When we think of “service dogs,” most of us think first of guide dogs for the blind. That’s probably natural as these working dogs have been part of our streetscape for the longest time - since 1929, when the Seeing Eye Guide Dog organization was founded. It took nearly fifty years for the role of the working dog to begin to grow; in the mid-1970’s, hearing dog training programs began to be established. But since 1990, when the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law, these canine caregivers have cheerfully taken on an ever-expanding role in human health and well-being and proven themselves to be invaluable in enhancing the lives of people with a much broader range of disabilities. The high level of independence these animals can help their owners achieve might be unattainable either physically and/or financially without their service. In 1996, the organization National Service Dogs (NSD) began training service dogs to assist people with autism. Two years ago Project Chance began training dogs for this purpose in Northern Florida. Six months ago an intelligent, motivated, cheerful Golden Retriever named Flux joined our household as my daughter Dani’s service dog. I wanted to share with you some of the reasons that I now advise my patients to consider getting a service dog of their very own.
Because a service dog makes people smile at your daughter, and you overhear mommies telling their children “Look, Sarah, that dog is helping that little girl!”
Because everyone wants to talk to your daughter and meet her dog. No one is looking at her strangely anymore.
Because when she has a seizure, the dog will help and be there to comfort her.
Because she will learn how to love another being in ways you can’t teach her just because the dog is there.
Because she’ll go into the theater with the dog and watch a full-length film and say “That was a good movie!” afterward.
Because she’ll be so busy taking care of the dog on the airplane that she forgets she’s a little nervous, and when you land she’ll say, “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be!”
Because “I want my puppy,” may be the most wonderful sentence you’ve heard since your child regressed into autism. The social isolation is going away.
Because the dog brings so much joy into the home that everything seems easier.
Because there’s someone else available full time to keep an eye on your daughter and you can actually get something done.
Because they can be mutual pillows for each other driving home at the end of a long day.