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Friday, April 13, 2012

Gopher is NOT a Service Dog

Once again, I find it is necessary to give a little more of an informational post due to recent events in the news and consistent questions I get regarding Gopher. 

Gopher is a working dog yes, but he is not a service dog. Both Gopher and a service dog provide for the ill and impaired, but at the end of the day Gopher goes home with me, and he is done working. His distant cousin the service dog however is still working, and is working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for life or until retirement. Even when at play with their human a service dog is working.

Fun commercial regarding service animals from the Australians.

In our work, we have had the opportunity to work near and meet several wonderful service animals, and to describe them as remarkable would be an understatement. There is one thing I would like people to remember regarding service animals and therapy animals, both need to be trained extensively, and audited by an outside party.  I spoke on this extensively in (How do I become a therapy animal team?) on therapy animals, please take a look if you are interested in this work, and feel free to contact me if you have any other questions.  Do not simply buy a tag offline that says therapy animal and go to work; you put yourself, your partner, the patient all in danger. Additionally as well intentioned as you may be if a mistake happens you will not only put all of you in danger you may permanently injure the ability of a therapy partner to work in that environment ever again. That is not to say officially recognized therapy animals cannot make mistakes, it is just they are less likely due to the third party auditing and there is a contingency in place to make the impact less harmful.

The same is to be said about service animals, they too are extensively trained, most of them from birth and go through a rigorous auditing program. There are isolated instances where a family pet has been elevated to a service animal, but it is rare and unlikely, and will still need a third party audit. We are all biased to the animals we share our lives with, and often look over or gloss over mistakes and errors. However in both of these scenarios the result of an error can do great harm.

Service animals are so astounding; they come in all shapes and sizes and are used for various purposes. Most commonly known are Seeing Eye dogs, but there are animals used for the deaf, limited mobility, seizure disorders, and even the not immediately visible areas of PTSD and Autism.  They also often do much more for their charges than pick up items, open doors and turn on and off lights. Some have been trained to retrieve medication and will bring it to the person before they even realize an episode is starting. They provide comfort and react to elevated heart rates, elevated blood pressure, and increased anxiety for those afflicted with PTSD. Sometimes this might only be a lean or nudge to create a connection. This is beautifully detailed in Capt. Luis Montalvan’s book Until Tuesday.

Here is a video of Capt. Montalvan and Tuesday.

In doing our work I have also become more interested in helping those afflicted with Autism. While seeking treatment and education do not overlook the possibility of a service animal and contacting training organizations. The benefits of a service animal paired appropriately with an autistic child are immeasurable.

Now it is time for me to rant a bit.
  1. For both service and therapy animals go through a third party auditing.
  2. Do not claim your animal is either unless this is done.
  3.  DO NOT decline access to any service animal to any area, not only is it illegal, but this the equivalent to denying access to a cane or a wheelchair.
  4. Yes, you may have canine allergies, and this is understandable. DO NOT attack the person for their service animal, if in a closed area you can request to be relocated. A good business will oblige for both. Yes you have an allergy and it is unfortunate, but often this service animal is the only way the person using may be independent.   
  5.   DO NOT INTERACT with the service animal, or any animal for that matter without explicit permission.
Thanks and I hope this clears up misconceptions and gives some information on the difference between the two.


  1. I like your five rules at the end! Especially not interacting with the animal - I see so many people trying to pet these guys without asking first.

    1. Thanks, a little bit of a soapbox, but oh well.

  2. Great post - definitely useful info!