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The examples already cited are just a few of the ways therapy dogs work today. They assist in both physical and mental health therapies for all kinds of patients. Many people may confuse therapy dogs with service dogs. Though related, the terms are not synonymous. Service dogs are trained to work individually with a disabled person, performing tasks the person cannot do easily. Along with a few other service animals, service dogs are defined and covered under the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, which protects the rights of people with disabilities to have their service animals with them in public places, transportation vehicles, and workplaces. Service dogs have been trained to do all kinds of jobs, to help people with impairments in walking, breathing, seeing, hearing, or otherwise caring for themselves. Perhaps the best-known type of service dog is the guide dog for the blind (Figure 3.2). But dogs have also been trained to fetch dropped or needed items; to pull wheelchairs; to turn lights on and off; to open elevator doors; to hand paperwork to receptionists; to carry things in special backpacks; to pick up items off a shelf; or to alert a person to visitors, ringing phones, and emergencies, among many other tasks. Some dogs are trained to provide support for a person who needs help walking, and others signal epileptic individuals before a seizure occurs, so the person can avoid dangerous falls. Scientists don’t yet know for sure how some dogs are able to sense that a person will soon have a seizure. Dogs may be able to detect subtle changes in human body language, expression, or behavior, or respond to changes in body odor triggered by abnormal nervous system activity in an epileptic person. In addition to performing these essential tasks, of course, service dogs provide the people they assist with social and emotional support. Many disabled individuals consider their service dog their best friend. Some insist they would never give up their dog, even if they could get rid of their disability in the bargain.

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