– By Mary Rose Lunde
For most of us “normal” humans, going about our daily lives is done with ease. Our menial tasks such as doing laundry, or the dishes, or even eating are often taken for granted. It isn’t until you’ve met someone who has some form of disability that you start to understand that there are many people in America and all over the world that struggle to live their daily lives. For instance, diabetics are in constant fear of their glucose levels falling to dangerous levels that could lead to coma or even death. People who struggle with debilitating seizures fight to wake up and return to normal functions. Children diagnosed with autism struggle to interact with the world. Veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder may shut down after hearing a fire truck’s alarm ringing in the distance.
These four types of people struggle with their daily routines, which may be disrupted often without notice. Although there aren’t cures for any of these conditions – diabetes, autism, PTSD, and seizures – there is one thing that can lessen the physical, emotional, and mental pain often caused by them: a dog. Some people discredit the use of dogs to help serve a person struggling with normal tasks; however, it is scientifically supported that dogs are intelligent enough to learn how to aid their humans, and provide them with a better quality of life. If you don’t believe me, look up the dog who serves an autistic kid who learned how to interact with the world, or another kid whose dog showed him how to take a nap. Or you could watch the countless videos of veterans who have service dogs who help keep them calm when they are bombarded by their own memories. Once you meet a person whose life was given a new purpose because of these service dogs, you have seen all the proof you need.
So how does a dog learn how to serve its master with these conditions? For starters, not all dog breeds are preferred for these tasks. Just as police dogs are usually German shepherds, service dogs are often golden retrievers, golden-doodles, Labradors, and Labrador retrievers. These breeds have a higher intelligence for learning the skills necessary to comfort and stay calm, while improving people’s lives and helping with their specific needs. The process of training service dogs starts when they are puppies. Often when the dogs are old enough, they are given to puppy raisers (mostly volunteers), who keep the dogs for up to a year, and teach them how to best serve their human companions.
Service dogs are serious workers, and should be appreciated and given the respect they deserve. When they are in their vests, they should not be approached unless their owners give approval. They should not be distracted, since that could cause harm to their owners. Above all, service dogs are hardworking dogs who deserve to be acknowledged for the hard training they have endured and the work they do to improve their owners’ lives.
Mary Rose Lunde is a first year Masters student in Literature at Virginia Tech. She is currently training a service dog named Sheryl that will someday serve a person who needs her.