September is National Service Dog Month, a time designated to raising awareness and showing appreciation for the extraordinary work service animals do every day for the people in their care. National Service Dog Month honors these working dogs for making millions of lives better and safer.
A partner and companion to our human species, dogs understand us and can read our emotions, and they have intrinsic therapeutic capabilities. Even an untrained dog can be an emotional anchor for a person with anxiety or depression, but a trained dog can bring specific techniques to bear.
Service dogs serve those with debilitating medical conditions, from autism to blindness, seizure disorders and hearing impairments, diabetes and those who need physical assistance, and they also serve our wounded warriors suffering from conditions like PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and mobility issues. Military working dogs put their lives on the line on and off the battlefields, detecting explosives and finding contraband.
Service dogs provide companionship while inspiring confidence and they live to serve, protect and assist their handlers. They help their humans perform tasks, overcome disabilities, and live fuller lives. Each of these animals dedicates and often risks their lives to help their humans.
Originally called National Guide Dog Month, National Service Dog Month was established in 2008 by actor and animal advocate Dick Van Patten. After a visit to Guide Dogs of the Desert in Palm Springs, Van Patten was so inspired that he launched a fundraising drive to benefit guide and service dog training schools throughout the country. What began as a single fundraiser evolved into an annual celebration of the extraordinary work that service dogs do.
Many service dog organizations have a twofold objective: to provide a trained companion animal for people in need and to save an animal’s life by using rescue animals for this work. With thousands of dogs dying in shelters every year, simply because they are homeless, it’s a perfect partnership. In 2013 more than 380 rescued dogs were placed in jobs that saved their lives and benefited the person they now serve.
Dozens of organizations look to shelters to find rescue animals that can have another chance at life by becoming service companions. Animal Farm Foundation is one these groups. They have established a Service Dog Training program so rescued pit bull dogs can be considered for the same work traditionally reserved for other breeds. 42 year old Matthew Smith of Bel Air, Maryland lost the use of his legs in a car accident and is confined in a wheelchair. He’s gained back his independence with the help of his service dog companion, a rescue pit bull named Jericho.
Dozens of other organizations are training service dogs to meet specific needs.
Service dogs are therapeutic and trained to help their owner manage a variety of challenging physical and emotional disabilities, and they have a legal right to go everywhere in support of their person. It’s appropriate to dedicate a month to celebrating their work and honoring these loyal companions who make life better for all of us.