Tag Archives: service dogs

Infection control guidelines for animal visitation

The use of dogs in hospitals and other therapy institutions is on the rise, as more medical professionals acknowledge the positive effects of dogs on human patients.

New expert guidance by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) outlines recommendations for developing policies regarding the use of animals in healthcare facilities, including animal-assisted activities, service animals, research animals and personal pet visitation in acute care hospitals.

The guidance was published online in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of SHEA.

“Animals have had an increasing presence in healthcare facilities,” said David Weber, MD, MPH, a lead author of the recommendations. “While there may be benefits to patient care, the role of animals in the spread of bacteria is not well understood. We have developed standard infection prevention and control guidance to help protect patients and healthcare providers via animal-to-human transmission in healthcare settings.”

Guidance is grouped by the role of animals – animal-assisted activities (i.e., pet therapy and volunteer programs), service animals, research animals and personal pet visitation. Select recommendations include:

Animal-Assisted Activities

  • Facilities should develop a written policy for animal-assisted activities. An animal-assisted activity visit liaison should be designated.
  • Allow only dogs to serve in animal-assisted activities, such as pet therapy.
  • Animals and handlers should be formally trained and evaluated.
  • Animal interaction areas should be determined in collaboration with the Infection Prevention and Control team and clinical staff should be educated about the program.
  • Animal handlers must have all required immunizations, restrict contact of their animal to patient(s) visited and prevent the animal from having contact with invasive devices, and require that everyone who touches the animal to practice hand hygiene before and after contact.
  • The hospital should maintain a log of all animal-assisted activities visits including rooms and persons visited for potential contact tracing.

Service Animals

  • The policy allowing service animals of patients and visitors into the facility should be compliant with the Federal Americans for Disability Act (ADA), other applicable state and local regulations and include a statement that only dogs and miniature horses are recognized as Service Animals under federal law.
  • If an inpatient has a service animal, notification should be made to the Infection Prevention and Control Team, followed by discussion with the patient to make sure the owner of the service animal complies with institutional policies.
  • Healthcare providers or staff may ask the patient or visitor to describe what work/tasks the dog performs for the patient, but may not ask for a “certification” or “papers.”

Personal Pet Visitation

  • Pets should, in general, be prohibited from entering the healthcare facility.
  • Exceptions can be considered if the healthcare team determines that visitation with a pet would be of benefit to the patient and can be performed with limited risk. Even then, visitation should be restricted to dogs.
  • The patient must perform hand hygiene immediately before and after contact with the animal.

The authors of the guidance also note that as the role of animals in healthcare evolves, there is a need for stronger research to establish evidence-based guidelines to manage the risk to patients and healthcare providers.

This guidance on animals in healthcare facilities has been endorsed by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), the leading professional association for infection preventionists with more than 15,000 members.

Source:  EurekAlert! media release

Previous blogs about therapy dogs include:

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Dog to human communication supported with technology

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a suite of technologies that can be used to enhance communication between dogs and humans, which has applications in everything from search and rescue to service dogs to training our pets.

“We’ve developed a platform for computer-mediated communication between humans and dogs that opens the door to new avenues for interpreting dogs’ behavioral signals and sending them clear and unambiguous cues in return,” says Dr. David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-lead author of a paper on the work. “We have a fully functional prototype, but we’ll be refining the design as we explore more and more applications for the platform.”

Dr David Roberts with one of his associates  Photo courtesy of North Carolina State University

Dr David Roberts with one of his associates. Photo courtesy of North Carolina State University

The platform itself is a harness that fits comfortably onto the dog, and which is equipped with a variety of technologies.

“There are two types of communication technologies,” says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and co-lead author of a paper on the work. “One that allows us to communicate with the dogs, and one that allows them to communicate with us.”

“Dogs communicate primarily through body language, and one of our challenges was to develop sensors that tell us about their behavior by observing their posture remotely,” Roberts says. “So we can determine when they’re sitting, standing, running, etc., even when they’re out of sight – a harness-mounted computer the size of a deck of cards transmits those data wirelessly.

“At the same time, we’ve incorporated speakers and vibrating motors, called haptics, into the harness, which enable us to communicate with the dogs,” Roberts adds.

