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Why This Service Dog Stays Home

June 4, 2020

Like many people with disabilities, I have been in isolation since the outbreak began. Shortly after, an interesting topic came up among service dog handlers: Is it safe to use service dogs during this time?

After scouring the latest research and assessing my situation, I decided to pull my service dog from public access. It has been hard because he provides valuable support. This decision-making process is not unique to the pandemic, which is what made me want to share.

The first step in my decision about whether my service dog would be doing public access work during the pandemic was research. I scoured the internet for trustworthy articles about the likelihood of the virus being spread from my dog’s fur to me. While most of my research found that you cannot contract COVID-19 from your pet, nothing mentioned transferring it from your pet’s fur. This is the key research I need that hasn’t been done. Fair enough. There are more important things to worry about.

This led to the next step in my decision-making process: using my brain. I had to adapt existing research and warnings to my situation. I used the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation about washing clothes to make the connection that my dog’s fur is his clothing. Therefore, if he were to work in public, I would need to bathe him when I got home.

After assessing the risk, I took a realistic look at my situation. I have gone out in public three times since the pandemic started — twice to the doctor and once to the lab. Would it have been easier to bring my dog? Two of the three times, yes. Was it unmanageable? No. Would I realistically have the energy to bathe my standard poodle after every outing? Absolutely not.

Here is where I want to bring light to a very real part of being a service dog handler. Not every situation is safe for using a service dog. It is important to have other coping mechanisms in place in those cases.

This is also the part where you need to be honest with yourself about risk versus benefit. Due to the limited times I have been in public, the fact that those trips have been as short as possible, and that I had other means of support, I concluded that the benefits did not outweigh the risks.

If you do see a service dog working in public, please be extra sure you are giving that team space. If you see a handler without their service dog, please do not think that they do not need one. We are all doing our best to navigate these crazy times, and no two situations are the same.

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