Those Amazing Service Animals!

Service animals come in a variety of sizes, breeds, and colors.  They provide physical and emotional assistance to people who are blind, or suffering from medical conditions or mental disorders.  Panda, a miniature horse, leads Ann Edie through the streets of her city, pausing to let cars pass by.  Through a verbal cue, the animal alerts her owner that they have reached an intersection.  Edie then is able to feel her way to the walk signal button, press it, and cross the road safely.  Without Panda serving as her “eyes,” Edie couldn’t be as independent as she is today.

Guide dogs, although effective, are expensive to breed, train, and place in homes.  The average blind person can go through five to seven companion animals in the course of a lifetime.  A miniature horse, however, can work up to thirty years before retiring.  Not only do these animals save on costs, they become an important part of the family.

Panda is not the only exotic animal serving as a guide.  Pigs, monkeys, ferrets, ducks, and iguanas have also been matched up with individuals with psychosis and anxiety, quadriplegics, agoraphobia, and muscular dystrophy.  It is not unusual to see the animals guiding their owners through supermarkets, school hallways, and workplaces thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  In fact, Walmart welcomes service animals assisting both customers and employees.

The Delta Society based in Bellevue, Washington, offers events and conferences, educational resources, and training programs for individuals wanting to know more about the role of service animals.  People can make donations, shop in the online store or volunteer.  A number of projects even let you bring your own pets along once they are screened, evaluated, and registered with the Pet Partners Program.  The animals are then used in pet therapy programs located in hospitals, nursing homes and retirement communities, and mental health facilities.

Right here in the Bay Area, we have Guide Dogs for the Blind, located in San Rafael, 20 miles north of San Francisco.  In 1947, the school moved to their present 11-acre location. Their new campus is in Boring, Oregon, 25 miles east of Portland. They have graduated more than 10,000 teams since their beginnings in 1942. Their dogs and puppies are cared for in meticulous kennels and state-of-the-art veterinary clinics. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retriever/Golden Retriever crosses are the breeds they use, although there are dogs of any breed or mixed breed that are good candidates for this type of work.

Your animal will make a good candidate for this type of program if he or she:

  • Is in good health.
  • Has a current rabies immunization and rabies certificate (if applicable).
  • Has all other necessary immunizations recommended by a veterinarian.
  • Is free of internal and external parasites.
  •  Can pass a fecal exam within 6 months of turning in a Registration packet.

Service animals enrich and protect the lives of those individuals who come to depend on them.  For that reason alone, people should recognize the amazing role of these creatures and do the best they can do to accommodate them wherever they go.