Service Dogs in the Vet Office

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Written By: Amie Chapman

When I first started puppy raising in 2002, I was still in college going through a veterinary technology program. We learned many things during the 2 year program. The students learned about anatomy and physiology, dog and cat breeds, behavior, nutrition, pharmacology, animal diseases, anesthesia, medical terminology, small and large animal care, and of course; cat and dog care. One thing that we didn’t learn anything about; all the different types of working dogs, including service dogs.

As a registered veterinary technician, I am required to get 20 hours of continuing education every 2 years. This is required to keep my license going as a registered veterinarian technician. I have been to many of the different major veterinary conferences over the years.  I have made the observation all across the country that none have had talks about service dogs. Well with exception of one.  But that talk was focused on the newer airline travel restrictions, and the new paperwork veterinarians were now being required by some airlines. Paperwork to fill out for a service dog teams to fly basically.

A few years ago I was asked by an instructor from a college I attended if I was willing to give a talk to students about service dogs. After I started puppy raising I learned that almost all my coworkers; including the doctors, knew very little about service dogs. They had no idea what the training process was like, the laws that protect handlers, and what they actually do for their handlers. I thought that I could help educate the vet tech students on this subject. While I was preparing my talk, I reached out to our fans on social media to share with me how service dog handlers felt about taking their dogs to the vet, and what their vets could do better to serve them. I was a bit surprised by what I got for a response, and that changed the focus of my talk a lot.

There was consistency in the response I got from the service dog handlers. No matter where people were located, the biggest concern the service dog handlers had about taking their dogs to the vet was how the dogs were handled by the staff. That as well as the fear of their dogs having a negative experience that could affect their service dog work.

This information broke my heart. Everyone I know in the veterinary community cares very deeply about their patients, and don’t want to give them, or their owners a negative experience.

I added more to my talk than what types of service dogs there are, and how they help their partners. I added information on how everyone working at the vet clinics can help make a service dog teams experience better. How to create a more welcoming environment, better communication on treatment plans, medication options, and most importantly… how to recognize and discuss how any medication or treatment can affect the ability for a service dog to work, for how long, or what modifications will be needed to keep the service dog team team safe.

Once I put together the power point presentation, I was very excited to give the talk. I felt like I had some very pertinent information to give. I gave the talk to about 60 vet tech students, and it was very well received. The instructor, who was a classmate of mine, was very impressed and said I mentioned many points that she never would have considered.

Since that first talk, I have given it to a new round of tech students, and the local veterinary medical association; including veterinarians from all over the county. Again, the subject was very well received and I was told by many, “I never would have thought about the things you covered.” I realized that just like the vet techs, veterinarians didn’t get education on service dogs while they were in school. And again, there are no talks at the conferences on this subject matter whatsoever.

When Matt and I sat down to discuss new projects for Growing Up Guide Pup, we decided to create one for Veterinary clinic outreach and education. It has been very difficult to get into the veterinary conferences as a speaker. They look for techs or doctors that have multiple talks and subjects, or have additional academic credentials. I have unfortunately been denied being a speaker for the multiple conferences that I have applied for. I will keep applying, and hope that I can get my foot in the door to this elite field. But in the meantime, we will continue to find ways to reach the veterinary community, but we can’t do it alone or without some financial support to create materials and support the new program on-going.

With our program we will help increase awareness about why, and how service dogs need to be handled differently than other canine patients. We will show how to help service dog handlers feel more secure in taking their dogs to the vet. We want to create materials that we can distribute to veterinary professionals at the conferences, offer online seminars, and in person talks in private and/or corporate owned practices.

With the current state of the world, most of the vet clinics around the nation are not allowing clients into the clinics. This has caused more anxiety for pet owners, and service dog handlers alike. Owners are having to wait in their cars, or at home once a staff member collects their animal from the parking lot. Oftentimes the clients are not meeting the doctor, or the tech staff who are handling the animals in person. This may make handlers more hesitant to take their dogs to the vet for even routine care because they are uneasy about the process.

Many handlers want to be present with their dogs as much as possible. If that isn’t an option, they may skip a trip to the vet. It is very important to maintain a service dog’s health. Good health care can potentially extend a dog’s career. Routine exams can find things an owner may miss, or before things become an issue. This is the one program where I can combine my love for service dogs, and my love for veterinary medicine, and help merge the two communities into a better relationship with one another.


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