Assistance dogs can be found in the workplace and in the community. Pharmacists serve people of all abilities, and we occasionally see a service animal with a patient. This interview is a great opportunity to hear how assistance dogs come into our patients lives and how pharmacists can actually help connect patients with assistance dogs. On a personal note, my son had a therapy dog. I talk about my family’s experience during the interview.
Today’s episode is an interview with Jenny Barlos, Client Services Director for the Ability Center Assistance Dogs in Sylvania, OH. Jenny joined Assistance Dogs as the Client Services Director in August, 2007. She is responsible for everything from the consumer’s perspective, including determining eligibility of potential service dog users, organizing and facilitating their training and graduate activities, doing graduate follow up visits, and administering the public access test for the service dogs placed by the program. She provides advocacy services for graduates who experience public access issues as well as discusses advocacy information for businesses and the public. She does many educational presentations about service dogs including what they do to help people, as well as the rights and responsibilities of having a service dog. She serves as an accreditation assessor for Assistance Dogs International, visiting service dog programs throughout North America to help determine which organizations are maintaining standards set within the industry. To learn more about the Ability Center Assistance Dogs Program, visit https://www.abilitycenter.org.
Highlights from the interview
Jenny loves her job!
Assistance dogs can increase independence for individuals with challenges. Dogs help people stay active and feel included in their communities, which reduces feelings of isolation. Ability Center Assistance Dogs trains and places service dogs and therapy dogs.
The Assistance Dogs Program is part of the Ability Center’s 17-acre campus in Sylvania, OH. It’s very accessible and comfortable for people of all abilities.
There are many types of assistance dogs. Ability Center Assistance Dogs provides therapy dogs to individuals (with autism or developmental delays) and schools as well as service dogs to help individuals with physical challenges. Jenny helps educate the community about types of assistance dogs. For example, therapy dogs don’t have protected public assess rights like service dogs.
Jenny educates medical professionals about assistance dogs. Pharmacists, nurses, doctors, students, and more can refer patients to the Ability Center Assistance Dogs Program. Visit abilitycenter.org for success stories, inquiry forms, and volunteer opportunities. Dog-loving volunteers are needed!
Pairing an assistance dog with an applicant is a process. Personalities and needs must be considered.
My son learned new skills because of his dog. We had a good experience. For example, my son’s classmates read to him AND his dog “Bond.” So, he gained friends. He was also motivated to learn how to scoop dog food, which was a skill he did not have before the dog came into the picture. It takes time to learn what the dog can do and to teach the dog new things.
The Ability Center Assistance Dogs has a dog breeding program. One of their recent litters has names related to beverages. “Dr. Pepper” is a black lab from that litter. They call her “Pepper.”
Training teams takes time: 1 week in-person training for therapy dogs and 2 weeks in-person training for service dogs. Extra time gives a service dog and their teammate the training and support needed to navigate public access situations
Inmates at prisons help train assistance dogs. Inmates are available to work, and they do a good job. Training dogs teaches empathy and unconditional love. Plus, it gives inmates an opportunity to contribute back to society. Inmates learn job skills and are motivated to maintain good behavior to stay in the training program. It also allows them to feel more human and to be a better human being.
Donations are welcome. Scout troops, school classrooms, reading groups, high school student service projects, and individual children have donated in the past. See https://www.abilitycenter.org for a list of items needed. Monetary donations are always welcome too. Jenny likes to talk to donors to make a connection between their donation and the recipient. She brings a dog and shares information about the Assistance Dogs Program, including how to be a responsible citizen around an assistance dog.
Think of Assistance Dogs as a tool for safety and independence. It’s best not to distract a dog or touch it while it is work.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought challenges to the Assistance Dogs Program. For example, surface (leash, collar, etc) to human virus transmission is a minor consideration. Luckily, dogs do not get or transmit the coronavirus, and they do not need to wear masks.
Jenny shared a lovely story about a young grandmother who met her neighbors because her assistance dog got her out into the community and provided an ice-breaker for conversations. This woman met the inmate who trained her dog, and they connected because the dog made them both “seen” to those around them in a good way.