Disaster Planning and Response for Service Animals

The Americans With Disability Act (ADA) defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an person with a disability. If an animal meets this definition, it is considered a service animal under the ADA regardless of whether it has been licensed or certified by a state or local government. Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for themselves.

According to the University of Arizona, “0.9% of persons with disabilities are partnered with service dogs.” In 1990, Congress found that there were 43 million Americans with disabilities, suggesting there are approximately 387,000 service dogs across the US, according to the estimate provided at http://servicedogcentral.org/. This site is a great resource for learning more about service animals and includes guidelines for Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

A distinction should be made between types of support animals. The ADA law refers specifically to assistance animals, also called “service animals.”

Types of Support Animals

Therapy dogs are working dogs. Therapy dogs and owners visit patients in hospitals, pediatric wards, assisted living residences, and hospice care programs.

Service animals work for their owners providing disability assistance, such as mobility and medic alert assistance. These animals include dogs for hearing- and vision-impaired individuals, assistance/alert dogs for people with autism and diabetes, and many others.

Working dogs support their handlers with a specific role, such as K-9 drug and bomb sniffing dogs and Search and Rescue dogs.

About Service Animals

Guide dogs are only one type of service animal used by some individuals who are blind. There are also service animals that assist people with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include alerting individuals with hearing impairments to sounds, pulling wheelchairs, carrying and picking up things, assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance, and alerting persons to the onset of medical problems like heart problems, epilepsy or diabetes. According to the job needing to be done, any size or breed of dog (and some small horses) can be a service animal. They can range from Great Danes being used for balance work to Papillons being used for medical alert work. When fully trained, they are allowed to accompany the disabled person anywhere the person needs to go.

An autism service dog named Bones is practicing his search and rescue skills. His job is to find 10 year old Luke Wilson whenever he strays too far. Luke is now able to focus for longer periods and sleep in his own bed for the first time. His behavior has improved so much that he does not take medication anymore. His mom says it’s all because of Bones. A trained service animal can cost over $20,000.

Tips for the Public

  • Remember Service animals and their access to all public places and commercial carriers are protected under Federal Law.
  • Do not touch the service animal, or the person it assists, without the owner’s permission.
  • Do not make noises at the service animal. This action could distract the animal from performing its job.
  • Do not feed the service animal. This could disrupt his/her schedule.
  • Respect Privacy Do not feel offended if a person with a service animal does not wish to discuss the assistance their service animal provides.

Tips for the First Responder

When transporting a patient with a service animal, every effort should be made to do so in a safe manner for the patient, the animal, and the crew members. If possible, the animal should be secured in some manner in order to prevent injury to either the animal or the crew during transport. Safe transport devices may include: crates, cages, specialty carriers, seatbelts, or passenger restraints using a specialized harness or seat belt attachment.

In certain situations it may not be possible for the animal to be transported with the patient. In that case, every effort should be made to ensure safe care and transportation of the animal by alternative means (see below). EMS should notify the receiving facility of the presence of a service animal accompanying the patient.

Under major disruptive conditions, the assistance dog may show signs of confusion and should be given time to settle down. Learn more at http://www.iaadp.org/disaster.html. Emergency management partners, including Fire, Police and EMTs, should consider issuing a clear policy for service animals and alternative modes of transportation.

Alternative modes of transportation can include:

1. Animal control (a service animal should never be confined with another animal)

2. Police

3. Fire can transport, if available (and will not be forced to leave their zone)

4. A friend, neighbor, or relative.

5. The EMS supervisor can transport the animal in the fast response vehicle.

Regardless of who transports the animal (if not the ambulance), please make a note regarding the person to whom care of the animal was released in the EMS paperwork. If possible, have the police note it as well. A lost service animal is a traumatic experience for a disabled person and can be costly to replace.

Plan for a disaster in advance. Be familiar with your local service shelter options. In some states, you can even register to be on a ‘vulnerable populations’ list that will identify your special needs in advance of disaster.

Pack a disaster “go-kit” specifically for your service animal’s needs as well as your own. Make an abbreviated list of your medical needs and your animal’s needs and keep it in your animal’s service vest. Include a photo of your animal in this kit. If you use a vest, pack a spare vest in the kit as well. The ADA does not require assistance dogs to wear identifying equipment in public, but many do, which is helpful for business owners and the public in general so they can plan and act accordingly to your needs. Separation from your animal is the last thing you need to deal with in the face of disaster. Invest in a tag which carries his call name and the veterinary’s phone number on the tag, Petsmart and HotDog Collars offer some solutions. Investigate microchipping as a solution for reuniting with your service animal. If your pet has a microchip, the number of that microchip must be directly linked to you. This is done by enrolling it in a recovery service.

Include a sticker on your vehicle or window of your home to alert emergency service personnel. Here are a few examples.

Humanity Road Animals in Disaster Team works to support the safety and care of animals impacted by disaster you can support them through the following means; sign up to be a virtual volunteer from home, donate directly and Like them in Facebook & RT them in Twitter

Here are some helpful websites for additional resources, products & Info

International Association of Assistance Dog Partners http://www.iaadp.org/disaster.html

Service Dog Central http://servicedogcentral.org/content/

Paws for Ability http://4pawsforability.org/autism-assistance-dog/

Americans with Disability Act http://www.ada.gov/pubs/ada.htm