“We developed software to collect, interpret and communicate those data, and to translate human requests into signals on the harness,” says Rita Brugarolas, an NC State Ph.D. student and co-author of the paper.

The technology also includes physiological sensors that monitor things like heart rate and body temperature. The sensors not only track a dog’s physical well-being, but can offer information on a dog’s emotional state, such as whether it is excited or stressed.

These technologies form the core of the technology platform which can be customized with additional devices for specific applications.

“For example, for search and rescue, we’ve added environmental sensors that can detect hazards such as gas leaks, as well as a camera and microphone for collecting additional information,” Bozkurt says.

Other applications include monitoring stress in working dogs, such as guide dogs and other service dogs.  Physiological and behavioral sensors will provide insight into a dog’s mental and emotional state.

“This platform is an amazing tool, and we’re excited about using it to improve the bond between dogs and their humans,” says Dr. Barbara Sherman, a clinical professor of animal behavior at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of the paper.

The research team has published their research in the paper entitled Towards Cyber-Enhanced Working Dogs for Search and Rescue

Source:  North Carolina State University media release

Service dog fraud

There’s a worrying and growing trend in the United States.  It’s Service Dog Fraud – when dog owners purchase fake service dog vests and then take their dogs into public places.

Under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with service animals must be allowed access to public places.  This is the Department of Justice’s definition of a service animal:

“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

Yet, the sale of fake service dog products is unregulated.  On a recent flight through Los Angeles International Airport, the volunteers in their PUPs programme told me that they regularly see fake service dogs at the airport.  They can be spotted a mile away – dogs that are clearly pets with behaviors that are not characteristic of true service dogs doing things like jumping on people or stealing food.

CBS News has covered this type of fraud, which is causing people with genuine disabilities to be questioned about their right to enter establishments with their service dog:

Canine Companions for Independence is asking dog owners to take a pledge to stop service dog fraud.  You can take this pledge by clicking here. 

I encourage you to sign the pledge and circulate it to your friends and relatives.  If you know of someone who is illegally passing their dog off as a service dog, please ask them to stop and help them to understand what problems they are causing.

See also my earlier post on the sale of fake service dog products

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Detroit’s new dog loo

The Detroit Metropolitan Airport has just invested $75,000 for a dog loo primarily to support service dogs traveling with their owners.

ervice dogs Jello, right, and Cricket sniff around the new Service Animal Relief Area at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Mandi Wright)

Service dogs Jello, right, and Cricket sniff around the new Service Animal Relief Area at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Mandi Wright)

Most dogs in airports are certified service dogs but this facility will also help passengers who are flying with their dogs on holiday or to events like dog shows.  Small dogs can fly in the cabin of most US airlines providing they meet size restrictions.

For other blogs about dogs, relief areas and airports read these postings:

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Scent of my human

The functional MRI research team led by Gregory Berns have done it again.  In research published in the journal Behavioural Processes, they show that an area of the canine brain associated with reward responds more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than it does to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs.

Kady, a lab involved in the study, shown training for the experiment in a mock-up fMRI scanner.  Photo by Helen Berns

Kady, a lab involved in the study, shown training for the experiment in a mock-up fMRI scanner. Photo by Helen Berns

“In our experiment, the scent donors were not physically present. That means the canine brain responses were being triggered by something distant in space and time. It shows that dogs’ brains have these mental representations of us that persist when we’re not there.”

When humans smell the perfume or cologne of someone they love, they may have an immediate, emotional reaction that’s not necessarily cognitive, Berns notes. “Our experiment may be showing the same process in dogs. But since dogs are so much more olfactory than humans, their responses would likely be even more powerful than the ones we might have.”

The experiment involved 12 dogs of various breeds. The animals had all undergone training to hold perfectly still while undergoing an fMRI scan. As they were being scanned, the subjects were presented with five different scents that had been collected on sterile gauze pads that morning and sealed in Mylar envelopes. The scent samples came from the subject itself, a dog the subject had never met, a dog that lived in the subject’s household, a human the dog had never met, and a human that lived in the subject’s household.

