Humans and domestic animals have a long history together. We work with them, keep them for milk, meat or eggs, and keep them as companions and friends. But there are also animals trained to help people adapt to disabilities, manage their health and provide therapy. They are different from pets, who are primarily companions. These service animals are trained for specific tasks.
Types of service animals
Just as there are multiple kinds of disabilities, there are multiple kinds of service animals. They can include:
- Guide animals which help to guide people with blindness or visual impairment.
- Hearing animals which are trained to alert people with hearing impairment to ringing phones, doorbells, crying babies and other sounds.
- Diabetic alert animals which can alert their owners to highs and lows in their blood sugar. This helps persons with diabetes manage their glucose levels before they become dangerous. If medical help is needed, a diabetic alert dog can also be trained to alert others or set off an alarm system.
- Seizure/crisis alert animals
- Seizure response animals, unlike alert animals, are trained on what to do once a seizure is in progress. They might bark for help, set off alarms, or help their owners come round after a seizure. They can also bring medicine or a phone to their owner after the seizure.
- Mobility assistance animals, trained to perform a wide range of tasks for people with mobility issues. They can fetch objects, press buttons, help to support walking, or even pull wheelchairs up ramps.
- Psychiatric service animals, which help people suffering from issues like anxiety, depression, stress or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They can make their owners feel safer by entering spaces ahead of them, turning on lights, or acting as physical barriers between their owner and people. Some people also find that having a service animal forces them to take better care of themself, so they can also care well for their animal.
- Autism support animals which help to ground children with autism and give them a sense of stability as they navigate social settings like school.
Although dogs are usually chosen to become service animals, other animals can be trained to do these kinds of jobs, including
- Miniature horses
- Miniature pigs
Emotional support & therapy animals
Related to service animals are the emotional support animals and therapy animals. Emotional support animals are not trained to do specific tasks, but but are not simply companions. Their presence benefits a person with disabilities, and may even improve at least one characteristic of that disability.
Therapy animals are trained to bring comfort or relief to the people they work with. Animal-assisted therapy is aimed at improving a person’s social, emotional or cognitive state.
Both emotional support and therapy animals help PWDs with emotional support and provide companionship, even if in a limited way.
Service animals in Malaysia
Due to religious restrictions and debate about the presence of dogs in public spaces, the presence of service animals are still limited in Malaysia. One prime example of an existing guide dog is Lawshawn, a Labrador belonging to Stevens Chan.
While the concept of service animals is still making headway in Malaysia, therapy animals and animal-assisted therapy are more accessible to the public at large. These trained animals can provide the physical, mental and emotional support for persons with disabilities to lead fuller and more independent lives.
DisabilityGuide.com (2015) 6 Different Types of Service Animals [Accessed: 5 Sept 2018] Available at: https://disabilityguide.com/6-different-types-of-service-animals.html
Lee ZL (2016) Guide dogs yet to be wholly accepted in Malaysia [Accessed: 5 Sept 2018] Available at: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2016/01/31/guide-dogs-yet-to-be-wholly-accepted-in-malaysia/
Marcoux H (2018) 10 Types of Service Dogs [Accessed: 5 Sept 2018] Available at: https://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/10-types-of-service-dogs-and-what-they-do
Wikipedia (2018) Animal-assisted therapy [Accessed: 5 Sept 2018] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal-assisted_therapy
Wikipedia (2018) Emotional support animal [Accessed: 5 Sept 2018] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_support_animal
Wikipedia (2018) Service animal [Accessed: 5 Sept 2018] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_animal