Guardians & Protectors: Service Dogs Help People Cope and Overcome

It is no secret that owning a dog is psychologically good for people but dogs can also serve as effective guardians and protectors against threats ranging from criminals to medical conditions. For thousands of years dogs have been used as guardians to keep trespassers off property and/or within arm’s length of their master. Likewise, today dogs frequently help law enforcement agents apprehend criminals and certain breeds can even be trained to detect drugs, bombs or bodies. Yet other threats–such as medical conditions that can cause potentially fatal strokes and seizures–are far more difficult to recognize. It has only been within the past decade or so that major strides have been made which prove that some dogs can be trained to detect certain ailments even if the afflicted person shows no obvious symptoms.

Seeing Eye Dogs are, by far, the most well-known type of “working dog” focused on helping humans cope with health-related issues such as vision impairment. Seeing Eye Dogs are now fairly common fixtures in society; according to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, it is estimated that over 10,000 individuals in the United States alone depend on a guide dog to help them navigate daily life activities. Yet it is becoming increasingly commonplace to see “service dogs” for other kinds of ailments, too. For instance, many people with epilepsy are assigned a specially trained dog that has the ability to warn them of an impending seizure attack–often before they actually feel any symptoms. Likewise, people with mental disorders including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often find comfort in the presence of a “therapy dog” that is trained to help humans maintain calmness throughout the day. This is somewhat akin to how “therapy animals” sometimes visit hospitals and nursing homes to amuse and inspire patients and residents.

Whilst most airlines, beaches, restaurants and even certain parks have banned dogs, any canine that is a certified “working dog” must, by law, be allowed admission into these locations. Likewise, even apartments and housing units that have strict “no pet policies” must make exceptions for animals that help a person who has a disability, be it physical or mental. Such “service dogs” must be born with certain temperaments and go through rigorous training programs before they are eligible for certification but, once achieved, these dogs have hugely positive impacts on both the people that they service and the person’s loved ones.

Due to the overwhelming benefits that service dogs offer, there are many wonderful organizations that dedicate themselves to the breeding, training and care of these special animals. Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Paws for Patriots, Assistance Dogs International and Canine Companions for Independence are just a few of the many establishments that are dedicated to these worthy causes (a full list of “Service Dog Training Organizations” can be seen here). If you or a loved one is struggling with a health condition then it is certainly worth considering sharing your burden with a dog that will become more than a guardian, it will also be a loyal and loving friend.

Our dog, Biride, resting her head on Kami's lap