Misunderstanding Can Be A Real Disservice To Service Animals

While the connection between an animal and its human can be very strong, for many people, service animals and therapy animals are absolutely life changing. Unfortunately, recent stories of squirrels and peacocks being taken to airports as fake emotional support animals have caused a great deal of suspicion and distrust regarding therapy and support animals in general. It is time for some clarification regarding the value of true service animals.

To start with, let’s define the differences between an emotional support animal and a service animal. Emotional support animals help people with anxiety or depression by providing comfort and support. These animals do not typically have specific training, nor do they usually have any type of certification. A prescription for a support animal should be obtained from a mental healthcare provider in order to take the animal any place where pets are not permitted. Those wanting to fly with an emotional support animal should contact the airline ahead of time to find out what kind of documentation is needed and what types of animals, if any, are allowed on the plane.

Unlike emotional support animals, only dogs can be considered service animals. These canines are specifically and extensively trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The most well-known service animal is the Seeing Eye Dog, which helps people who are blind or have severe vision impairment. Other service dogs perform a wide range of critically important tasks. Psychiatric service dogs are individually trained to detect the onset of psychiatric episodes and lessen their effects. They can remind a person to take medicine, provide safety checks and room searches, or turn on lights. Sensory signal dogs are trained to assist people with autism. These dogs provide support to the autistic person and can also alert the caregiver when help is needed. Seizure response dogs are trained to assist people who suffer from seizure disorders by standing guard over the person during a seizure or going for help. Some of these dogs can predict when a seizure is about to occur and provide warning so that a person can prepare for the seizure.

In recent years, we’ve learned how helpful service dogs can be to military veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, or sexual assault. These dogs are specifically trained to help veterans lower their blood pressure, avoid panic attacks, awake from nightmares or perform daily tasks, depending the needs of the individual. The largest provider of these incredible dogs is K9s For Warriors, a non-profit organization that supplies qualified veterans with service dogs, supplies, training, and certification, along with life-long healthcare and food for their dogs.

LakeCross Veterinary is sponsoring a fundraising event for K9s For Warriors on Sunday, October 28th from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm at our office in at 106 Parr Drive in Huntersville. During that time, we will also celebrate our 20th anniversary with a Dogtoberfest event, which will include hot dogs and drinks, free microchip data checks, a costume contest and a demonstration from K9 police officers. We hope you will join us as we thank this community for 20 great years, and raise funds for the important services provided by K9s For Warriors.

Over the years, we’ve seen first hand how pets can change lives. So whether you have a highly-trained service dog who helps you get through each day, or a furry-friend who simply brings you joy each evening, please join us on Sunday, 10/28 to celebrate 20 years of caring for these amazing creatures.

Originally published October 2018 in the Herald Citizen.

Dr. Tom Hemstreet and Dr. Donna Warren are veterinarians and founders of  LakeCross Veterinary in Huntersville. The vets in the big yellow house have been treating pets like family for 20 years. For more information, call 704-948-6300.