The tradition of International Assistance Dog Week began in 2009. It was founded to recognize the benefits of assistance dogs, honor the many people who help raise and train these dogs, and raise funds to support assistance dog organizations. This year, International Assistance Dog Week falls from the 3rd through the 9th of August.

Most people have encountered assistance dogs before, but few people realize that there are several types of assistance dogs, each 1 meant to help individuals with specific conditions. There are different types of assistance dogs for conditions like autism, type 1 diabetes, seizures, deafness, or blindness. However, for those with a chronic pain condition, mobility assist dogs are often the most beneficial.

dog assistance infographic“Mobility assist” refers specifically to a dog who helps with mobility issues.

These dogs often assist paraplegic individuals. In fact, International Assistance Dog Week was founded thanks to the efforts of a paraplegic woman named Marcie Davis. However, mobility assist dogs are also a great match for those with severe pain conditions.

For example, someone suffering from rheumatoid arthritis might have a walker, which can make opening doors difficult. A mobility assist dog can open doors or push the handicap button to open a door automatically. Additionally, someone with a chronic pain condition might experience significant pain when bending over or grasping objects, or find themselves unable to carry objects while holding walker handles. A mobility assist dog can pick up or carry items for its owner.

A woman with psoriatic arthritis spoke at Arthritis Today about how much her assistance dogs help her during her day to day life, describing her dogs as her “legs, arms and back–all in one.” Most assistance dogs are large breeds, but this woman’s dogs, both Papillons, prove that even toy breeds can provide invaluable assistance to those with a chronic pain condition. Her dogs will jump higher than a doorknob to accomplish their tasks.

Some of the jobs they do for their owner include:

  • Fetching medication bottles
  • Picking up dropped items
  • Retrieving car keys
  • Running up and down the stairs to fetch items from another floor
  • Fetching utensils at mealtime

Another potential benefit of an assistance dog is 1 many people don’t think about: the ability to remove the stigma of disability.

A chronic pain condition can be difficult for others to understand or discuss, especially if that condition necessitates the use of assistive equipment like a walker, crutches, or a wheelchair. However, with an assistance dog at his or her side, others will see a person with a dog instead of a disabled person.

As Karen Shirk, founder of 4 Paws for Ability, says of her own experiences with an assistance dog:

“As a person who has a Mobility Assistance Dog partner, I have often said that Ben makes my disability “invisible”. Before I had Ben, no one would approach me to start up a conversation and in stores people went out of their way to avoid me. Now, with Ben at my side, it could take me an hour just to get milk, because of everyone stopping me to inquire about Ben.”

International Assistance Dog Week is about recognizing the many, and sometimes subtle, ways in which an assistance dog betters its owner’s life. It’s also about recognizing and honoring the many people involved in the process of getting the perfect assistance dog to each individual.

An assistance dog’s training starts well before it meets its eventual owner.

Some organizations take in shelter dogs to train as assistance animals. Others help disabled individuals train their pets to act as assistance dogs. However, most assistance dogs are raised from birth for the purpose of becoming an assistance dog. The puppy raisers start the future assistance dogs’ obedience training and socialization at a very young age, and most pay for all the puppies’ food, medical, and other expenses out of their own pockets.

Adult dogs then go through additional training. During this training, dogs are screened for health problems, like hip dysplasia, since a dog who will eventually develop a pain condition of its own isn’t going to be able to provide as much help for its owner. Then dogs begin to learn commands that are specifically geared toward being an assistance dog, like pulling light switches, and exposed to various stimuli, such as wheelchairs or hospital environments.

Finally, the assistance dog is matched to an individual recipient. After this, the dog and owner pair will go through a training process to teach them how to work together. Many organizations also recommend or require follow-up visits, workshops, and seminars throughout the dog’s life, to make sure the dog is providing the best possible assistance to its owner. With so many people involved in preparing a dog to become an assistance animal, another goal of International Assistance Dog Week is to honor everyone involved in the long process.

Additionally, International Assistance Dog Week also aims to raise funds for different assistance dog organizations. Some sources estimate that the training and resources invested in an assistance dog can add up to as much as $50,000 by the time the dog is handed over to its new owner.

International Assistance Dog Week provides a way for everyone to get involved with raising, training, and providing assistance dogs.

Whether someone has an assistance dog, is curious about the legal requirements for obtaining 1, or simply thinks assistance dogs are a great idea, events around the country encourage community involvement and support. Some states host runs or walks to raise funds for assistance dog organizations, while others hold events to allow the public to interact with assistance dogs or dogs in training. Additionally, materials are available to promote International Assistance Dog Week and increase awareness.

Would you like to start an International Assistance Dog Week event in your area?

Image by Found Animals Foundation via Flickr

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