If you have recently attended one of my Autism Training classes for emergency responders, you’ll recall a short video of a woman’s service dog that alerts to self-harm while she is having a meltdown. You can view that video here.
While I included that in my training to illustrate an adult with Asperger’s having a meltdown, someone in class brought up an excellent point: how do you, as a responder, recognize a service dog and what do you do with them on scene?
Project Chance explains that autism assistance dogs are somewhat unique. Unlike a guide dog that helps with physical tasks, autism assistance dogs mainly provide emotional support. They can also help with sensory processing issues by giving their handler a focal point, or a way to ground their sensory input when the environment is overwhelming.
Many autistic children especially have no concept of personal safety and are prone to wandering. A child may be tethered to the dog’s harness or the dog may be trained to alert to potential bolt risks.
Dogs can also be tasked-trained to use touch intervention, as well as pressure intervention and mobility assistance when repetitive or self-injurious behaviors occur.
How is a Service Dog Defined?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.
Service animals must be allowed to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of a facility where the public is normally allowed to go.
The Ohio Department of Public Safety has a great downloadable trifold with tips for encountering service dogs. Here are some highlights from the brochure.
First and foremost, find out your agency’s policies on service animals! This includes how they define a service animal, information about applicable laws and how to comply with them, what to do if the handler is not in a condition to control the animal, proper movement and transport of the service animal, and veterinary facilities with whom there are established agreements for providing emergent care/boarding for service animals.
Next, you must determine if it is a family pet or a true service animal. The law permits you to ask these two questions only:
Do you need the animal because of a disability?
What tasks related to your disability has the animal been trained to do?
By Federal law, service animals are permitted to go wherever the public is allowed, including your ambulance. If it is not possible to keep a handler and their animal together (e.g., the handlers’ medical condition warrants transport by air or prevents the handler from controlling the animal) make sure a responsible party or someone with the handler’s permission can transport the animal safely and reunite them with their handler as soon as possible.
If the dog is being transported with the patient, load the dog last and unload it first, as this minimizes risk of injuring the animal and gives you needed space for maneuvering equipment.
If you must handle the dog, use the leash, not its harness. Use the side door of the ambulance for loading and unloading the animal; avoid open diamond plate gratings as they may injure the dog’s paws. If you need to lift the dog, put one arm behind the back legs, the other in front of the chest and gently lift. Offer to get food and any other supplies the dog may need before transporting.
Overall, try to accommodate the dog as you would a child alone with the patient. Take the dog with you and if the handler is unable to care for the dog at the hospital, attempt to notify a caretaker known to the handler for the dog, if possible.
You can download the entire helpful brochure here.
Have you encountered service dogs on scene? How did it go? Share your comments below!