Service dogs in Windsor 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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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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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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The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) legislation, enacted in 1990, is so vague that it has created two classes of service animals. The first is for animals that perform a specific task - Guide Dogs for the blind, wheelchair assistance, hearing dogs, and animals that can detect medical emergencies, like seizures, and summon help. These dogs have been specifically trained for their service mission.
The problem is the second classification - emotional support animals. All animals - lizards, chickens and snakes - can be designated service animals because they lend emotional support to the owner. In most cases they have no task-specific training. While this definition is currently under review, it has placed an enormous burden on those people who truly have a Service Animal.
Bringing your Service Dog into a restaurant, theater, or other public venue can also create some problems unless you can explain that your dog is allowed access under Federal law. Of course this means that you animal must be suited for crowded environments and trained to act properly around people. This is another case where a Service Dog ID Card will be of value.
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Animal experts attribute most animal actions and thoughts to instinct. It seems that they don't give our dogs, cats, birds and other pets enough credit. Why? Because there are documented cases of peoples' pets saving them from fire, fending off attackers and other brave acts. How do we truly know that our beloved pets are doing these things strictly from instinct? Though I'm not an animal behaviorist or scientist, throughout life I've watched and worked with many different animals. I believe that they have feelings, and are more like us emotion-wise than we give them credit.
For example, lately in the news, a woman reported that her Golden Retriever gave her the Heimlich manoever when she was choking on a piece of apple. He kept jumping on her chest until the apple ejected from her throat and flew across the room. Then, he ran over and ate it (he still is, of course, a dog). He knew his owner was in danger and responded to it. Now, that's devotion.
Observe your animals deeply, and see what you think. Are they just doing what their genes tell them to do or are they showing emotions? Science is advanced, but there is so much more to know about our pets and what makes them tick. Those who relate well to animals seem to be more in tuned to the way they think. Being calm and slow moving around many animals puts them at ease. Same with people, we like those who are calm and not aggressive towards us. Animal husbandry is fascinating, and worth learning more about. The more we know about our animals, the better we will relate to them. We may not speak their languages but we can at least show them the respect and understanding they most definitely deserve.