When a Patient Has a Service Dog

When a Patient Has a Service Dog

Although it may not happen often, there could be times when a patient comes into your department at the hospital or the health care office you work in, and they have a service dog.

Would you know what to do? Do you acknowledge the dog or not? If it’s an emergency situation, can you move the dog?

We interviewed two experts to get their opinions on what nurses should do when patients have service dogs: Wallis Brozman is an Outreach and Advocacy Programs Specialist for Canine Companions for Independence as well as a three-time recipient of Canine Companions service dogs, and Jennifer Swank is a Service Dog Instructor for America’s VetDogs.

Wallis Brozman and her service dog Renata Photo by Chris Kitteredge Photography
Wallis Brozman and her service dog Renata
Photo by Chris Kitteredge Photography

How should you act/perform when a patient has a service dog? Suppose a patient is admitted to the hospital or comes to the ER, and their service dog is with them? What should nurses do?

Brozman says:

  • A service animal is limited to a dog and, rarely, a miniature pony (usually for guiding a person who is blind), that has been individually trained to perform tasks or work that directly mitigate the handler’s disability. Health care workers should ignore the dog unless the dog is out of the owner’s control, behaving in an unsafe manner, or preventing the care of the patient. Service dogs are permitted in all areas of a hospital that the general public is permitted, with the exception of sterile environments such as operating rooms, sterile storage, or burn units.
  • As long as the service dog is behaving safely and under control, the service dog can join the patient in admission. Hospital staff are not expected to manage the dog’s needs, so the handler may need to locate family or friends to take the dog outside or assist with its care for the duration of the admittance.
  • If a patient is unable to handle the dog, the hospital is responsible for finding alternative care for the service dog. The service dog owner should be given the first opportunity to identify alternative care for the dog.

Suppose a patient is brought into the hospital in an ambulance and their service dog is with them. If the doctors/nurses need to be working on the patient, what should a nurse do with the service animal? Do they have information on their collars or anything that will give a phone number or someone to contact?

Brozman advises:

  • If a handler needs urgent care and the dog is in the way, ask the handler if you can move the dog (even if they are unresponsive). Let them know that the dog will be with a specific staff member or the patient’s contact while they are receiving critical care . While this isn’t a requirement, there is a lot of potential anxiety for a patient if the whereabouts of their service dog is unclear.
  • If the handler is unable to provide direction on alternative care for the service dog, check the dog’s ID tags or equipment for contact information. If an immediate contact cannot be reached (i.e., a family member or friend), the dog’s equipment may indicate a program or organization that trained the dog, such as a logo. Get in touch with the organization if possible, as there may be volunteers or staff members who can assist in finding someone to care for the dog.
  • As the last option, the dog should be kenneled at a veterinarian or animal shelter with clear instruction that the dog is a service dog whose owner will be returning for the dog—not surrendering the dog.

Swank advises on the following questions:

What about this same scenario in a regular doctor’s office? If someone comes in for an appointment and uses a service animal, what are the health care workers required or expected to do? Not do?

Again, there really isn’t anything for anyone to do—the dog should be ignored, and the handler should be spoken too as if they are any other patient without a service dog. Asking the handler if there is anything special that they need such as placement in a room to allow space for their dog or simply inquiring how the staff should interact is appreciated.

Suppose the person at the doctor’s office is sent to the hospital. What should nurses do with the service animal?

If the handler is conscious and able to command the dog, then the dog should go along. If not, then the emergency contact person for the handler should be contacted.

What are some of the biggest mistakes nurses can make when they work with a patient who has a service animal?

I’d say the biggest mistake would be to distract the dog by talking to them, trying to pet them or treating the person differently because they have a service dog.

What else is important for our readers to know?

Number one thing is to always ignore the service dog and talk to the handler. Talking to the dog, making noises towards them, or trying to pet can potentially cause harm to the handler. Some service dogs are allowed to be interacted with while working, but never assume so. Always ask the handler before petting or distracting the dog.

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.