Everyone is aware of the existence of guide dogs and their usefulness for people with visual disabilities. With the help of a guide dog, people with visual disabilities are able to get around safely and more readily in public places. The dogs compensate for their limitations, as would a mobility self-help device or a white cane, for example.
For some years now, another type of dog has been being trained to assist handicapped individuals with disabilities other than visual. This other type of dog is the service dog. Service dogs, like guide dogs, accompany handicapped individuals as they move around, helping to make up for certain inabilities or limitations.
Service dogs, as the name suggest, provide assistance to physically handicapped individuals, by pulling their wheelchair, by picking up objects and by positioning themselves to facilitate the move from the wheelchair to a chair, sofa or bed.
Service dogs come from the same breeding programs as guide dogs. Usually, the training period lasts three months, and the assignment adjustment period lasts tree weeks.
The teams formed by a handicapped individual and a service dog are monitored on a twice-yearly basis—more often if needed.
Service and companionship dogs are trained to help people with motor disabilities to compensate for their inability to grasp objects, move around in a wheelchair, walk on their own or change positions.
The program is available to youth and adults.
Currently, more than 400 handicapped individuals use service dogs trained by the MIRA Foundation, the sole accredited guide dog and service dog training centre in Quebec.
In the tradition of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, it is safe to assume that service dogs, like guide dogs, can be regarded as a means of dealing with a handicap. While guide dogs are trained for use by people with visual impairments, service dogs are trained to assist youth or adult individuals with motor or organic disabilities or individuals with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, muscle atrophy, paraplegia, quadriplegia or multiple sclerosis. The majority of handicapped individuals with service dogs are confined to a wheelchair—be it manual or motorized.
Here is a short description of disabilities and neuromuscular disorders :
Paraplegia is the result of a medullary injury at the level at the dorsal vertebrae or below, in the lumbar or sacro-iliac regions. Obtundation may affect the legs and the lower torso.
Quadriplegia, also called tetraplegia, results from a lesion in the spinal cord in the neck (cervical vertebrae). This condition causes varying degrees of obtundation and/or loss of motricity in the arms and torso, including the thorax (chest).
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory ailment of the central nervous system (the brain, the cerebellum and the spinal cord), characterized by patches of hardened tissue spread through the central nervous system, causing loss or destruction of myelin—a fatty sheath that protects the nerve fiber. Generally speaking, MS appears in individuals aged 20 to 40. It affects twice as many women as men. It is the most widespread central nervous system disorder among young adults in Quebec, affecting between one in 500 and one in 1000 individuals. Development time varies according to individuals. Signs of this development are either recurrent remissions or gradual degeneration. These symptoms may include extreme fatigue, difficulty speaking, visual disorders, jerking muscle tremors, loss of balance, numbness and sometime even paralysis. Multiple sclerosis is not a mental illness, nor is it contagious. For the time being, there are no known preventive measures and no known cure.
DUCHENNE MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY
Clinical symptoms of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) appear in children aged two to five. Among the early clinical signs are difficulty standing up and a tendency to fall down frequently. Progression of the disorder is gradual, with no remission. Boys affected by DMD usually will need a wheelchair to get around starging in the pre-teen years to early adolescence. Children are dependent on others for many of their daily activities. This usually means getting onto the toilet, into the bathtub or into bed, feeding themselves, and so on, from adolescence into adulthoold, according to whether or not they are medicated with corticosteroids. One out of 3300 male children are affected by this disorder.
BECKER MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY
The symptoms of Becker Muscular Dystrophy are the same as the symptoms of DMD, except that they arrive later, towards the end of adolescence or the beginning of adulthood. This disorder affects boys only.
LIMB-GIRDLE MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY
As with Duchenne and Beckedr muscular dystrophies, the initial symptoms of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD) include difficulty running and going up stairs. But the progression of the disorder is more variable. In some cases, it evolves quite slowly, while in others its progression is swift. Both women and men can be affected by this disorder.
SPINAL MUSCULAR ATROPHY
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) refers to a group of inherited disorders characterized by degeneration of specialized nerve cells called motor neurons. This disorder exists in at least three distinct forms. Type 1 SMA affects babies, and their life expectancy is extremely limited. Adults and children affected by SMA type 2 or 3 experience difficulty going up stairs and engaging in activities that require balance. They will inevitably have to rely on a wheelchair. Both men and women can be affected by type 2 or type 3 SMA at a prevalence rate of 1 in 6000.
Friedreich’s ataxia is a recessive hereditary disease affecting the nervous system. This disorder affects both boys and girls and becomes manifest between ages 7 and 13. Early symptoms include diffulty remaining standing and being unsteady on one’s feet, followed by jerky, ill-controlled movements of the legs and arms as well as weakness in the legs and difficulty speaking and pronouncing words. In most cases, someone affected by this disorder will be unable to walk within eight to ten years of appearance of the first symptoms.
AUTOSOMAL RECESSIVE SPASTIC ATAXIA OF CHARLEVOIX-SAGUENAY
Autosomal Recessive Spastic Ataxia of Charlevoix-Saguenay (ARSACS) is a disorder particular to inhabitants of the Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean region characterized by degeneration of the spinal column that gradually spreads to peripheral nerves. Symptoms become manifest as soon as an afflicted child learns to walk. Toddlers affected by ARSACS have trouble keeping their balance when attempting to walk and fall down often. Symptoms—lack of balance when walking, uncoordination of upper limbs, spasticity, stiffness in the legs and torso, difficulty pronouncing words—progress slowly. Some three hundred men and women are affected by this disorder in Quebec.
