How to get a service dog

a golden retriever that is a service and therapy dog

For me, an important part of being a cardiologist has always been listening for the bits of information patients share about their lives that aren’t related to their heart issues. Their relationships with family and friends…their worries…their joys…and, naturally, their other health concerns. Those insights always helped me understand how to give these folks the best possible care.

One of the most common complaints I heard was about chronic pain.

Usually I followed up with questions about the person’s home environment. Were they often stressed? Did they have someone to help with daily tasks? Did they have any pets?

My question about pets was almost always met with instant smiles from those with dogs and cats. Many people eagerly told me about their animal companions and how much of a comfort they were during difficult pain episodes. And years later, when I was dealing with the chronic pain that eventually led to hip replacement surgery, I came to better appreciate the power pets have to make our lives better. My dogs, Chewie and Kuma, brought me a lot of joy and peace during that time, and ultimately helped me cope with the pain – I’d take them over NSAIDs (and certainly over opiates) any day!

If I knew during my practice what I know now, I surely would have been recommending not just pets, but service dogs, as a way for patients to help manage pain.

How Does a Service Dog Help?

A service dog can assist individuals with disabilities by:

  • Providing balance or support when standing or walking
  • Assisting with transfers from a wheelchair to a chair/bed
  • Opening doors
  • Retrieving things for their person
  • Turning lights on/off
  • Alerting a person who may have a seizure
  • Alerting to cardiac episodes
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Greater independence, joy, fulfillment, confidence, security, and love are provided by service dogs. Our CPL service dog program is designed to help individuals who have a wide range of disabilities. CPL trains service dogs to assist individuals who have mobility impairments and balance disorders, difficulty using their hands/arms, health related fatigue issues, and people with seizure/cardiac syncope and Type 1 Diabetes disorders. People who have disabilities such as those listed below may benefit from a CPL service dog. If your disability is not listed, however you meet the criteria above and are interested in becoming more independent, you should consider applying for a CPL service dog.

Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Dogs

I got a firsthand look at how powerful (and healing) an animal’s presence could be back in the days when I used to take my dog, Chewie, to the office with me. Here she is (with a younger me) as a puppy:

Dr. Sinatra with his dog

Chewie was like a big teddy bear. She loved the attention from my staff and patients, and my patients loved getting a chance to say hello. Even the sickest of them would light up when they petted her.

Chewie wasn’t a service dog, though. She was more like  an emotional support dog.

Support dogs are socialized to provide comfort in situations people find unusually stressful. My daughter, for example, has a good friend who suffers from PTSD*. Her support dog helps her spend time in public spaces that you and I wouldn’t think twice about, but for her can be a dangerous trigger. Support dogs also provide therapy in hospitals and nursing homes.

Service dogs, on the other hand, are less of a pet and more of a caretaker. They go through extensive training and learn how to perform tasks that you may not be able to—things like providing additional balance, pulling a wheelchair, picking up things you drop, and seeking assistance if you need help. They also learn to follow commands, either verbal or hand gestures, and to basically act as an extension of their owner. Most importantly, while service dogs are “working,” you can’t interact with them like a normal dog or you risk distracting them from all of the important cues they’re paying attention to.

Legally, service dogs also have rights that support dogs don’t. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows service dogs to accompany their owners into any public space, including retail stores, physician offices, grocery stores, and restaurants.

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