In August, the first full week of the month starting with a Sunday is devoted to assistance dogs. This year it begins on the 6th and ends on the 12th.
What is IADW?
The purpose of this international event is to recognize all the devoted and hardworking dogs as well as their trainers who help individuals with mental and physical disabilities.
What do assistance dogs do?
Assistance dogs, also known as service dogs, serve as a companion, helper, aide, best friend, and close member of their handler’s family. They provide a specific service and also greatly enhance the quality of their lives so that their handlers may feel freedom and independence once again. This helps them lead a more normal lifestyle.
There are three types of assistance dogs:
- guide dogs for the blind or visually impaired
- hearing dogs for the deaf or those who are hard of hearing,
- and service dogs for people with disabilities other than visual or hearing impairments like paralysis, PTSD(post-traumatic stress disorder) and epilepsy.
An Assistance Dog in Action
My aunt was involved in an armed home invasion in 2007 that went terribly wrong; she became paralyzed from the chest down because of it. With a lot of hard work, patience, and perseverance, as well as a supportive family, she now has use of her arms and torso. You can read her story here.
She has a Golden Retriever service dog named Devoted who has helped her along her journey and he has also helped her gain back her independence. Devoted is a wonderful dog who helps her with small tasks around the house(like turning the lights on/off or opening the fridge), but also provides assistance while on the go. She also has a second service dog in training named JB. My aunt describes her experiences below:
“Many people live their entire lives without experiencing a life changing event, one so traumatic that it changes his or her life and the surrounding world around them. Indeed, my life was turned upside down when I became paralyzed from five gunshot wounds during a home invasion. Everything that I once knew became a distant memory as my body became a shell of its former self. My independence was stripped from me at the hands of stranger, and what was once easy for me to do, like taking off my shoes, became impossible. I knew my life would never be the same. My mind froze at the thoughts of the drastic changes and challenges I was experiencing, and I ultimately barricaded my life within the walls of my home during those first few years after my injury.
Three years after I became paralyzed, my journey with my service dog, named Devoted, began. During the 18 months he was in training, to become my service dog, I wondered how life would be like once we were an official team. I wondered how it would be like to have some of my independence back, and any of my worries quickly faded upon seeing him. Our bond became more than just a dog and an owner over the years I have had him, rather he became an extension of my body. He became my hands, my arms, and my legs as he performed his duties to help me become more independent. Even though my family was happy to help me when I needed it, I no longer had to ask for my husband or children to help me, and having that independence back was like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. I felt as if I no longer was a burden on my family, and I began to enjoy life once again.
During his training, Devoted learned many commands that have helped my over the past several years I have had him. Some of the commands he was taught include: picking things up off the floor, turning on and off lights, and opening and closing doors. I am constantly dropping things on the floor, and Devoted has been a huge help when he retrieves them for me. Additionally, there are times when I get on the couch, when I am home alone, and get overheated or cold. Rather than having to transfer back into my wheelchair, Devoted will turn on the ceiling fan, bring me a blanket, and even get a cold bottle of water out of the refrigerator for me. He can also bring me my wheelchair if I forget to lock the wheels and it rolls away from the location where I transferred to. Other commands that Devoted has learned includes taking off my shoes and socks, aiding me with taking off my jacket, and tugging my wheelchair up ramps.
Having a service dog has helped me enjoy life once again. I no longer live in fear of the things that could possibly go wrong when I am home alone or running errands. Having Devoted by my side has given me the confidence and security that everything will be okay and having a service dog has been a huge blessing in my life! He has brought laughter back into my life. To define this moment in my journey as a turning point would not give it justice. Indeed, this was the beginning of the wind that I needed to soar in.”
Without assistance dogs, individuals with disabilities would have a much harder time adjusting to their new lifestyle or situation. Seeing these dogs working out in the public warms my heart; the bond between the dog and their handler is incredible. So thank you to all the assistance dogs and trainers out there who make life easier for people like my aunt!