While researching my next novel, which at this writing remains untitled(I’ll keep you posted!), I had the opportunity to delve into the fascinating yet sometimes eye-opening world of Service Animals. The formal definition is any animal specifically trained to perform tasks for a disabled individual that they would otherwise have difficulty completing on their own. Their tasks can include, but are not limited to:

* Assisting vision impaired individuals

* Assisting hearing impaired individuals

* Wheelchair assistance, sometimes by pulling

* Assisting with seizures

* Alerting to the presence of allergens

* Retrieving items such as medicines or telephones

* Providing physical support to individuals with mobility disabilities

* Assisting persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.


Under the law, training can be completed by yourself. If you aren’t a professional dog trainer with the specialized knowledge required, it is not an easy job. A few good intentions could quickly send the toughest among us, our tail between our legs, searching for a professional. Once you do, basic obedience and specialized assistance training will take about 6 to 18 months. The length of time will depend on the complexity of tasks, breed, and age. The majority of Service Dogs begin their training as puppies becoming socialized to other people and animals to develop a good temperament.

Included in their training are regular public access visits, where the Service Animals apply what they have learned. The animals walk through crowds of people, ride elevators, cross busy streets, and are even expected to lie under the table as their trainer eats.

What’s most important is that the CORRECT training enables the animal to perform the tasks required to assist its disabled handler and to be well controlled in public.

Take a moment and think of how many humans can be helped with the assistance of an animal: police work, search and rescue, working as guide dogs. We see them in the medical profession as hearing and vision dogs, diabetic and allergy alert animals, wheelchair/brace/mobility support animals just to mention a few.

But here’s where, as humans, we take a beautiful thing, and well – tweak it. To start, Federal Law does not currently place restrictions on the species of animal that can serve as support animals stating they must all be treated equally. Because of this, more and more unusual stories are reported every day. With different animal species being registered as service animals for various reasons, people are filing for different pet insurance policies in order to ensure the wellbeing of their pets should anything unfortunate happen.
– Kittens have been reported to help with post-traumatic-stress-disorder.

– Mini-ponies are being used as seeing eye dogs since they live longer than dogs (20-30 years).

– Parrots for bipolar disorder who are able to repeat calming phrases. (I met a parrot once that had been rescued from the back room of a strip club. He could repeat things that could make a sailor blush).

– Small monkeys called Bonnet-Macaques for panic attacks who give hugs to ward them off.

– Boa Constrictor for seizure disorder gives a squeeze to warn. (For me – I would then need the monkey!)

– Ducks for anxiety. (Maybe if you were anxious about insurance issues and it quacked “Aflac”?)

– Service lizards – iguanas used for depression. (I would need a doctor to explain this one to me so I could explain it to you…)

– Ferrets used for seizures who warn by squeaking “cuh, cuh!”

– How about a gerbil that can fit in a handbag and stops you from over spending?

– Have you considered a sugar glider trained to sit on your shoulder and swoop down to grab those high caloric treats before they can reach your mouth?

OK, I admit, I made the last two up – but only to drive home my point!

Although it is against Federal Law to fake the need for a service animal, it didn’t take long to run a helpful service amuck. Don’t get me wrong, I love animals, especially dogs, more than most people. They love unconditionally and are true gifts.

I also know my eight year old, over-weight, near-sited beagle who deals daily with food aggressions, should not be in the middle of a crowd sporting a service harness because I didn’t wish to leave him home alone. Like some of you, it took me all of 2 minutes to find the internet sites that would have me raise my right hand swearing my animal was capable of completing a litany of skills before directing me to the page where I could order a service vest, patch and badge. What was more, with a credit card, I could have my order in twenty-four hours!

Sure, I know how easy it would be to hit send. We all see them in grocery stores, malls, and movie theaters. The pets that aren’t Service Dogs.

No need to roll your eyes, I’m not on a soapbox, nor am I your mother. I’m just suggesting basic common sense. Think of the liability for both you and him. Your pet, like my pet is not a trained Service Animal. Be grateful you don’t actually require one. Just give your pet the love and respect they deserve by leaving them home where they belong.

Have a comment? Let me know!

From The Point Always, Lori Flynn