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Service Animals: Empowering Lives

A bond of friendship knows no limit. This has been proven true by the connection between animals and humans over and over again. Animals have been best friends of so many of us and showered us with their love , loyalty and comfort .Not only that , animals have also proved to be helpful in assisting those with disabilities ,making their day to day life easier .Such animals are known as service animals.

A Service animal is described as an animal that is specially trained and able to provide assistance to a person living with a disability. They are trained to perform specialized tasks that either there owner can’t perform or would have very hard time doing it themselves. While many different animal species can be trained to perform tasks that help specially challenged individuals, by far, the most common service animals are dogs. These are intelligent and specially trained animals capable of aiding humans in various functions and tasks.

Various types of disability that service animals can help with are

• HEARING IMPAIRED: Service animals assist their owner by alerting them to sounds of doorbells, telephones, cries, fire alarm etc. These animals even alert their owners if a vehicle or person is approaching them and may pose as a threat or hazard They get the attention of their humans through physical touch. They are even trained to lead their handler towards the source of sound and ignore ambient noises. A person can get a lot of information about the surroundings by just paying attention to their service animal’s cues.

• Diabetes Patient: Service animals are capable of detecting changes in smell associated with hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic events in diabetics , which humans can’t . They can help by alerting their handler of the chemical changes in their blood sugar levels before it becomes too dangerous, allowing them to take insulin shot or have some food and drink . They are also trained to draw attention towards their owner in case of emergency.

• Severe Allergies: Individuals with severe allergies are informed by their service animals about the presence of certain substance in their surrounding which may cause them allergic reaction. These service animals are trained to sniff the odor of things and alert their handler. They also wear vest in which medicines are kept for emergency time.

• Psychiatric Disabilities: It includes service animals who assist people suffering from issues like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)., other emotional and mental disabilities but most often post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These animals are trained to maintain their composure and help their owner calm down during an emotional situation. In case of OCD, they are taught to be keenly aware of their handler and help distract them from becoming absorbed in meaningless tasks or harming.

• Visually Impaired: These service animals are trained to help their owner avoid potential obstacle both inside and outside the house. In case of a guide dog, they often accompany their owner wearing a U-shaped harness, which allows the human to control the animal using a series of directional commands.

• Seizure Sufferers: In case the owner of the service animal suffers a seizure , they are trained to activate life-saving alert systems that summon medical help, clear the airways of their handlers and ensure they don’t suffocate on vomit or other substances that may obstruct their breathing passages.

• Mobility Impaired : People suffering from mobility issues can use the assistance of a service animal to make their daily life easier. Mobility assistance service animals can bring objects to people, press buttons on automatic doors and serve as a brace for people who are ambulatory but unsteady, or even help pull a wheelchair up a ramp.

• Autistic Individuals: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can cause various social and sensory difficulties for those who suffer from it. Autism service animals are specially trained to provide comfort , reduce anxiety, improve social interaction skills, help with sensory issues and provide a sense of security in public places to their owners.

Service animals can’t provide cure to the problems of those suffering from disability but can most definitely make the daily life easier for them.

They are often confused as emotional support animal or as therapy animal. However, all these perform different task. As already defined service animals are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. However Emotional support animals may be trained for a specific owner, but not for specific tasks to aid a person with a disability. On the other hand, we have therapy animals who aren’t trained to live with a specific handler rather, these are animals with owners who volunteer in clinical settings, such as hospitals, mental health institutions, hospices, schools, and nursing homes, where they provide comfort, affection, and even love in the course of their work to the people. All these animals provide aid to humans but in very different ways.

In order for an animal to become a service animal they need to undergo training keeping in mind the needs and requirements of the person. Not every animal can become a service animal as there is a certain temperament that is required.

Those who are eligible to become one are introduced to training academy where they undergo a proper training regime of about 6 – 9 months.

A service animal is not a pet but an animal on duty. It is very important to know how and when to approach a service animal. Some points to keep in mind while approaching them are:

1. Always approach the handler and never the animal.

2. Never touch the service animal without permission.

3. Never offer them food.

4. Keep your pets away from them.

5. To keep in mind that even if sleeping, the animal is still on duty and not to be disturbed.

6. Always let the owner know if the service animal approaches you.

7. An unattended service animal is a sign its owner need help.

A service animal is not less than a hero. There extraordinary work has helped improve and save lives of several people. Through their service they continue to help people with disability, making it easier for them to navigate through life and gain independency.

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