Assistance Dogs For Every Disability -
Except The One That Could Affect 1 In 4 Of Us
With my heart at the Game Fair and my pen poised to take notes of the use of gundog breeds as Guide Dogs, I was surprised to find myself instead drawn towards aspects of my day job, where I am employed to represent people with mental health needs.
In walking around the Gala day and chatting with stall holders and visitors, it occurred to me there is no organisation to support the one type of health impairment that is most likely to affect the population - our mental health. 1 in 4 of us ‘experience a mental health problem during the course of a year’ (Department of Health) and although most recover, for some people the impact, often due to lack of confidence and self esteem, may handicap their ability to take part in activities for the rest of their life.
Assistance dog charities are experienced in matching people with dogs, and some dogs are dual trained to support a person with more than a single impairment – for example, a physically disabled deaf person, or a blind person with mental health needs. However, no organisation exits to support disabled people with their dogs where their predominant need is psychological.
In order to appreciate the activities non-disabled people take for granted, society must make certain adjustments; if not morally, then legally under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995, 2005. In the case of people who rely on their canine companions to meet their needs, exception to ‘no dogs policies’ is afforded to Guide Dogs, and this is normally extended to other dogs with other distinguishing harnesses or jackets.
The umbrella organisation Assistance Dogs (UK) (ADUK) has developed a logo for ‘registered assistance dogs’, which is used on dog jackets for easy recognition of these trained dogs. However, as there is no existing charity or organisation to support people disabled by their mental health, the opportunity for a ‘registered assistance dog’ for such people is not possible.
I spoke with Alan Brooks, chairman of Assistance Dogs UK (ADUK) who said, ‘I am aware of a project called the Wilby Campaign which has explored some of the implications of an organisation to support people with mental health needs with their assistance dogs. ADUK is looking forward to meeting their representatives to discuss further’.
Could there be a glimmer of hope ahead? I, for one, certainly hope so…