Did you know that March 13 is K9 Veterans day? The day celebrates the birthday of the US Army K9 Corps and honors all military working dogs. Military working dogs do a great service to our country, working alongside soldiers on a daily basis.
However, were you aware there is another group of dogs that also works closely with soldiers and veterans? Established in 2003, America’s VetDogs provides service dogs to veterans with physical disabilities, individuals living with the effects of PTSD, and to those who have lost their hearing or who are visually impaired. Their parent organization, Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, was established in 1946 and has proudly been producing guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired through a careful matching process that takes into consideration the applicant’s lifestyle and physical needs. Both are non-profit organizations that provide these services at no cost to those who need them.
Service dogs provide a multitude of services… opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, retrieving items and providing balance are just a few examples. Each dog can be trained specific tasks that will benefit their veteran’s needs. For example, dogs that are provided to those living with the effects of PTSD are often taught to interrupt night terrors, to “fetch” a person or phone for help when needed, and to help buffer their handler during a stressful environment.
Guide dogs give independence to people who are visually impaired by giving them the confidence to walk on their own. These dogs ensure a clear path is ahead, and if not, they lead their handlers around any obstacles they may come by. Guide dogs are taught to stop at curbs and at obstacles that might interfere with their handler.
Guide dogs and their handlers are a team that work together; they follow their handler’s commands and only go against a command when following through might lead to danger. Known as intelligent disobedience, sometimes it’s necessary to go against instruction when it is the better decision. A common example is a street crossing… a guide dog may refuse to go forward after being directed to do so if it poses any danger to their teammate.
When greeting a person with a guide or service dog, it is important to respect the working team and to not distract the dog. Some people are happy to let you pet their dog, but only do so with permission from the handler. Speak to the person directly, not the dog, and remember, even though a person is blind, it doesn’t mean they have to be deaf too. When offering help to a person with a guide or service dog, be respectful of what they are asking. If you are unsure how to help, ask them to explain. And of course, one of the most important things to keep in mind when addressing a person with an assistance dog is to remember that they are still people!
For more information on either of these programs, visit the VetDogs website here or click here to visit the Guide Dog Foundation website!
Written by Anna Williams, Canine Care Representative, Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.
<Prepared by Bridget Bott, HSNEGA Communications Intern