Living with
a disability can be extremely difficult, especially when it comes to performing
day-to-day tasks, many of which require near perfect mobility as well as all
five senses. It is even more difficult when the individual lacks sufficient
funds to hire a part-time or fulltime caretaker to assist with these tasks.
There are several other alternate solutions, however, to help ease their
burden. The most common solution is to have a service animal. A service
animal is an animal that is trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an
individual who has a physical, mental, sensory, or intellectual disability.
Service animals perform various task such as Guiding individuals who are blind
or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing of
people or sounds, assisting individuals during seizures as well as alerting
others of said individual’s seizure, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving items
such as medication, providing physical support for individuals with mobility disabilities
and, preventing impulsive/destructive behaviours for individuals with mental
illnesses. Service animals are selected and trained by organisations. The
organisations have high standards and the training of a service animal is a
tough and long process. The animals must be able to perform their task on
command and have to perform specific skills to pass the test designed to evaluate
the animal’s behaviour in distracting environments. Due to the high standard of
training, the dropout rates are as high as 70%. Service animals are also
expensive to acquire due to the high demand and limited availability. As an
example, organisation trained service dogs can cost up to $25000, which is
inclusive of two years of training, food and veterinary care. Service animals
must possess several qualities such as calm but friendly, always alert and
ability to gather and retain information so that they are reliable. Besides
that, the tasks that the service animals train in must be directly related to
its owner’s disability to ensure reliability and efficiency. One of the
many things people often forget about service animals is that a service animal
is not a pet and must not be played with while in the presence of the owner, no
matter the circumstance.  A service
animal must always accompany its owner at all times, granted that it is leashed
in public, unless leashing it directly interferes with its work. Besides that,
service animals are also allowed in public places such as restaurants and
airports where normal pets cannot enter due to the nature of their work.

 Animals had been in service of humans since
the dawn of mankind. The earliest record of service animals was wolves
domesticated into dogs in 13000 B.C. The early humans learned to utilise the
superior natural instincts and senses of dogs to help them chase down prey for
food and fur. When society became more advanced, people have different needs as
they don’t have to chase down prey for survival anymore. During the
agricultural era, cats were used to protect grain supplies from rats and dogs
to protect and herd livestock. Other animals such as oxen, donkey and horses
work as beasts of burden by pulled plows, carried heavy loads and pulled carts
to the market. As civilizations expand, they engaged in commerce and warfare
with each other. Horses became very important because it can cover large
distances easily. Horses are used to transport goods, delivering mails and as
mounts in warfare due to its bulk and momentum while charging. Other animals
are also used in warfare to haul supplies and smaller animals are utilised as
effective messengers such as dogs and pigeons. Fast forwarding to World War 1,
service animals became even more important as they are used to tackle various
tasks. Horses are continued to be used as mounts by countries such as Poland,
camels are used to carry the wounded men to safety, dogs are used as sentries
and guards due to their excellent sense of smell and hearing etc. During World
War 1, the first training school for service animals was established in
Germany. Dogs would be trained there to serve the blind soldiers that returned
from war. The first few breeds of dogs that were
used were the German Shepherds. This took place in Great Britain when four
German Shepherds named Judy, Flash, Folly and Meta were given to visually
impaired soldiers on 6th October 1931. In the year 1975, both the Hearing Dog Program
and Canine For Companion Independence was established which at that time made
it the first dog-training program in America. In the year 2010, The U.S.
Department of Justice gave out an order under the Americans with Disabilities
Act stating that only dogs and in some cases miniature horses are allowed as
service animals.

