Service dogs have a higher purpose on this earth as they accomplish amazing feats on a daily basis for those with disabilities. “Service Dogs are vitally necessary to many whose lives are enhanced and improved by the tasks they perform”, says Shawn Abell, founder of Dog’s Nation.  For over a decade Shawn has been combining her love of animals and special training to provide service dogs to disabled veterans. Although Service Dogs have been turning impossible tasks into possible for the disabled since the end of WWI, many in our society are just beginning to realize the life-changing difference a dog’s special abilities can make to those in need. For over 26,000 years, man and canine have been side by side. Evidence was found in the Chauvet Cave in France where a child’s footprints were found with canine prints beside, hence Dog’s Nation’s motto, “When boots are on the ground, our paw prints will be beside you.”

What does the American Disabilities Act say about service dogs?

“A service dog has been trained to do work or perform specific tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”

The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to:

• Assisting individuals who are legally blind with navigation and other tasks.

• Alerting individuals who are legally deaf to the presence of people or sounds.

• Pulling a wheelchair.

• Assisting an individual during a seizure.

• Alerting individuals to the presence of allergens.

• Retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone.

• Providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities.

• Helping those with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.

• Provide “Cover”: The service dog acts as a security shield by positioning behind, to give veteran personal space. When you see a veteran standing in checkout line at store with service dog behind, the service dog is providing “cover”.

When and Where a Service Dog is Allowed Access:

Individuals with disabilities can bring their service dog in to all areas of public facilities and businesses where members of the public are allowed.

A service dog can be excluded from a facility if its presence interferes with legitimate safety requirements of the facility (for example, from a surgery or burn unit in a hospital in which a sterile field is required).

A public entity or a private business may ask an individual with a disability to remove a service dog if it is not housebroken or actions are out of control.

A service dog must have a harness or leash unless the handler is unable to use one due to disability or because it would interfere with the service dog safely performing its tasks. For example, if the service dog needs to be close to body of the handler to alert them of chemical changes in bloodstream, then, the handler can hold them. In these cases, the service dog must be under the handler’s control through voice commands, hand signals, or other effective means. If a service dog is excluded from premises for a valid reason, the Handler must still be offered the opportunity to obtain goods, services, and accommodations without having the service dog on the premises. Since everyone has a bad day sometimes, a service dog team must be welcomed back, giving the Team the opportunity to return to that business at another time.

What questions can be asked of the Handler?

To determine if an animal is a Service Dog, a business may ask two questions:

• Is this a Service Dog?

• What work or task have they been trained to perform?

These questions may not be asked if the need for the service animal is obvious (for instance, the dog is guiding an individual who is blind or is pulling a person’s wheelchair). They may not ask about the nature or extent of an individual’s disability or require documentation, such as proof that the dog has been certified, trained or licensed as a service animal, or require the animal to wear an identifying vest.

When encountering a service dog team, it is important not to interfere by trying to pet or talk to the working dog performing their trained tasks. The next time you encounter a service dog team out in our community; whether that service dog is with one of our veterans or a child with a disability and their family, the best gesture to give is a smile and thumb’s up, as you give thanks that it is not you or a loved one who require and benefits from a service dog’s assistance.

This is the first in a 12 month series of articles intended to enlighten, educate and empower our community while spotlighting incredible service dog teams in our community and answering frequently asked questions to what the federal ADA (American Disabilities Act) says about Service Dogs, their Handlers and the General Public. This month’s column is in honor of all our veterans and intended for informational purposes only. We welcome and invite your questions on our Dog’s Nation Facebook page.