Karen B. London
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Dogs in Elementary School?
What makes a dog a service dog?

[Editor's Note: A few days after Karen posted this blog about parents fighting against dogs in schools, the Star-Telegram reported on the big success of therapy dogs at a Fort Worth elementary school. The reporter's timing was perfect.]

The family of an autistic boy wants their dog to accompany him to school to ease the transition to a new place and to help keep him safe from traffic and other dangers. Service dogs are allowed in his school. However, opponents claim that this dog is just a source of comfort rather than a true service dog. A trial is scheduled for November 2009 to determine if the dog can accompany the boy, but thanks to a judge’s order in July, when the boy starts school, his dog will go with him.

What constitutes a service dog? Is it the old-fashioned definition of being a guide dog for a blind person or are we as a society ready to wholeheartedly expand our definition to dogs who alert people with diabetes or epilepsy to impending problems, dogs who provide people with emotional stability that they cannot achieve on their own, dogs who support people physically in case of loss of balance, dogs who protect impulsive children from running towards the road or other perilous situations and dogs who allow children to handle school when they might otherwise be incapable of doing so?

How do we distinguish between service dogs and dogs who are merely helpful but not in any official capacity?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Rex | August 24 2009 |

I think it's interesting how parents and administrators against the dog assume a dog is going to be a disruption. I'd argue that a dog--especially a service dog for a child with autism--will end up being a welcome addition to a classroom. While we wait for the challenge to go to courtroom, it will be interesting to see what happens in the classroom

Submitted by pet lover in SC | August 26 2009 |

I love that the dog comforts the child and helps keep him safe but, what about children with severe allergies? How can you be sure that you won't have other children adversely affected because of this? What if it causes someone in the school to have an asthma attack? I have always wondered how this works with service dogs and people like my mother who truly is severely allergic to all fur bearing animals. She has every right to go into a public place... and so does someone with a service animal. Who decides which one has more of a right?

Submitted by Angie | August 27 2009 |

As an educator, unless you have other students who are severly allergic to dander, there should be no reason why a child who is autistic should not be allowed to bring his service dog to school with him. If this is what this child needs in order to make his condition tolerable, than there should be no question about it. You wouldn't deny it for a child who is blind, and surely you wouldn't tell a child "you know, you haven't had a seizure in over a year, why don't you leave your service dog at home for a while and see how you do without it." These dogs were given to these children for a reason and it just floors me that the school system is not working with them. I would welcome a dog in my classroom if it meant a child would be able to easily learn. Obviously people do not realize just how well trained service dogs are, as well, because they surely would not be a problem in the classroom.

Submitted by Madeleine | September 4 2009 |

I find it appalling that "this case" would even have to go to court.
Yes, yes ... "we have rights, etc. etc. etc."
And, granted, there are those who've abused the system -- only seeking loopholes for their benefit.
But, to deny a child a viable means "to be" ... to learn ... "to survive" (albeit on a daily basis) ... sounds utterly ridiculous (???)
What does that teach other children ... about acceptance, kindness; much less, tolerance ?
As what was stated previously ... what if the child were blind and needed his/her guide dog ?
Seriously ... what do others use "to cope" ? Alcohol ? Drugs ? Acting-out ? Over-eating ? Binging ? Excess and/or other addictions ? Seclusion ? Gambling ? ...
There is certainly evidence of more issues and problems w/ unruly children (and, their parents!?) vs. that of a well-trained Service Dog/animal, who has dedicated himself/herself to their guardian in the utmost unconditional manner !!!
Both my dogs take part in an Animal Assisted Therapy Program.
One has/can specifically work w/ children (in after school reading programs, as well as hospital Pediatric units).
If but for that moment -- or, for a duration -- the inspirational strides that these children make is a testament to the depths and compassion these companions have w/ some of our most vulnerable children ... where they can be "reached" as w/ no other ... is heartfelt and awe-inspiring.
A life w/ Autism is difficult enough ...
I say give this child every chance "to succeed" ... w/ his beloved friend and companion by his side !!!
They are harming no one.
Yet, this child can be deeply harmed in the process.

Submitted by Gilda | April 24 2010 |

Service dogs aren't limited to blind people. Service dogs help people with disabilities of all types.

It's a shame that those in "authority" really don't know what they are talking about.

Submitted by Anonymous | April 27 2012 |

I really want a dog at school because they can help the special need kid's.

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