Service Dogs : Living with "Rare"

 Living with "Rare"

A blog devoted to navigating and analyzing life with 
Rare and Complex Disorders.

Service Dogs

by RNE submissions on 04/03/18

April 2018

By Joanna Mechlinski

Although some people may still equate service dogs with people who are blind or visually impaired, the truth is these animals’ skills have really evolved in recent years!

While many people use the terms “service dog” and “therapy dog” interchangeably, that is actually far from accurate.

A service dog’s purpose is to help a specific person with an illness or disability do things they cannot do for themselves. For instance, a diabetic may use a dog to scent changes in blood that signify impending low or high blood sugar. The dog can alert the person that an event is coming, or another person for help, as well as fetch medication or even call 911. The most common breeds trained to be service dogs are Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and German shepherds

Similarly, a dog can be taught to do a wide variety of tasks depending on the person’s needs. There are dogs for seizure or severe allergy alerts, for brace/mobility support, for wheelchair assistance, for autism assistance, for psychiatric needs (such as PTSD, anxiety or dementia) and more.  As there is no official list of service dog types, one could presumably be utilized for any purpose. These dogs can be trained to do anything from fetching or carrying items to performing tasks such as opening doors or turning on lights.

This type of animal is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning that the individual may bring the dog into public places where animals are not typically permitted, such as restaurants and stores.

In comparison, a therapy dog – also known as a comfort or emotional support dog - is not allowed everywhere a service dog is. This dog is not responsible for actual tasks. Rather, he or she serves as comfort to individuals undergoing stressful or traumatic situations. It’s common to see therapy dogs in schools, hospitals or nursing homes. This type of dog works with many people. Any dog may become a therapy dog.

Thinking of getting a dog to help you or a loved one? The ADA website is a great place to get some basic info:

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A lifelong Connecticut resident, Joanna Mechlinski is a former newspaper reporter who now works in education. She was diagnosed with lupus, fibromyalgia and polymyositis in her early twenties. In addition to helping spread rare and chronic illness awareness, Joanna is also passionate about animal advocacy, reading, writing, and road trips.

 Mary-Frances Garber is a licensed genetic counselor, providing supportive counseling for families in search of a diagnosis, a listening ear for those receiving a new diagnosis and decision-making counseling for individuals or couples facing choices regarding having another child . She also is available for bereavement counseling. Patients are seen in a private office setting in Needham, Massachusetts.
Listening, Reflecting, HealingSupportive Genetic Counseling 
Find more info here.
Meet our blog writers!
Jenna Anne
  I write to you as a wife and mother of 4 children. Three daughters and a medically complex son. I live in New England and have a love of fiber arts, music, and most importantly advocating for my children. My background is in Early Childhood Education and Music Education, I have no medical background aside from what I have had to learn on this medical journey. My writing is not statistic based, it’s not guidelines or resources but rather I bring a perspective from the human experience. Often in this world of medical complexity we focus specifically on the patient and the diagnosis and treatments, my writings offer the community a different perspective on how the day to day events are affected by medical interventions. The impact it has on siblings and family. The perseverance it takes to keep a wholesome family continuously adapting and thriving amidst all the challenges of medical complexity. My writings are often raw and unapologetic and speak to the human experience behind the policy, coding and diagnostics of modern medicine.  

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