In January, Guide Dogs of America (GDA) merged with Tender Loving Canines. Our new single organization operates under the Guide Dogs of America umbrella. Merging the two organizations has been a work-in-progress, and a lot has changed – including our new website! Now, you can find all our service dog information in one place, so look around to see our latest editions.
In addition to offering services for individuals who are blind and visually impaired, we now provide services to veterans, families affected by autism, and place facility dogs in other vulnerable populations.
What Is a Service Dog?
Our recent merger has raised some questions like, “What is a service dog, what do these new dogs do, and how are they different from guide dogs?” We will break it all down here.
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines service animals as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
All of our dogs fall under the “service dog” category. Each service dog learns specific training depending on its handler, and their handler’s disability. While their training may be different, one thing remains the same – every dog we place brings its handler confidence, independence, and mobility.
Is a Guide Dog a Service Dog?
One common question we receive is, “Is a guide dog a service dog?” While a guide dog is a service dog, not all service dogs are guide dogs (say that 3 times fast). Guide work is simply a category of service dog work because guide dogs are specifically trained to work for the blind. Other lines of service dog work can help (but are not limited to) individuals who are deaf by alerting a variety of sounds or performing a variety of tasks for someone with a physical impairment that limits their mobility.
These definitions give a better understanding of a service animal but does not define what our highly skilled canines can do.
- Our guide dogs for people who are blind/ visually impaired help our clients travel safely from one destination to the next, avoiding obstacles, stopping at changes in elevation, and for all oncoming traffic, and they can remember common routes.
- Our service dogs for Veterans are task-trained to respond to PTSD-related triggers. They can carry or retrieve objects and provide balance assistance for veterans with mobility limitations. These dogs can also remind our veterans with traumatic brain injuries to take their medications.
- Our service dogs for individuals with autism enhance communication, adaptive skills, and safety. These dogs also help create social interactions and encourage communication when the individual has to give the dog cues. They assist with activities of daily living. In the presence of triggers (e.g., loud noises) our dogs perform grounding behaviors.
- Our facility dogs provide intervention and therapy to people with disabilities, victims of crime, and other vulnerable populations. Facility dogs can motivate children to stay engaged in educational settings. In healthcare settings, our dogs can help facilitate the healing process. Our facility dogs can also help individuals feel calm and secure during a difficult courtroom trial or testimony.
We are grateful to share a common goal with Tender Loving Canines – to be able to transform lives through partnerships with service dogs. Our merger will allow us to put more dogs into the hands of those who need them.
Guide Dogs of America welcomed back a group of service dog students this June, and have plans to move forward with our classes in the fall. As we continue to navigate and change our practices due to COVID-19, Guide Dogs of America stands tall because of our dedicated supporters, volunteers, and staff who know our mission cannot stop.