Balance Dogs for Multiple Sclerosis
Many people with MS are now being assisted by specially trained service dogs that assist people living with varying disabilities in a variety of ways.
Guide dogs can help people with vision difficulties to move about and navigate the world. Dogs can also be trained to assist people with hearing loss by indicating when a phone is ringing or a baby is crying. Balance dogs help people get up and down from chairs and bed as well as helping to do various daily activities. Balance dogs are becoming more commonly used by people with MS.
In the UK, “Dogs for the Disabled” is a registered Charity that trains and provides accredited assistance dogs to children and adults with mobility problems due to a physical disability such as MS.
Balance dogs help people with MS in a number of ways and are more than just working animals, they are also loyal companions.
They can help brace people when they get up and down i.e. from beds or seats, help with movement from room to room, and sense when their charge is tired and will nudge a fatigued person towards a chair (or someplace where he or she can lean).
|In addition, they provide a variety of other services and usually wear a special balance harness and sometimes a backpack with supplies.
When out in public, they are well behaved and will calmly position themselves out of the way when in places such as restaurants, cinemas, libraries, parks etc.
With regard to balance dogs, another important consideration is the size of the dog, since they must be large enough to support the weight of their owner.
Balance Dogs also need to be healthy, well trained and able to perform the tasks needed for the owner.
The normal breeds selected for Balance Dogs are generally larger breeds such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Great Danes. The dog must also not have any health problems, must be trainable and must be able to focus on the task that needs to be accomplished.
In America the important work these dogs do is recognised in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which states that “Service Dogs have a right to be anywhere that their owner has a right to be”, and a person, company or organisation is breaking the law if they prevent them accessing their premises when accompanying their owners.
A well-trained Balance Dog can be a huge help to someone with MS, by performing the following functions (among others):
Sensing when people are tired and encourage them to rest by gently nudging them toward a chair
Helping people get in and out of chairs and beds by bracing them as they get up and down.
Helping people move from room to room inside a house
Picking up dropped items from the floor like a telephone or a pen.
Pushing buttons in an elevator
Opening doors using a special device
Turning lights off and on.
Balance Dogs also:
Wear a special balance harness.
Carry a backpack with supplies.
Trained to be discrete (for example, most dogs are trained to sit under tables in restaurants)
Perhaps one of the most important functions that these dogs fulfil for their owners is the provision
of constant loyal companionship.
Could a Balance Dog Help Me?
Before you seriously begin to think about a Balance Dog for yourself, you should ask yourself a few questions:
Do I like dogs?
Could a Balance Dog help me, given my level of disability?
Can I (or someone else) care for the dog?
Am I willing to work with my dog?
Can I afford its care?
How to Obtain a Balance Dog
Although legally there is nothing to stop anyone buying a dog and training it themselves. Most people go to Assistance Dog Organisations where they can buy a dog which has already been fully trained to be a Balance Dog. If this is the option you choose make sure to check out the organisation thoroughly and talk to people who have obtained dogs from the place you are interested in.
Assistance Dogs (UK) is a voluntary coalition of Assistance Dog Organisations and Charities that encourages the exchange of ideas and best practice amongst its members, raises awareness amongst the general public and promotes behavioural and legislative changes to ensure the freedom,
independence and rights of its clients
There are six registered Charities that form Assistance Dogs (UK) :
Guide Dogs for the Blind Association
Hearing Dogs for Deaf People
Dogs for the Disabled
For information on AD(UK) contact:
Assistance Dogs (UK)
c/o Hearing Dogs for Deaf People
T: (01844) 348100
F: (01844) 348101