who can aid with daily tasks, retrieve items, open doors, or even pull a wheelchair when needed
For instance, a service dog can serve as a senior’s eyes for an aging loved one with visual impairment due to glaucoma or any other chronic condition that causes vision loss. A Seeing Eye dog can give your aging loved one confidence and allow her to navigate streets, sidewalks, stairs and other areas safely. A service dog, in this and other cases, gives a senior greater independence by assisting in areas where the senior struggles due to his disability.
Service dogs are even beneficial for seniors who have family caregivers or outside caregiving assistance. When a service dog helps a senior to be more independent and carry out daily tasks without the direct assistance of a caregiver, caregivers have more time to dedicate to tasks that can’t be taken care of by a service dog, such as cooking, cleaning, and running errands.
Where can I find more information about service dogs?
There are several organizations dedicated to training and placing service dogs for individuals with disabilities, offering information on service dog training and ADA laws related to service dogs, and service dog registration.
- Assistance Dogs International is “a coalition of not for profit assistance dog organizations. The purpose of ADI is to improve the areas of training, placement, and utilization of assistance dogs, staff and volunteer education, as well as educating the public about assistance dogs, and advocating for the legal rights of people with disabilities partnered with assistance dogs.”
- The National Association of Service Dogs aims “to help people live a more enjoyable and productive life using service dogs.” The organization was established to register and certify service dogs and created the first formal process requiring documentation to aid in service dog verification.
- The National Service Animal Registry maintains a service animal database and provides an abundance of resources on service dogs and the rights of service dogs.
- The United States Service Dog Registry allows you to register a service dog, as well as learn about the laws and regulations that apply to service dogs. This resource also offers a simple service dog lookup directory.
There are also locally based organizations that train service dogs and provide service dog placement with Veterans, seniors and the disabled. If your loved one is a Veteran, one good starting resource is the National Resource Directory, which connects wounded warriors, service members, their caregivers and families with a multitude of resources that provide help, support, and assistance, including service dog organizations. DogCapes.com offers a useful, state-by-state listing of service dog trainers, as well.
Service dogs can literally be lifesavers for seniors and other individuals with disabilities, let alone the tremendous relief and help they can offer a senior in day-to-day activities. If you think your senior loved one could benefit from a service dog, seek out local resources and organizations, or start with the resources listed above and get more information today.