Lending a Helping Paw

Lending a Helping Paw

Service Dogs Offer More Than You Might Think  

by MATT NORMAN

When you think service dogs, what comes to mind? You probably think of a beautiful lab in a vest and helping the visually impaired. While many service dogs are used for guiding those who are blind, there are a lot more ways service dogs can help their owners.

Today, service dogs can be tasked with everything from helping veterans with PTSD to alerting their owner when their blood sugar is too high or low. Dogs are truly a human’s best friend, and service dogs are a special group dedicated to helping others and making the world a better place, one tail wag at a time.

According to servicedogcertifications.org, service dogs assist their owners or masters to ensure that they can go on with their routines and activities without any incidents or problems. Above all, the service dogs must ensure their owner’s safety and health as it can become a life or death situation.

When it comes to what service dogs can do, their leash is pretty long. Today, service dogs serve a wide range of people in many different ways.Some of the basic tasks of service dogs include helping with everyday activities and contributing to the overall physical and mental well-being of their owner.

These tasks include answering the door, retrieving items to its owner, such as the mail, medicine bottles or any other items, alerts someone in the other room if the owner cannot get to them, helps their owners get up from their seats or climb the stairs at the home or in public, and remains their owner’s constant steady support and safety blanket.
During emergencies, service dogs are trained to help stay in control and assist their owner in whatever capacity is needed. They can bring the phone to the owner to call 911 or a relative, alert its owner in cases of fire or burglary attempts, and even lead other people to its owner if they happen to be hurt or incapacitated.

For people with limited mobility or those who suffer from a bad back or knees, service dogs can aid with balance, open and close doors, turn lights on and off, pick up dropped items, and even push buttons on elevators.

Psychiatric service dogs are special in that they provide assistance to people with mental health disabilities. Similar to other service dogs, psychiatric service dogs are specially trained to assist their handlers in whatever unique situation arises. They can provide guidance for a handler who may be disoriented, provide stimulations for those who suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, identify hallucinations, search a room for those who suffer from PTSD, and even interrupt and redirect their handlers if they have OCD or might potentially self-harm.  

At Florida Southern College, a dog is even helping students adjust to college life and the various challenges students may face on a day-to-day basis. Riley, the soft-coated wheaten terrier, was brought to Florida Southern with this specific goal in mind.

After looking at various routes to bring a service/support dog onto the campus, Tom Norman, a licensed mental health counselor on staff at FSC, went to the president and offered to buy and train a dog himself with one requirement.

“I’d do it so long as the dog could go anywhere on campus. I wanted him to be a real part of the community,” says Norman.  

That was almost seven years ago, and since Riley’s first day on campus, he has been nothing short of an absolute rock star.

“Riley has spent as much time on the campus as he has in my own home,” explains Tom.

Riley has truly become part of the FCS family. In fact, students will often call out to Riley, not even knowing Tom’s name, in spite of over 20 years on staff.

Riley is more than just a pet, Tom explains.

“Sometimes I’ll walk out of my office and find a crowd of students sitting on the floor with Riley.” In a way that only dogs can, Riley makes these students feel more comfortable. “He’s not looking at them and thinking about their clothes, size, race, or anything else. He’s just happy that they’re there. You could smell bad and Riley would just be glad you petted him.”

As a counselor, Tom spends time with people struggling with a variety of mental and personal problems, but Riley seems to connect with every face that walks through his door. Tom’s relationship with Riley helps to comfort those who meet with tom, and that in turn helps build trust and confidence.

“He definitely makes it easier for me to do my job.”

Clearly the definition of “service dog” has changed significantly over the years, and these special furry friends are helping to impact millions of people’s lives daily. Whether it’s helping someone with autism learn how to be more comfortable in social situations or simply providing security to someone in therapy, service dogs are positively helping people in more ways than you think.

Categories: Features, Health News