In Service to Us

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            We were recently in Rochester Hills, Michigan, home to the Leader Dogs for the Blind school. Since 1939 they have trained dogs to be used by those who are legally blind. We were able to watch a few dogs and clients training together in town, and it’s easy to see why it takes special dogs to make it through the process. Not every dog that is trained at the school goes on to be a leader dog, but the training is far from wasted. Recently, there was a story in the news here about a dog that, for whatever reason, did not qualify as a leader dog but is now going to work as a support dog in the courtroom.

            Only dogs that are highly trained as service dogs are allowed to work in the courtroom, and they have proven to provide emotional support to witnesses who are frightened or feel intimidated. Testifying in court can be a traumatizing experience, especially for children, and the service dog is there to reduce the stress and be a reassuring and stable presence. Different from trained pet therapy dogs, a dog in the courtroom is required to lie still for a long period of time and not behave in any manner that would cause a distraction. Yet they still must be available to the person called on to testify. Using a service dog in the courtroom is an idea that seems to have caught on and has been very successful in many places.

            Pet therapy dogs are those who, along with their owners or handlers, have been trained and make visits to nursing homes, hospitals and hospice facilities. Therapy dogs are wonderful for helping the ill and the elderly, many who were once pet-owners themselves and miss their animals, cope with their current situation in life. A visit by a therapy pet can help alleviate the loneliness, boredom, and sense of isolation that many nursing home residents feel. Of course not every pet is suited for this, but when my mother was in both the hospital and nursing home, we were able to bring Zeke in for visits. It was truly amazing that in spite of being a pretty frisky dog on the outside, when he went to visit Grandma, he behaved very nicely, even learning to ride six floors up in the elevator. She was always happy to see him, as he was her trusty companion at mealtimes at home and she missed sneaking him those treats. At the nursing home, he was also welcomed by the other residents who wanted to pet and talk to him. Many nursing homes have their own resident pets that are a bright spot of affection for those who must live there.

            There was also a story in the news recently about dogs trained to assist children with autism, providing emotional support and safety for those who may wander off. They may sleep with the child, helping them to fall asleep and are there if they awaken during the night, and help them cope with everyday life. It’s just one more example of dogs making life better for people.

            Because it’s spring, it is also “kitten season,” the time of year when shelters and rescue groups see the annual influx of mama cats and kittens. To prevent from adding to the problem, please have your own cats spayed or neutered. They really do make much nicer pets and you won’t have to feel guilty for adding to the cat overpopulation. And if you can, please drop a can or bag of cat/kitten food or perhaps some non-clumping litter, into the donation bins at your local pet store to help those mama cats and kitties till they can find their forever homes.

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2 Comments on “In Service to Us”

  1. Diane Burton Says:

    Great post, Lucy. Service dogs are so remarkable.

  2. melissakeir Says:

    I always wanted to work there training the dogs. But we moved too far away for the drive. Those dogs do touch my heart!


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