Assistance Animals Help People In an Amazing Variety of Ways!
Everyone is familiar with guide dogs who help blind people lead their daily lives safely, but did you know that there are animals specifically trained to provide assistance to people with a wide range of disabilities? In the past people used a variety of species as service animals, including ferrets and pigs. However, in 2011 the ADA National Network revised its definition of the term ‘service animals’ and since then, only dogs and miniature horses are legally classified as service animals. Other animals that are used in a therapeutic manner are referred to as assistance animals.
So, What Exactly Do Assistance Animals Do?
Assistance animals are trained to perform an amazing array of tasks. Apart from aiding people who have restricted vision, they can also:
- Recognize the onset of a seizure and alert people nearby
- Assist a person during a seizure
- Pull a wheelchair
- Retrieve medicine or the telephone
- Alert to blood sugar changes in a diabetic
- Press a button to summon assistance
- Alert deaf people to audible cues in their environment, such as a doorbell or a phone ringing
- Alert to the presence of potential allergens
- Provide balance and stability to people who have impaired mobility
- Aid with dressing and undressing
- Open and close doors and switch lights on and off
- Aid people with psychiatric and neurological problems
- Interrupt self-harming behavior
- Bring wandering handlers to a safe place
Along with this, they give comfort and companionship, though this is not considered part of their designated ‘tasks’. They also act as a crime deterrent for their vulnerable owners.
Favored by Homer Simpson, helper monkeys are trained to perform everyday tasks for people who are physically challenged. Monkeys are generally trained to help their owners in a home environment only, and are not suitable to help in outdoor situations.
With their agile hands, monkeys are able to mimic human tasks such as turning knobs and switches on and off, picking up and bringing objects, pushing buttons on phones, computers and remotes, and even completing personal tasks such as helping with dressing and scratching itches.
A ferret isn’t the first animal that springs to mind when you think of animal assisted therapy. However, they do have their benefits. They are trained to detect seizures, as well as wake up their handlers and remind them to take medication.
Since the ADA National Network redefined the term ‘service animals’, ferrets are more widely used for animal-assisted therapy. They offer a calming influence for people suffering from anxiety and stress-related disabilities. They also provide comfort and companionship and are able to interrupt harmful patterns of behavior.
As strange as it may sound, pigs have the capacity to be trained to do almost as much as traditional guide dogs. They are not legally accepted as service animals so it is unlikely that you will see too many ‘seeing eye pigs’ anytime soon, but some people do choose to train them for this purpose. As well as guiding the blind, pigs can alert deaf people to sounds.
Pigs are more commonly used as Therapy Animals and Emotional Support Animals. Known for their intelligence, gentleness and sensitivity, they are ideal candidates to bestow companionship and comfort on people. As Therapy Animals, they visit schools, hospitals and nursing homes and offer affection and company to others. As Emotional Support Animals, they provide therapeutic support to people suffering from mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.
Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals have become increasingly popular in recent years. Although not legally recognized as service animals, they provide therapeutic benefit to their owners through companionship. Emotional support animals need to have a gentle and calm nature, but the term is not restricted to dogs and horses as in the case of service animals.
A wide variety of species are currently used as emotional support animals, including some surprisingly exotic ones. Among the more ordinary animals are the usual suspects: dogs, cats, horses, birds and donkeys. However, pigs, guinea pigs, llamas, alpacas and even rats have also been used to offer emotional comfort and support to their owners.
There is Some Controversy Surrounding Emotional Support Animals
With the registration process largely unregulated, the system is open to abuse. Some critics claim that people register their pets as emotional support animals just to avoid air travel and tenancy regulations.
The range of duties that assistance animals can be trained to carry out is truly remarkable. From performing routine physical tasks that help disabled people live their daily lives, to providing much-needed support and companionship to those suffering with mental and emotional issues, it is clear that the work of assistance animals is meaningful and important.
For more information on service animals, check out the ADA website, and watch this video!