Every year, on the Friday after Father’s Day, it’s National Take Your Dog to Work Day…but for people with assistance/service/guide dogs, that’s every day! Here’s an enlightening and informative article about the topic, written by Chris Diefenthaler, Executive Director of Assistance Dogs International (ADI).
Every day is Bring Your Dog To Work Day for assistance dogs and their users.
Some of us will be taking advantage of Bring Your Dog to Work Day to sneak our pets past the boss and into the office – but for many assistance dog users, taking their dog to work with them is not just a bit of fun – it’s a must.
“Don’t let the fact that you have an assistance dog hinder your progress in your career,” advises Paul Green, who takes his PTSD assistance dog Dezi to work with him. “Companies have to be reasonable, and provide reasonable adjustments to support you. Obviously, there are limits, but for most people, there shouldn’t be a problem.”
Also known as Take Your Dog To Work Day, June 24 is a chance for owners to show co-workers and managers the benefits dogs in the workplace can bring, such as improved mental health and better productivity. Research suggests that employees with access to dogs are less stressed than those who have none, and physical health improves when workers take their dog for a lunchtime walk.
But while Bring Your Dog To Work Day might be a bit of once-a-year fun for most of us, assistance dog users often find employers less than welcoming on a daily basis. “There are a lot of misconceptions about what a service dog can and can’t do,” says neuroscientist Joey Ramp, who takes her service dog Sampson to work in the science labs at the University of Illinois. “I would advise employers to be open minded and include the service dog user in the conversation. It’s the little things that can make a difference. Can we move a desk so there is a little more space for the dog? Can this person take an extra 15 minutes at lunch to make sure the dog has time to go outside?”
“My co-workers were always very enthusiastic, there was not one of them that I encountered that had an issue. The biggest hurdle was teaching them how to interact – or not interact – with a service dog,” she adds.
Sampson is Joey’s second service dog after a catastrophic brain injury in 2006 which left her with mobility issues. He’s the first service dog to be granted access to laboratories with BSL-1 and BSL-2 biosecurity ratings, and is a familiar sight round the university with his own set of personal protective equipment (PPE). After years of campaigning, Joey – who also runs Empower Ability Consulting, an organization dedicated to helping service dog users get access to academic and STEM workplaces – says some progress has been made, but much more needs to be done.
“It’s impossible for me to imagine my working life without Sampson now, but it has been a difficult process, and I have had to be very vocal,” she says. “Now there are guidelines for service dogs in laboratories, and lots of universities have inclusive guidelines. The direction has changed in a positive way – for example, I have students with service dogs who are training to be doctors. That’s super exciting, it’s starting to open a lot of doors.”
After a long career as a police officer, Paul lives with PTSD and had to retire on medical grounds three years ago. It was then that his wife Steph suggested he apply for an assistance dog. “Dezi gave me a reason to get up in the morning. I had to feed him, take him out for walks, and twice a week I would drive an hour to do the training. He’s like my best mate really.”
Like Joey, Paul – a first aid and mental health first aid trainer with First Aid Easy – has had mostly positive experiences of taking his assistance dog to work. “I go into various work places, schools and Scout groups and Dezi always comes with me. It’s been relatively easy for me to adapt to taking him to work. I’m also a part-time truck driver – I asked my employer if it was OK to bring him with me and they just said ‘It’s not a problem – you’ve got an assistance dog and you’re legally entitled to take him with you. He’s better behaved than some of the staff!’”
Not everyone is so understanding, however. “I’m currently applying for a job and the hoops I have to jump through in terms of adjustments is quite hard – I’ve almost given up. The process is the barrier – the list of questions and forms you have to fill in.”
Both Sampson and Dezi are certified assistance dogs, trained by programs accredited by Assistance Dogs International, the world’s leading standards-setter and accreditation body for training assistance dogs. Sampson was trained by Paws Giving Independence in Illinois, USA, while Dezi – himself a rescue dog – was partnered with Paul through Service Dogs UK. Both Joey and Paul stress the importance of having a professionally trained, certified dog.
“For me, having a dog trained by an ADI accredited member is about being confident that both you and the dog are doing it right. It’s about the training, the support, the insurance – and knowing that you are doing it the right way,” Paul explains.
“Having Sampson trained from the age of eight weeks to eighteen months, and then a further nine months’ training because he was going to work in a laboratory, made a very big difference,” says Joey. “I’ve worked with a lot of people who have self-trained their dogs and some of them are successful. But you’re setting yourself up for failure, because you’ve got one dog and that dog won’t necessarily make it. I would always go with a dog trained by an ADI accredited organization.”
Paul believes Dezi not only gives him confidence at work but even saved his life. “What difference has Dezi made? I’m still here, aren’t I?”