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Service dogs on the job

By Nancy Werteen, Anchor / Reporter, NWerteen@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 04 2013 07:17:10 AM CST
Updated On: Mar 04 2013 10:57:54 AM CST

Service dogs on the job

PEN ARGYL, Pa. -

There are thousands of service dogs out there helping people with disabilities every day.

You may be familiar with seeing eye dogs, but there are many other types of service dogs quietly helping people with everything from visual and hearing impairment to autism.

They can help folks with physical disabilities and even psychiatric problems. These are smart, loyal animals who train for a long time.

That's why if you see a service dog in action, owners say you have to remember the dog is working and needs to stay focused on the job at hand.

Freedom is a black lab. She was named for the gifts she gives 22-year-old Clint Heisler.

"Well, she helps me out. She's a good companion. She's always around me and stuff like that," says Clint.

Clint has cerebral palsy and physical disabilities. Freedom helps by picking up dropped items, taking the phone to Clint, even taking off his socks off.

Meeting Clint, you notice he smiles most of the time. Clint's mother says Freedom has a lot to do with Clint's sunny attitude.

Carol Heisler says, " She's really opened up his life to the world outside because you know it's difficult when you're disabled to get around and to get out and meet people and she's done that for him."

Freedom has been by Clint's side since high school.

Clint now runs a notary out of his family's Pen Argyl home and where you find Clint, you find Freedom.

Carol say, " I feel more at ease when she's with him because if anything should happen she can come and get me. He'll tell her 'go get mom' and she'll come and get me."

Service Dogs America says any breed can be a service dog but labs and retrievers are the most popular.

We're also told the training programs last almost two years and there is usually a waiting list when a dog becomes available.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as dogs individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.

Tasks can range from calming a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder to retrieving keys from a hook on the wall; but just don’t call them pets.

How can you identify if a dog is a service dog and not just a pet?

The simple answer is to ask the handler, “Is this a service dog?”

You may also ask what tasks the dog has been trained to do for the handler.

Please be aware that a service dog is not required to wear a vest identifying him/her as a service dog.