GREYHOUNDS AS ASSISTANCE ANIMALS
Have you ever wondered if Greyhounds are suitable to be service or therapy dogs? Their size and temperament seem to be perfect for assistance dogs, but there are many types of assistance dogs, so let’s take a closer look at some of these. We will also meet a Greyhound who is helping his owner with depression and PTSD symptoms.
It's easy to get confused by the differences among Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs and Therapy Dogs.
Service Dogs are trained to assist their owners to perform specific tasks that the owner is not able to do themselves, due to a mental or physical disability. If a person is limited in their ability to perform major life tasks such as seeing, hearing, standing, walking, eating, sleeping, thinking, speaking, or other similar tasks, then they likely have a disability that would make them eligible to have a service dog under ADA laws (Americans with Disabilities Act). The service dog helps in performing the particular tasks that they would otherwise be unable to perform without the service dog.
No one is allowed to ask what the disability is; the only information that may be asked is if it is a service dog, and what tasks the service dog is trained to perform for the owner. Dogs can be trained by their owners, or more commonly by service dog training organizations. One such organization is Hounds & Heroes, which trains Greyhounds to be service dogs for veterans. Read more about them here: https://bit.ly/GreyhoundsAsVeteransServiceDogs
Greyhounds have a tremendous connection with humans and have been handled and trained from birth by professionals. This creates a dog that is ready to go directly into the specialized training required to become a service dog. Their strong athletic bodies are perfect for the task at hand, and their gentle, loving minds are more than ready for a new challenge in life.
Major categories of service dogs include
Physical Assistance: such as Visual Guide Dogs, Hearing Assistance Dogs, Mobility/Balance Assistance Dogs, and Wheelchair Assistance Dogs.
Medical Alert Assistance: include Medical Alert Dogs, who are trained to alert on impending seizure, diabetic episode, or severe allergy detection.
Psychiatric Assistance: these types of service dogs help people who have any Psychiatric disabilities like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These trained canines are able to sense any change in their handler, especially when the person is about to experience negative symptoms like an anxiety attack or a flashback. PA Dogs can also help with autism and fetal alcohol syndrome.
Emotional Support Animals are companion animals whose presence can help alleviate symptoms of mental or emotional distress/illness. Greyhounds are naturals at this and require no formal training to be recognized as an ESA. However, ESAs don’t have the same federally protected rights as trained service dogs and may not always be able to accompany their owners in public places or on planes, based on the guidelines that the specific establishment or airline has in place.
Therapy Dogs can often be found in hospitals or nursing homes, courthouses or libraries. The presence of a therapy dog can bring comfort, social interaction, reduced stress, and joy into patients’ or residents’ lives. Therapy dogs usually undergo specialized training to work in these special settings. Another type of therapy dog is a ‘Comfort Dog,’ which visits disaster areas or areas of crisis to calm victims and bring them comfort. Other examples are after a car crash, abuse, or acts of terrorism. Greyhounds with training are also good as Therapy Dogs because of their calm, friendly nature.
Now, let’s meet Jessica and Finlay. This is her story, in her own words:
“I struggled with depression and PTSD for a while. It was really severe. I had trouble facing people. Even going to a store would make me have panic attacks. My husband at that time thought maybe a dog would be provide me some comfort. I liked bigger dogs, but he was attacked by a large dog as a child. He did some research on gentle dog breeds and found Greyhounds. So we agreed to get a Greyhound from a rescue. We met a few but just didn't feel a connection. I guess it's like dating - you have to feel a love connection with a dog too.
When I met Finlay for the first time it was truly love at first sight. His eyes where so gentle looking and he wagged his tail at me. Though he looked pathetic, had no fur on his hind legs, was dirty and super emaciated. The rescue only had him a couple of days. He twisted his ankle at the track. I do not know how anyone could neglect an animal like this, but they certainly didn't take good care of him.
I got home from the hospital after ECT for my depression. I got Finlay as a Valentine's day gift in 2013 I think. We bonded very quickly. He laid his head on my knee and uttered deep sighs as if he had just been through a war. Just relief to be saved, I guess. He was so in-tune with me. He would do silly things to cheer me up when I felt sad. We went for walks in the woods because I lived in a rural area and I had no job so I had a lot of time to do long hikes.
Since he got healthy with me and he is a beautiful dog, people would strike up conversations with me about him and it helped me because I was forced to interact with them. Though he wasn't imposing, being with Finlay made me feel more safe and comfortable. I actually tried to get him certified as an emotional support dog. I went to attend dog school with him but the trainer told me that if he refused to sit he could not get certified. I am not sure if that's true, because I know it's simply unnatural for some greyhounds to sit.” [Editor’s note: As we saw above, dogs do not have to be certified or trained to be ESAs]
Jessica continues: “Anyway, thanks to Finlay being there for me, offering me comfort and being so in-tune with my emotions, I started to really get some relief for my depression symptoms and some PTSD symptoms.
Once we were walking and I was going to pick blackberries and Finlay yanked the leash so hard that I fell down. He then acted aggressive when I tried to approach the bush I was going to pick from again, and he lunged at me. I knew this wasn't like him so I looked and saw that there was a big water moccasin snake resting in the branches. Had he not acted so aggressively, I would have reached for those berries and been bitten. It would have been either on my left wrist vein or possibly my neck: all fast tracks to the heart and lungs. I was a 10 minute walk from civilization with no cellphone. Needless to say, it would have ended very badly.
Thanks to having Finlay I gradually got well enough to get a job, and I have been working for many years now. Sadly, I have been through many losses in recent years as well: both my husband and my fiancé passed away. The one steadfast companion in my life has been Finlay. He is still with me and I am forever grateful for him. Greyhounds are amazing and he is the reason why I am doing well today.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act, also known as the ADA, clearly states that proof of “certification” cannot be required by any facility or business for legal access if you meet the requirements for a person with a legal disability, and your dog meets the requirements of a service animal. We understand it is impossible to enforce the law. Having a proper id card can avoid public conflicts.
While many business owners and establishments are ignorant of this law, ID Badges will have all of the necessary information should they require further explanation regarding your rights when accompanied by your Service Dog. Many over the years have reported that upon showing of a badge, the inquiry about the dog ended.
The Department of Transportation, also known as D.O.T., Service Animal Guidance for airlines states the following:
Carriers shall accept as evidence that an animal is a service animal identifiers such as identification cards, other written documentation, presence of harnesses, tags or the credible verbal assurances of a qualified individual with a disability using the animal.
Please note that the Department of Transportation lists identification cards at the top of their list and only verbal assurance is at the bottom. Many owners of service dogs have reported that the airlines have required some sort of identification even though by law they are not allowed to do this. Please understand that you are NOT required by law to carry one of these cards, however, they can dramatically speed up your process of getting through airport security, etc. without arguments or confrontations.
Many landlords and business owners request to see registration paperwork or other identification, even though such paperwork is not required under law. It is often easier to provide the requester with a registration document or ID rather than argue the point or attempt to educate the person/landlord. Identification & proper paperwork will without a doubt avoid landlord conflicts about the validity of your service animal.
There are many websites, including Amazon, where you can get ID badges, tags, and harnesses or vests if you wish to do so.
Do you have experience with an assistance Greyhound? If so, please share in the comments below.