More medical professionals, health organizations, and businesses recognize the benefits of service and support animals. These companions provide mental and physical health and safety. You will undoubtedly encounter service animals in your work. It’s a good idea to keep up with the latest laws and to know how best to relate to patients who use service animals.

Service Animals and Support Animals

Service or support animals most often wear a vest to indicate that they are one or the other. A service animal can be a dog that helps guide a blind person, relieves PTSD, or responds to seizures, among many other duties. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also includes miniature horses among licensable service animals. An ADA-licensed service animal is welcome almost anywhere in public. Exceptions include places that require sterilization, such as surgical rooms or near someone with deathly allergies. Psychiatric Assistance Dogs receive the service dog label.
Other animals work as emotional support animals (ESAs). They benefit the human in some emotional or mental way. However, they can’t officially be called a licensed service animal. These support animals can be any pet imaginable. Pigs, turkeys, rats, snakes, monkeys, and llamas have been emotional support animals. The owner must file paperwork with backing from a mental health professional in order to take them on airplanes or keep them in college housing. Otherwise, it’s up to the establishment to decide if they want ESAs. With no real regulation, ESAs are on the rise. Their rising use and lack of regulation can create problems, as Delta Airlines described to the New York Times.

Interacting with Service and Support Animals

Service animals train for specific tasks. They may not be friendly towards strangers, and some may even protect their human with hostility. Hopefully, when someone with a service animal calls for emergency services they alert someone about the animal. The person with disabilities should request to be placed on the local Emergency Information Management office’s disability registry. This will include information about the animal’s duties. Here are some steps to take when dealing with service and support animals.

Identify and Distinguish

When you arrive on a scene to see an animal hovering over your patient, approach slowly. Ask your patient if the animal is for service or support, if it is a pet, or if it has attacked them. If the animals is a service or support animal, ask what tasks it performs for the patient. If the patient is incoherent or incapacitated, note whether the animal has a vest and what the vest indicates, if possible. Some vests may say what the animal is intended to do and may even have the papers included in a plastic protector. Get down to the animal’s level to allow it to get to know you and be comfortable with you in moving the patient. Now you can help.

Service and Support for You

Use the animal to your advantage. They’re usually more familiar with your patient than you are. If a llama is used to calm down anxiety fits, don’t try to remove the llama from the patient’s grasp or sight. If the service animal is trained to assist with seizures they’ll know what to do at any given moment when something goes wrong in the transfer from them to you. Though the animals can’t talk, they will communicate what the patient needs if you let them.

Transportation of Service Animals

Depending on the situation, you will need to take the service animal with you to the medical center when transporting the patient. Do so with a seatbelt or other restraint. Emily Williamson writes at Everyday EMS Tips, “A service dog does not have to be transported in the ambulance if the owner cannot maintain control of the animal, would interfere with the care of the handler, or the dog is not behaving appropriately.” Use sound judgment for your own safety and your patient’s.
However, some states have passed laws that require the transport of a service animal with their charge. Know your state’s guidelines regarding service animals, too. In one case, the EMS team did not transport a blind man’s service dog, violating Maryland law. Sometimes you can or should transport the animal in another vehicle. Alternate transports can be another EMS, animal control, police, fire or a patient’s loved one.
The service animal should also follow into the hospital, unless in a surgical room or if it poses a direct threat to others. ESAs cannot follow and should not be brought to the hospital. If you know the patient or have spent time with the animal during transport, vouch for the service animal so that the patient can avoid potential delays.

As lines become blurred between service animals and ESAs, it’s important for EMS workers to know how to deal with them and the laws regarding them. Whether it’s a dog, a turkey, a rabbit, or a miniature horse, be prepared. If you’re allergic, step back and have a co-worker take over.

PHOTO: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain