Thursday, August 26, 2010

JOY biscuits loves therapy dogs and service dogs

one of our missions at JOY biscuits is to increase awareness of therapy and service dog programs. we all know that dogs are wonderful companions and that one's quality of life is greatly increased when one has a furry friend in their life, however the distinction between a therapy dog and a service dog is important.

generally speaking, both types of dogs have similar outcomes: to increase quality of life, increase independence, and ultimately enable a person to participate more in their daily activities.

so what exactly is the difference between a service dog and a therapy dog??

service dogs are specifically trained to assist in meeting the needs of a person with a disability who may have limitations related to mobility and/or mental health. service dogs are legally defined by the americans with disabilities act of 1990 and are protected by federal laws that enable them to accompany their owners into public places where dogs-as-pets are not allowed. i've seen service dogs do amazing things like open doors, dial 911, pick up small pills off the ground with their teeth, and turn lights on and off. these dogs have a very important job, no doubt.

service dogs are also known as guide dogs, skilled companions, and hearing dogs. with organizations like CCI (canine companions for independence), and other service dog programs, people with disabilities have more access to participating in their communities, which is something that JOY biscuits cares very deeply about.

one thing to remember though (as it was difficult for me to learn how to do this), is that these dogs have a job and that they aren't necessarily "pets." so talk to the owner first (make eye contact with the owner, not the dog-i know, hard to do!) and ask them if it's OK to greet the dog before assuming that you can. if it is ok, then the owner can "release" the dog from their work before you pet them. if it's not OK, simply talk to the owner (mention what a beautiful day it is!) or just walk away. in either case, all parties will be enlightened and the service dog and owner will appreciate your mindful actions. you will be able to recognize a service dog by a vest or a badge that indicates that it is indeed a service dog. here are some pictures of service dogs in action!

a therapy dog, is exactly what it sounds like. a dog that provides a therapeutic experience to those who interact with it. geez, given that definition all dogs could be therapy dogs, right?! nope. therapy dogs must go through a vet check, discipline/obedience course and evaluation, and be affiliated with a group that organizes visits to hospitals, clinics, and facilities. in fact, most domesticated pets can become a therapy animal, and organizations like furry friends pet assisted therapy services assist with this process. here are some touching stories of strays becoming therapy dogs.

i have seen therapy dogs work in multiple ways. some examples include: having the client brush the dog to increase their strength and range of motion in their arms; having the client direct the dog to do certain tricks, thus having the client work on giving commands and praise when executed well; and lastly having the client walk the dog a few feet initially and gradually increase the distance over time, thus working on strength and endurance. here are some pictures of therapy dogs in action!

ok, 2 more items worth mentioning: 1) champ, the inspiration behind JOY biscuits, is on his way to becoming a certified therapy dog. in fact, i made that one of our new year's resolutions. now i just need to make the time to do it! 2) there is yet another article worth mentioning in the august/september issue of animal wellness. this article illustrates a good picture of what to consider when getting a dog for someone with a disability (and not necessarily a service dog), and what breeds are good for certain purposes. it also mentions some amazing jobs of what different types of service dogs can do, like detecting when a person with type 1 diabetes has a severely low blood sugar level by smelling their breath, and then somehow indicating that the person needs to drink juice or eat. what the article doesn't mention is where to go to find a service dog. i would recommend CCI, but also know that there are smaller organizations that train and provide service dogs. a lot of figuring out where to go for a service dog depends on one's location and what feels like a good fit with one's needs.

i hope this post clearly distinguishes the differences between service and therapy dogs. if you've made it this far to the end of the post, i sincerely thank you for reading, as this means a lot to JOY biscuits.