Patients with Pups: Nursing with Service Dogs

Patients with Pups: Nursing with Service Dogs

Are service dogs allowed in medical facilities, including doctor’s offices and hospitals, in the United States? If so, what is the responsibility of nurses to care for individuals accompanied by a service dog?

We ask these questions because there are currently more than 500,000 service dogs in the U.S., and the service dog community is growing in popularity. Types of service dogs include: guide dogs for the blind, emotional support, mobility assistance, medical alert, autism support, and more.

The American Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as one that is “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

This includes psychiatric service dogs who support those suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as individuals active in the military or veterans. For those suffering from PTSD, it can be difficult for them because you can’t see the condition, but fortunately the service dog is trained to do so.

When A Patient Has a Service Dog

As a nurse, what are your responsibilities when a patient enters your medical facility attended by a service dog?

A little known fact is service dogs are not required to wear any specific labeling or attire to indicate visually that the animal is a service dog. Also, the ADA only classifies dogs as an approved service animal.

According to the ADA, you can ask the following two questions to a patient with a service dog:

  1. Is your animal required because of a disability?
  2. If so, what tasks is your service dog trained to do for you (the owner)?

You cannot ask the individual about her disability, to see any paperwork about the dog’s specific training, to have the dog demonstrate its tasks, or order the owner to make the animal wear a “service dog” vest.

Working with Patients and Pups

So as a nurse, what can you do to care for your patient? It’s twofold. First, your primary responsibility is to “protect the rights of the disabled patient,” and second, you want to make sure the owner keeps control of the animal.

Next, you want to follow the safety guidelines for your facility, which may include the restriction of animals in locations where the animal might compromise the environment, including sterile areas such as operating rooms or labs.

If you require want further instructions, you can always check with your facility manager or go to the ADA website to find out more.

With more and more service dogs assisting those with disabilities across the U.S., the likelihood of seeing an increase in service animals in medical facilities should be anticipated as is the proper treatment of these types of patients.

This story is brought to you by Michael O’Keefe at Consumers Advocate.