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Zoomies: A Quick Guide to the Guide Dogs

     One of the most important jobs a dog can have is a service dog. Whether they are guiding a visually impaired person down the street or alerting a type 1 diabetic to a low blood sugar level, these service animals have saved countless lives. 

     The earliest known service dog was in the 1750s as a guide dog at a hospital for the blind in Paris. The more modern and widespread use of service dogs came about after World War I. Gerhard Stalling left his German shepherd dog with a visually impaired patient while he made his rounds. When he came back, he found his dog was particularly protective of the patient. He encouraged the German ambulance association to retrain war dogs to be service dogs for blind veterans. While this didn’t last a decade, the German shepherd Association ended up training more than 4000 dogs to guide both veterans and civilians. 

     An American breeder in Switzerland, Dorothy Harrison Eustis, observed a visually impaired man being guided by his dog and wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post. She received a letter from a visually imparied man, Morris Frank, who begged her for a shot at having one of the trained dogs so he could gain back his independence. It was a success and Eustis and Frank opened the first American guide dog school in 1929, “The Seeing Eye.”

Eventually, some dogs were trained in detecting cancers, low blood sugar, seizures, and even some viral infections. There are some organizations currently training dogs to detect COVID-19 and after the first phase of trials, they found the dogs have up to a 94% sensitivity rate in detection of COVID-19 infection

Service dogs weren’t legally recognized until 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. Since then, the ADA has set simple standards for service dogs:

  • Has to be a dog of any breed or size
  • Trained to perform a task directly related to a person’s disability

     They don’t require identification of being a service dog, professional training or certification, and they are not emotional support dogs (and emotional support dogs aren’t service dogs). Businesses and facilities are very limited in the information they can ask for when encountering someone with a service dog. Service dogs can go anywhere unless the “dog’s presence would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public,” like a sterile environment in certain parts of a hospital. 

For more information on the requirements and general rules regarding service dogs, visit the ADA’S website here

For very important etiquette regarding interacting with a service dog or its owner, check outThe Guide Dog Foundation website

Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels


Written by: Lynn Moynahan