This week, August 4-10, is International Assistance Dog Week. It is a week dedicated to honoring those dogs who work as therapy and service dogs for the physically and mentally challenged.
The Animal Medical Center and its veterinarians have a special place in our hearts for a very specific type of service dog, guide dogs. Since 1960, The AMC’s Frank V.D. Lloyd Fund for Guide Dogs has provided complimentary, comprehensive medical care for the hard working “eyes” of visually impaired New Yorkers. While the urban environment of NYC provides top flight health care and excellent access to public transportation for the visually impaired, working in an asphalt jungle puts their dogs at risk for orthopedic, traumatic and weather-related injuries. In addition to these occupational hazards, research has shown that cancer also threatens the lives of many guide dogs.
One such dog is Florence, a 12 year old Labrador Retriever who is Kathy’s “eyes.” Florence sees me for a tumor inside her nose. Right now, the tumor causes nose bleeds and the nose bleeds were the tip-off to Kathy that her “eyes” had a problem. Being the veterinarian for a guide dog presents some challenges. I am always mindful of how Kathy will get home if I have to keep her dog for the day or overnight care at the hospital. At the time the tumor was diagnosed, we had a long and serious conversation about management of Florence’s illness. Kathy did not want any treatments that might make Florence sick. Respecting that, we have her pain well managed and Florence continues to work and have a good quality of life.
In addition to recognizing service and therapy dogs, another goal of International Assistance Dog Week is to honor puppy raisers and trainers. Without them, there would be no therapy or assistance dogs to honor this week! The AMC hosts a weekly meet up group of puppy raisers for Guiding Eyes for the Blind in our conference room. To grow up to be a successful seeing-eye dog, puppies in training must experience a wide variety of social situations. Whenever possible, The AMC invites our Guiding Eyes for the Blind puppies in training to AMC sponsored events. These opportunities help puppies learn to cope with a variety of circumstances. The photo above shows Cuttie in my arms at The AMC’s 2009 Top Dog Gala. You can see he is unfazed by the adoring crowd and the photographer’s flashbulb.
Recognizing the importance of therapy dogs, assistance animals and beloved pets, Interim Healthcare has developed a novel program benefiting both service dogs and pets. This corporation provides additional training to caregivers who encounter pets over the course of the 25 million hours of care they provide annually in clients’ homes. Caregivers who understand the importance of pets to their patients help them to live enriched and independent lives. I hope many more healthcare providers will follow their lead.
In addition to honoring the specially trained therapy and service dogs this week, let’s not forget to thank those dogs (and cats) who tirelessly provide companionship and entertainment to the homebound, the elderly and to those of us who are able bodied, but can’t wait to get home from the office to see what our favorite dog or cat has done all day.