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Biology, Learning, Psychology, Sustainability

How a dog brings someone autonomy

I recently started volunteering as a dog raiser with a local service dog training organization Dogs With Wings. I have always been interested in how service dogs can support individuals. Part of my interest comes from the reality that our society is structured in such a way that it disables people who differ from what is “standard.” There are ways to design trails for example that are accessible to an individual who is visually impaired, but most trails are not designed that way. A service dog can help an individual work around the barriers that society puts in the way. But that’s my perspective, what is the perspective of people who gain the support of a service dog?

A black lab sitting behind a person in a car
Hera (a service dog in training) and I getting to know each other on day 1

Li et al (2019) conducted a small study with older adults who had experienced vision loss. The participants were new owners of guide dogs. The study focused on the experiences of these people. The people expressed that they had increased feelings of independence and freedom. They had higher physical ability and motivation to complete activities which, in turn, helped them to adapt to having a dog. Several participants also reported feeling safer navigating with the dog compared to using a cane.

In an article that is still in press, Lindsay et al found that service dogs for children and youth generally have benefits for at least one of physical health, psychological health, social well-being, and dog owner bond. However, there were also challenges such as the time and cost of caring for the dog.

These same challenges were also reported in a study by Brown (2017). Brown looked specifically at the parent’s perspective of service dogs for children with autism. Access issues were also identified as a concern. However, there were many benefits including increased physical safety, increased family freedom, decreased parental stress, and improved social and communication functioning.

It makes sense that there are some challenges with having a dog. And issues of costs, times and access are all important topics that need a broader discussion about societal barriers and structures. In fact, the positives make it more important to address these negatives. Who wouldn’t want to be or feel safer or to have a child you are caring for be safer? Who doesn’t want increased autonomy and independence? Who doesn’t want improved health outcomes?

I am thrilled to participate in helping others achieve these outcomes. If you’d like to know more about Dogs with Wings check out their site. And if you live somewhere else search locally to at least find out what is present locally.

One last note

Today is Giving Tuesday. A day intended to offer a different outlook on the world after the consumption of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I have the privilege of being able to donate both time and money these days but that has not always been the case. I remember feeling frustrated that time wasn’t as recognized as money was. But, time is important. So is learning. So is having a conversation. Giving can take many forms and no one should feel bad because they can’t give money. So for this giving Tuesday consider what and how you can give because the world needs more giving of all kinds.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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