The familiar human scent samples were taken from someone else from the house other than the handlers during the experiment, so that none of the scent donors were physically present.

The dog scents were swabbed from the rear/genital area and the human scents were taken from armpits.

The results showed that all five scents elicited a similar response in parts of the dogs’ brains involved in detecting smells, the olfactory bulb and peduncle. The caudate responses, however, were significantly stronger for the scents of familiar humans, followed by that of familiar dogs.

“The stronger caudate activation suggested that not only did the dogs discriminate the familiar human scent from the others, they had a positive association with it,” Berns says. “While we might expect that dogs should be highly tuned to the smell of other dogs, it seems that the ‘reward response’ is reserved for their humans. Whether this is based on food, play, innate genetic predisposition or something else remains an area for future investigation.”

An interesting twist: The dogs in the experiment that had received training as service/therapy dogs showed greater caudate activation for the scent of a familiar human compared with the other dogs. It is unclear whether this difference was due to genetics or had simply been fostered through the service/therapy training.

“We plan to do further research to determine whether we can use brain-imaging techniques to better identify dogs that are optimal to serve as companion animals for the disabled,” Berns says.

The training of service dogs is time-consuming and expensive, he says, and only about one-third of the animals that begin the process successfully complete it. Meanwhile, the waiting list for service dogs is long, and includes many wounded veterans.

“In addition to serving as companion animals for wounded veterans, dogs play many important roles in military operations,” Berns says. “By understanding how dogs’ brains work, we hope to find better methods to select and train them for these roles.”

Source:  Emory University media release

Read my other blogs about functional MRI research:

 

 

Fake service dog products

Non-profit agency Canine Companions for Independence is circulating a petition to the U S Department of Justice to urge them to take action against fake service dog/assistance dog products.

These  products, mostly sold online, fraudulently portray a dog as an assistance dog.   As service animals, they will be permitted inside grocery stores, restaurants and other public places where family pets are otherwise not allowed.

As a result of these acts of fraud, people with disabilities who have a legitimate need for an assistance dog face added discrimination and are being denied access to public places, which is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I’m a big supporter of dog-friendly workplaces, hotels, and shopping (as evidenced by the postings on this blog), but I do not support gaining access through fraud.  My biggest concern is that people with disabilities and their dogs may be discriminated against because members of the public will lack confidence in service dog certification systems.  (‘That’s a service dog?  Yeah, right.’)

As an example, check out last month’s publicity when Air New Zealand allowed access to two French bulldogs whose owners carried papers certifying them as psychiatric dogs.  Air New Zealand obeyed the law but the scepticism of the journalists and public who commented on the article was clear.

We simply can’t afford to have the public doubt the authenticity of assistance dog and service dog training programmes.  If you agree with me, please support this cause and sign the Canine Companions petition here.

Dogs who help soldiers

When I watched the PBS documentary Shelter Me, I was astounded at the statistics that more returned servicemen are dying by their own hands than are dying in fields of conflict like Afghanistan and Iraq.  These men and women are returning from active duty with difficulties such as post traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety-related problems.  They have difficulty adjusting to life in peacetime.

Dogs are playing a key role in helping these ex-soldiers to recover and re-enter society.  Shelter Me covers the stories of two veterans, for example, who have been paired with service dogs.

Here’s the YouTube trailer for Shelter Me:

The Boston Globe recently covered another story about the value of service dogs.  Patriot Rovers is a charity that trains dogs to be service dogs for returned servicemen and women.  The charity names the dogs after soldiers who have fallen in the line of duty.  The charity’s website is particularly poignant, with photos of the dogs and an explanation of the soldier they are named after.

In the Globe story, Natasha Young-Alicea suffers from migraines and anxiety from the time she served in the Marines and has been paired with Josh who is named after a Navy SEAL, Josh Harris.  Josh helps Young-Alicea in many ways.  One particular heart-wrenching task is to sit behind her in the checkout line at the supermarket, to avoid people approaching her from behind.  This proximity triggers anxiety.

Josh and his handler visit the parents of Josh Harris which also helps in their journey of healing.

These stories reinforce the critical role that service dogs play in our communities.  If you have spare time or dollars, please consider supporting service dog charities in your area.