Mitochondrial myopathy refers to a group of disorders characterized by dysfunctional mitochondrial processes in the skeletal muscle. These disorders cause gradual diminishment of energy production in the cell. When repeated on a wide scale in the body, whole systems, such as the skeletal muscles, begin to falter. Mitochondrial myopathies are rare disorders that affect both men and women equally.
Service (assistance) dogs receive specific training at the MIRA Foundation to work in service of handicapped individuals in the physical realm, extending the motor abilities of these individuals. When working, service dogs always wear a harness. Service dogs trained in Quebec are Labradors, Bernese mountain dogs or Labernois.
Breed, however, is no guarantee that a dog will be a good candidate for training. At MIRA, dogs undergo a rigorous selection process. Dogs that are exceedingly fearful, overly aggressive or insufficiently drawn to humans will not be trained. As well, it sometimes happens that once training is underway, some selected dogs do not live up to expectations. These dogs are then removed from the training program.
With the help of service dogs, individuals can enjoy greater autonomy, as they no longer require constant assistance from another person. Service dog training aims to qualify these dogs to safely fulfil three specific assistance functions with handicapped individuals: grasping, physical support and pulling.
The grasping function involves picking up objects for the handicapped individual. For example, the dog might pick up a set of keys or a coin that the individual has dropped. This function is particularly important for individuals who, due to significant muscle weakness, often drop objects and are unable to lean over and pick them up.
The physical support function is especially useful to individuals who use a wheelchair. These individuals can lean on their dog as they move from bed to the wheelchair or from their wheelchair to a car seat. The dogs can also help individuals who have tipped over in their wheelchair to right themselves.
The pulling fonction is also crucial. Service dogs can pull a manual wheelchair over the lip of a sidewalk ramp or up an access ramp to a building. Dogs position themselves on the lefthand side of the wheelchair to provide pulling assistance.
To carry out these functions appropriately and safely, dogs must undergo rigorous training. The training lasts approximately four months. The trainer teaches the dog to obey different commands so that it will be able to safely carry out its grasping, support and traction duties. The dogs learn to walk with a person in a wheelchair and become familiar with different environments—curbs, malls, public transit, and so on.
The dogs are then paired with handicapped individuals, who are housed at the MIRA Foundation for tree weeks, during which time they get to know their dog. The dogs then learn to assist these individuals in their home environment as they carry out their regular activities. Home monitoring is carried out after the training to ensure that the dogs have assimilated their training fully and properly.
On the average, it costs the MIRA Foundation $30,000 to train a service dog. All dogs from the Mira Foundation are given free of charge.
This form is informative only. To download the form, you need to install Acrobat Reader. To obtain this program, simply click the icon below.
To apply for a service (assistance) dog, print and fill out the application. Send it via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or mail it to Johanne Hallé, Director of Services, Mira Foundation, 1820 Rand Nord Ouest, Ste-Madeleine, Quebec, J0H 1S0.
Click here to download the Service (assistance) Dog Application Form (Word 97+). (Please right-click on the link in order to save the document on your computer.)
You are coming to the MIRA Foundation for the attribution of a service dog. We hope you will enjoy your stay at the Assistance dog program facility.
You will be in class for a 21 day period. The class is offered to a maximum of ten people at a time. All of our services and benefits are offered free of charge, including: transportation to and from our school; room and board; dog equipment and, of course, your guide dog. Our residence accommodates clients with single room and meals are served in the same building.
Your training begins at 8:30 and ends around 5:00 each day. Certain training periods take place in the evening to take each individual visual and physical conditions into account.
What you need to bring with you
• Warm clothes • Hat (depending on the season) • Rain clothes • Money for your personal expenses as well as cigarettes for the month, if you smoke. TAKE NOTE THAT THE RESIDENCE IS A NON-SMOKING AREA. • Coins for soft drink machine • Personal hygiene articles: shampoo, hairdryer, toothpaste, soap, towels, face cloths, personal medication (ex: syrup, aspirin), please make sure to bring sufficient amount of prescribed medication.
• Laundry soap, washer-dryer, ironing board, electric iron and bedding. • A television is available in the living room. If you wish, you can also bring a radio and\or a television for your personal room.
A telephone is at your disposition, the number is (450) 795-3449. You have to use a calling card or make a collect call for long distance calls. You can receive phone calls at this number. It is preferable for people who want to reach you at this number to phone after 17:30, time at which your training day will end.
In case of an emergency, it is possible for someone to leave a message for you at the administration office at (450) 795-3725 from Monday to Friday between 8:00 and 17:00.
Your room is private, meaning that you’ll be staying with your service dog. Breakfasts are served between 7:00 and 8:15. You must be ready to begin your training day with the instructors at 8:30.
Before you leave the facility, you will be provided with the required material for your service dog (bowl, harness and leash) as well as a user’s certificate. During the class, a photographer will come to take your picture for your ID card. The card will be sent to you in the weeks following the class.