Service dogs save lives

Man behind four puppies and container (© AP Images)
David Cantara, who trains dogs to help veterans, watches his newest litter. (© AP Images)

A person with diabetes is distracted by work and hasn’t tested her blood-sugar level, and now it’s trending dangerously low. Fortunately, she has a companion close by who has been trained to use his highly developed sense of smell to detect just this situation — her dog. With a nudge on the leg, he gives her a signal.

They say a dog is man’s (and woman’s) best friend, but service dogs help their handlers in ways beyond what even your best friend can manage without training.

In the United States, approximately 500,000 service dogs are helping people. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs must be given access to almost everywhere their human handlers go. They make it possible for people with disabilities to live independently and overcome the challenges of day-to-day life.

Man in wheelchair holding leash of dog (© AP Images)
Many people with disabilities use a service animal to help with daily activities, including shopping. (@ AP Images)

Service dogs, for example, can help people with visual impairments navigate unfamiliar places. They can protect a handler who is having a seizure. Service dogs can calm someone with post-traumatic stress disorder, even waking them from upsetting dreams.

Some 170 countries have passed disability civil rights laws similar to the ADA, and many have provisions related to service animals. Mongolia is one of them.

Linda Ball, who runs the nonprofit PawPADS in Minnesota, is traveling to Mongolia this fall with one of her dogs to encourage the use of service animals. Despite the country’s existing disabilities law, very few people use service animals.  In fact, Ball knows of only one service dog in Mongolia — the dog gives visual assistance to an employee of the U.S. Embassy.

Ball hopes to change that by creating a service dog program in Mongolia that could be replicated in other countries. Ball says the purpose of her trip is to tout “both the value of people with disabilities and the value of service dogs.”

Victory the service dog (Courtesy of PawPADS)
Linda Ball will travel to Mongolia with Victory, a service dog she trained through her organization, PawPADS. (Courtesy photo)

This isn’t Ball’s first trip to Mongolia. In the 1990s, she was a Peace Corps volunteer there. She produced and published the first-ever Mongolian sign language dictionary.

For this trip, she is taking her dog Victory, who like most service dogs has had specialized training. It can take two-and-half years to properly train a service dog, she said. “It does take a special dog. They have to be quite driven and independent in their work ethic.”

September was National Service Dog Month in the U.S. For Ball and Victory, though, raising awareness is a year-round pursuit.