Emotional support animals and service dogs are not the same. Service dogs spend months learning how they can best help their handlers, who typically have physical or emotional challenges, to perform major life tasks and keep them calm. These relationships form life long commitments between animal and owner. The Americans with Disabilities Act describes the types of tasks service dogs perform. They include guiding people who are blind, pulling a wheelchair, protecting a person having a seizure, and calming a person with PTSD.
Detective Scott Sefranka of the Phoenix Police Department was shot and nearly died. His physical recovery from the gunshot wound to his abdomen took months after much of his intestines were removed. He went through surgery for a fractured arm, and ended up with nerve damage and back issues were additional physical reminders. He soon developed anxiety and PSTD whenever he had to leave the house. Because of stomach issues, the list of medications he could use were slim. His wife instead started researching service dogs. She eventually found a poodle named Digby and began training it to be a service dog.
It took about 18 months of individualized training, but Digby learned to help Sefranka in many ways. He would help to retrieve objects, open doors and performing a variety of other physical tasks such as serving as a balance and brace when the detective struggles with hip stability. Digby also helps Sefranka deal with his mental health issues to keep him calm and relaxed. Animals are so intuitive to begin with, but with training they can become even more in tune to their owners feelings and emotions. In Sefranka’s case, his PTSD comes in the form of nightmares, night tremors, anger outbursts, isolation and depression. "Digby's really been a key component in me moving forward," he says. "Since I got him, I've been able to go back to work. I've been able to go back out in public and kind of resume my life as normal."
Service dogs are also great for children with disabilities from cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, post-polio syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and autism. There have been instances of children that have not bonded with anyone besides their parents and are not able to speak or communicate with others and the animals provide such a strong sense of comfort and unconditional love. These dogs can really make the difference between life and death, and improving the quality of life that these kids have drastically.