Service dogs in Kenmore are amazing. They have been extensively trained, live strict but loved lives, and take care of their owners like truly no one else can. The dogs’ abilities to detect seizures, pick up dropped items, and even warn owners of impending stroke or heart attack make these dogs literally life savers.
With all the amazing things these animals can do, it’s no wonder we have learned to accept them in places we usually wouldn’t, like a restaurant or the office. But there is a growing cynicism towards service and support animals in general, and mostly because of misunderstanding, and I’ll admit that I used to be one of these people.
I was not raised in a house with pets, and I never could understand the “emotional support animal“. I could understand a seeing eye dog or a dog that assists with the hearing impaired, but these are obvious needs that a dog could help with. When I would see articles about an emotional support pig or bunny, I would roll my eyes.
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There is controversy surrounding the roles of animals in the lives of people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. Many of us have seen the posts online about registering your animal as an emotional support animal with a small fee, and being able to keep your animal in a no pets allowed setting. This has led people to question the legitimacy of all service animals and their roles. A feeling of distrust among people who do not understand the difference between these animals, and the rights that accompany them, has been emerging as more people utilize these services.
Service Dogs are the most protected and trained of the 3 types of dogs. While many people refer to all 3 types as "service animals", the official names for this type is Service Dog. These dogs are legally considered medical equipment and have a price tag to match, ranging from $10,000- $50,000. They are intensively trained for 1.5-2.5 years, having to pass a variety of tests to be serviceable including, but not limited to, opening cupboards, retrieving dropped objects, staying calm in public, etc.
The last type we are discussing are Emotional Support Animals. This one is the most vague and open-ended. An Emotional Support Animal does not have to have any special training and most of the time is registered by its owner because it brings comfort. Also, an Emotional Support Animal does not have to be a dog. These animals are not protected under the ADA and cannot accompany their owners in establishments where there are no animals allowed. Owners with a registered support animals can keep them in housing that otherwise does not allow pets according to the Fair Housing Act.
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A recent study from the Virginia Commonwealth University found that employees who brought their dogs to work experienced lower stress levels throughout the work day, reported higher levels of job satisfaction, and had a more positive perception of their employer.
"There might be a benefit here," Randolph Barker, business professor at VCU and lead author on the study, said. "It's a low cost wellness benefit, and it could be a recruiting opportunity (for businesses)."
The study was conducted over the span of a week at Replacements, Ltd., a dinnerware manufacturing company in Greensboro, North Carolina. Seventy-six of the company's employees participated in the study and were broken down into three groups: 18 dog owners who brought their dogs to the office each day, 38 employees that owned dogs but did not bring them to the office, and 19 employees that didn't own pets.
At the beginning of the day, all of the study participants had a saliva sample taken to determine baseline levels of Cortisol, a hormone that measures a person's stress. There were no noticeable differences in starting stress levels across all employees.
But as the work day wore on, Barker found noticeable differences between the stress levels of those with and without dogs by their side.
Barker then had members of each group report their stress level at four different times throughout the day and found that the workers accompanied by their dogs reported the lowest amount of stress at all points in the workday. The most stressed out group turned out to be dog owners that left their pets at home.
The benefits go far beyond just reducing worker stress, though, Barker said. Dogs owners who were allowed to bring their dog to work reported high perceived organizational support (the feeling that one's employer cares about his or her personal and professional development).
Comments from participants in the study indicated an array of other possible benefits, including increased productivity, higher employee morale, and increased co-worker cooperation, Barker said.
"Dogs were a communication energizer," Barker said. Dogs in the office tended to spark conversations between those with and without pets, and "people who didn't typically talk to one another, were now more engaged" with dogs in the office, Barker said.
Nearly half of those who brought their dogs in reported increased productivity, while the rest reported no remarkable difference in their daily work output. A majority (80%) of those who did not bring dogs in did not report reduced productivity in the office, and 25% said dogs positively affected productivity.
Barker said there are issues companies should consider before enacting a dogs in the office policy, including whether or not the pets are well-behaved, employees potentially having pet allergies or a fear of animals, and the organizational culture of the company.
The study's findings on the positive effect of dogs in the workplace were unsurprising to Replacements, however.
"This is not anything new to us," Lisa Conklin, public relations manager for Replacements said.
Replacements enacted a pets in the office 17 years ago when founder and CEO Bob Page received a dog of his own and didn't want to leave it home alone. The office has seen a slew of interesting pets since, including a duck, a pot-bellied pig, and an opossum.
Customers can even get in on the fun. On the outside of the store is a sign encouraging customers to bring in any well-behaved pets, Conklin said.
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A Labrador retriever turns on a light for a wheelchair bound owner. This is only one of the multitude of tasks that service dogs can provide for their owners. Service dogs are defined as those performing specific tasks for individuals with disabilities. There is some confusion regarding the diversity between service dogs and emotional support animals, but the differences are significant.
It is not necessary to register a service dog, however, certain countries such as the United Kingdom, do require that service dogs to be certified. Assistance Dogs International is one of the most highly regarded organizations to provide this certification. Many online organizations offer service dog registry, but this registration alone doesn't classify your pet as a service dog. Significant fines can be administered to those who fraudulently try to pass off a companion animal as a service dog.
Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals are often confused with service dogs, but there are significant differences. Emotional support animals may accompany someone who fears the dentist, or is afraid to fly. These animals are often taken to disaster areas to comfort individuals affected by natural or man-made disasters. Under the auspices of the Americans with Disabilities Act, establishments are not required to allow entry to emotional support animals, but many places are becoming more dog friendly.
Is That Support Animal Really Necessary?
One scroll through social media is probably enough to convince you--if you needed convincing--that people love cute animals in general, and their dogs in particular. But while humanity in general may be endlessly enamored of man's best friend, bosses frequently disagree.
From fears of litigious allergy sufferers to costly personal injury claims to animal-hating landlords, there are plenty of reasons company leaders might be skeptical of joining the dog-friendly office trend.
If your boss is among them and you're a die-hard dog lover, is there any way to persuade him or her to open up your workspace to fuzzy friends?
Here's yet another area of life where science might be able to help you out. New research from Central Michigan University offers a rationale for dog-friendly offices that you just might be able to sell to your wary boss.
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The study, which was highlighted recently by UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, is based on a simple premise: Have groups complete short tasks that involve creativity and cooperation, such as coming up with a fictional 15-second ad, and see how having a dog present for the experiment affects outcomes. So, how did it go?
It turns out canines are great for collaboration. Both the participants themselves and outside experts who rated the videotaped tasks for closeness, warmth, and cooperation said that adding a dog to the mix made people more trusting and more helpful. In short, just having a dog around seems to do wonders for teamwork.
"When people work in teams, the presence of a dog seems to act as a social lubricant," lead author Steve Colarelli commented. "Dogs seem to be beneficial to the social interactions of teams."
Why do dogs have such outsize impacts on how we treat each other? The answer offered by the researchers will come as no surprise to most pet owners--it seems that having animals nearby just makes us happier, and people who feel better tend to be nicer.
So if your boss is not sold on opening your office to canine companions, you might want to show him this study. And if you need to apply a little more pressure, earlier research showing that dogs also reduce stress, or this useful post from my Inc.com colleague Christine Lagorio-Chafkin on overcoming objections to dog-friendly offices might also be helpful.
Do you find your personality or behavior changes when there are dogs around?