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  • Writer's pictureTraci Wilkerson Steckel

International Assistance Dog Week 2020

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

This is International Assistance Dog Week. As much as we would love to thank Traci's Paws spokesdog Emee the Chi for her assistance in bringing awareness to pet adoption, especially senior pet adoption, she's not an assistance dog. She is an Emotional Support Animal, helping me with some higher stress situations, like flying and a few public speaking engagements, but she is not a Certified Assistance Dog. Although we were working on training Emee being a Migraine Alert Dog last year, I didn’t have the time to complete this consistently to train her properly. BUT…I’m sure she is the right dog for the job; she picks up on changes in both my husband and me when we are in pain. But, that will have to wait for another day, especially since my migraines are getting better with my newest medication!

Marcie Davis, founder of International Assistance Dog Week. Photo from her website.

But getting back to our main topic with the Traci’s Paws’ Paws Spot, it is International Assistance Dog Week, and it was established thanks to the wonderful efforts of Marcie Davis! Marcie had paraplegia for over 35 years living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Assistance dogs include a diverse group of K-9 workers that go well beyond just providing sight to the blind. Assistance dogs include Guide Dogs, Hearing Alert Dogs, Medical Alert Dogs, Seizure Alert Dogs, and Service Dogs, all of which are loving animals who give people mental and physical disabilities a second chance at life.

“We recognize and honor the hardworking assistance dogs; raise awareness and educate the public about how these specially trained animals are aiding so many people in our communities; honor the puppy raisers and trainers of assistance dogs, and recognize heroic deeds performed by assistance dogs in our communities. The celebration takes place each year, starting on the first Sunday of August. Read more about International Assistance Dog Week here.

Although many of the assistance dogs we see are Golden Retrievers and Labradors, thanks to the countless advocates working on the front lines to end pet overpopulation, we see more and more shelter dogs take on this role thanks to organizations like Pets for Vets and Merlin's Kids.

Not only does this save a homeless dog’s life, but it provides an amazing companion and working animal that will literally change the life of someone with a mental or physical disability.

So what does it take to be an assistance dog? Well, first off, it takes a dog with a great personality that responds well to positive reinforcement, whether it's a treat or a toy. Happy dogs that love to work make the best candidates. A pup that has the ability to pay attention and learn commands well is also needed to take on a specific role to help its human. Since we see more shelter dogs being trained, it doesn’t require being a puppy, although it's always best when you can start them young.

Whether it is to guide a person who is blind, assist one with help around the home carrying or retrieving things, or alert someone who is about to have a seizure. Does size matter? Most assistance dogs are medium to large-sized, so they can physically do the work that is needed to aid their humans, like helping with household chores. Smaller dogs such as Chihuahuas are used as Emotional Support dogs instead.

Assistance Dogs are not only confined to working inside the home. According to the American Disabilities Act, Assistance Dogs are allowed to go anywhere the general public would normally go; they are not allowed to be turned away. Please visit this link for a complete set of questions and answers on the American Disabilities Act website: ADA Revised Regulations for Service Animals.

Unfortunately, we have seen a lot of people abuse the label “Assistance Dog.” Since including emotional support as a form of service performed by assistance dogs, we have seen a growing number of people producing fake documentation and fake vests. When fake assistance dogs are out in public and cannot be controlled or act out, this has a huge negative impression on these dogs with the general public, making it very difficult for people with disabilities to be accepted well when they are out with their trained assistance dogs.

I admit that I have anxiety when I'm in certain situations like traveling, especially if I'm having a migraine. Thankfully, I can take Emee, and usually, establishments are happy to have us; she's always so well behaved. But if anyone ever says no, I will never lie to get her in. It is wrong and unfair to those people living with more than anxiety.

I can order to-go and eat at home.

There are many wonderful organizations in the United States and beyond who raise and train assistance dogs with continued support. If you or someone you know requires an assistance dog, you may contact the Assistance Dog Regional office or visit the site below for a list of participating chapters with organizations that help others regain control of their lives: Assistance Dog Regional Chapters.

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