While dogs usually are called man's best friend, some are especially critical to maintaining their human partner's quality of life. The Americans with Disabilities Act recognizes service dogs as animals that assist the disabled, but their owners often recognize them as lifesavers.
Service Dog Categories
The ADA considers service dogs to be highly trained animals that "do work or perform tasks" for the disabled. A service dog generally belongs to one of several categories based on his training. For example, guide dogs are trained to assist the blind or visually impaired with daily activities as simple as crossing the street, while hearing dogs assist the deaf by alerting them to noises such as the doorbell. Other dogs may be trained to recognize medical conditions such as seizures and call for help.
The Physically Handicapped
Service dogs that help the physically handicapped provide a range of services depending on the person's needs. For example, the dog can be trained to retrieve a variety of items, notably the phone -- that way, if the person is injured and cannot get help, the dog can bring them a phone or even dial 911. Service dogs may be trained to help a disabled person balance themselves or to open doors for them.
Mental Condition Help
Certain mental illnesses also qualify individuals for service dog assistance. A notable example is post traumatic stress disorder, which can give its sufferers crippling fears and anxieties. Service dogs can be trained to comfort their owners during times of anxiety and panic. For those suffering major depression or panic disorder, service dogs can be trained to motivate their owners to perform tasks like get out of bed and take their medications. The ADA distinguishes that service dogs assisting those with mental illnesses are not the same as emotional support animals, though -- those animals, also known as therapy dogs, are not extended the same legal privileges as service dogs.
Under the ADA, service dogs have special rights that allow them into public places where animals otherwise could not go. Generally, a service dog is allowed in any area where a human may go, such as a restaurant or a hospital. Areas that would normally be off-limits to the average person, like a clean room environment, are consequently off-limits to a service dog, too. Fear of dogs, allergies and health codes are not valid reasons for excluding a service dog from a public area.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.