Puppy, our fish, and even made a house call to pick him up when I couldn't find a minute to drop him off. She is a Good Person. She blogs about her adventures as a volunteer therapy-dog handler at Therapy Dogs Heal. What she had to say:
Every time my certified therapy dog, Ace, and I pass through the revolving door at the hospital we get strange looks. Though he wears a vest when we visit the cardiac and intensive-care units, some still question why an 80-pound dog is hanging out there.
We are there to bring levity to a place that’s usually serious or sad. We’re there to break up the tedium of daytime TV, boredom, loneliness and pain. We’re there to comfort and distract and laugh with the patients, families and staff – and believe me, we serve all three groups equally. Every single visit makes me laugh, even when we do hospice and bereavement work.
Ace’s vest reads, “Therapy Dog – Please Pet Me.” Though it’s not mandated that we use a vest, it gives us a little bit of credibility when we’re asking to ride the elevator with people who aren’t so sure about big, hairy dogs.
It can be confusing because most people know that they should never interrupt a working service dog, yet here’s this golden retriever in a vest, smiling and wagging his tail, begging to be petted.
Ace and I would never misrepresent ourselves as a service-dog team. Service dogs are specially trained companions for people with disabilities. A service dog can guide the blind, open doors, alert to sounds, pick up objects or warn its handler of an impending seizure.
As part of the Americans With Disabilities Act, service dogs are permitted in any public place including restaurants and taxicabs. Though therapy dogs are tested, certified and insured for their visits, they are still considered pets that must obey “no pets” policies and health-code restrictions.
I wish more pet owners respected the “no pets” policies of stores and restaurants. People with disabilities have enough trouble getting their service dogs access without women pitching a fit because their handbag Yorkies aren’t welcome in Starbucks. Please remember that service dogs are trained to curl up under the table and wait quietly. Their impact is minimal and their right to be there is protected by law.
This week the federal government redefined the ADA’s rules for service dogs. The new restrictions crack down on people who misrepresent their pet dogs as service dogs.
“Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
“The crime deterrent effects of an animal´s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.”
The new definitions also restrict service-animal status to dogs and miniature horses (really!) and do not allow the same protection for other animals like cats, ferrets and chinchillas. I anxiously await the headline-grabbing lawsuit from someone who insists that his water buffalo is a service animal.
When a service dog comes your way, keep moving and don’t distract him, but when you come across a therapy dog at the library’s reading program or the hospital’s pediatric unit, ask his handler’s permission then proceed to love him up. That’s why we’re there.