Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Could a Service or Therapy Dog be Right for Your Child? — Part 1

02/06/2016 | Published by: Kelli Zermeno

You see them in the store on occasion, in the mall and walking down the street. Service dogs are most often known to be used for people who have a visual impairment or who are blind.

But service or therapy dogs are now used in assisting people who are deaf or who have

  • diabetes
  • an autism spectrum disorder
  • seizure disorder
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
  • mobility issues

These animals are amazing. They bring a whole new level of comfort, stability and love to the children and adults they assist. Imagine your child with epilepsy, no longer being caught off guard by a seizure they cannot predict. Seizure trained dogs are able to detect and warn the child and caregivers about an oncoming seizure, as well as provide guidance to a safe place for a child to have the seizure.

Families who have children with autism know all too well the constant supervision and care many children with autism require. These dogs are not only trained with tracking skills (for children who tend to wander), but they provide a constant companion for the child. Many children with autism may find it hard to communicate or participate in daily happenings. These dogs are often able to break through the shell that seems to surround some children with autism. They smile, laugh, and maintain a calmness that was not present previously.

Children who use wheelchairs, or have limited mobility, may benefit from having a dog that is trained to open doors and cabinets, retrieve needed objects, assist during a fall, or even call for help.

The Difference between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Companion Dogs

Service dogs are certified through a rigorous training program to receive their title as a Service Animal. By law, service animals are allowed in public facilities and common transportation carriers.  They provide a service for their owner that requires the constant assistance of the animal. A seeing-eye dog is one example. Take a look at the Texas Disability Law – Service Dogs page for more information about Texas laws.

Therapy dogs are trained to provide therapeutic aid to either an owner or to a group of people. Many hospitals participate in therapy animal programs by letting patients pet the dogs from their hospital beds. The simple act of petting a dog during a stressful time (getting shots, chemotherapy, etc) can help to lower stress and pain. Families who do not qualify for a Service Dog may find that a Therapy Dog provides the companionship and “therapy” needed for their child. But these animals are not necessarily required by law to be allowed in the same places as Service Animals. For more information, take a look at the ADA Service Animals page.

Companion Dogs are just that. A friend, a companion, a cherished member of the family—one that provides constant friendship and joy for your child. These dogs are often times untrained rescue animals that simply connect with your child in a much needed way. eHow’s What Is a Companion Dog Certification? offers more information on a variety of companion dog related issues. Our Find Services, Groups and Events page also includes a number of resources related to this topic.

In Part 2 of this article, we will offer additional issues to consider when making a decision about whether a service, therapy or companion dog is right for your child. 

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