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Dogs are by far the most popular type of service animals due to its history
with human beings and availability as domesticated animals. However, there are
even different type of animals used for assistance by people with disabilities
other than dogs. One of it is miniature horse, they are a great choice for
someone who needs a walking support. They are also less aggressive compared to
dogs. Moreover, miniature horses are naturally cautious and have
exceptional vision, with eyes set far apart for nearly 360-degree range.
Surprisingly, even snakes specifically boa constrictors are used for guidance.
These snakes help people with disorders such as Panic Disorder, bipolar
Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. For example, a man from Washington
have this reptile on his neck that will prevent him to get seizures by alerting
him to take his medication by squeezing him tighter. Another animal that is
used for seizure prevention are ferrets. These little creatures are also
trained to remind someone to take medication, wake their owners up and even
avoid harmful behaviour by interrupt. Furthermore, parrots are also trained to
assist disable people. Since, they can talk well, parrots are able to
communicate with their owners. Moreover, Capuchin Monkeys are also listed as a
service animal. This is because they are good at gripping and retrieving.
Hence, they are able to do simple chores, opening doors among other things. Potbelly
pigs are another new type of service animal introduced to the public. Potbelly
pigs are highly intelligent and gentle-mannered, combinations which made it an
excellent candidate as service animals. They can perform task same as guide
dogs and contrary to popular misconception, potbelly pigs are actually cleaner
than dogs because they have less body hair which fleas can hide in. Besides
that, they can also interact well with children due to their docile nature. A
boa constrictor, which is a snake, can help with psychological disorders such
as bipolar disorder and panic disorders. It can perform special tasks such as
squeezing its host tightly when he or she has seizure. Finally, a parrot is an
excellent service animal for psychiatric disorder patients. Parents are
talented in speaking which allows them to comfort their owners when they are
stressed or panic. For example, Sam has a service parrot trained to repeat certain
sentences when it senses Sam’s emotion had changed. Besides that, the parrot
can also perform other tasks such as waking up and alerting its owner when
something is wrong.

service animals had been proven to be useful from time to time again, they
still are not accepted fully by Malaysians. Although service animals benefit a
lot to people with disabilities, especially blind people, service animals such
as guide dogs are not accepted by everywhere. Guide dogs are not allowed to
enter public transport, most of the shopping malls and restaurants. There are a
few malls that accept guide dogs to enter, for example Sunway Pyramid. On 31st
Jan 2016, The Star had published a news about Stevens Chan, who has lost his
sight ten years ago, he said that people can barely see a guide dog in public
places. One of the factors is in a Muslim country, guide dog is an issue for
the Muslims so that it is less acceptable in Malaysia. Besides that, publics
are also too sensitive to guide dogs and lack of awareness. Guide dogs are not
pets but trained dogs that can assist people in need. “Everybody should receive
the same privilege and enjoyment in life with or without aid,” said Tan.

  The importance of
service animals is unquestionable because they are present since the dawn of
mankind. Service animals undergo harsh and high-quality training for service of
humans. Service animals will always be a reliable, helpful and caring
companions to those that require their services. Service animals are not slaves
to humans; They are valuable working companions so they should be treated with
honour and respect as they sacrifice their freedom and sometimes their lives in
aiding human beings. The public should be educated more about service animals
through campaigns or advertisements so that service animals are recognised for
their contribution in making our daily lives easier. Besides that, the public
must be informed that they cannot pet service animals that are on duty because
their owners might need their help in any given moment and distractions could
prove to be fatal. Many people are in desperate need of high-quality service
animals so the government should take various measures to ensure service animals
are always obedient, alert and well-trained. This can be done by introducing
various training programs so that animal owners can turn their pet dogs into
service dogs if necessary and increase the number of service animals available.
Because of the rights and power given to service animals, some pet owners
disguise their pets as service animals so that they can bring their pets to
various public places such as restaurants, airports etc. The working staff in
those places must take extra precautionary steps to identify and ensure an
animal is a service animal before letting it enter to prevent untrained pets
from entering because these untrained animals had been reported to be
disruptive and unstable. The government must implement stricter laws to prevent
pet owners from disguising their pets as service animals to prevent fake
service animals from posing a threat to other people’s health and safety
through unwanted behaviour. In the near future, we will see more advanced
service animal training methods that will increase the number of well-trained service
animals to play different roles in various fields such as medical, security,
military etc. As an example, Paws Assisting Veterans(PAVE) is seeking
volunteers to help raise puppies so they become suitable candidates when the
puppies are old enough. The group provide service dogs to war veterans
suffering from physical or mental disabilities, while also informing the public
the importance of service dogs to war veterans. The unorthodox training methods
can prove to be useful in increasing the number of service animals.


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