Obstacles for Service Dogs During COVID-19

Obstacles for Service Dogs During COVID-19

Service dogs provide freedom to many people suffering from disabilities. The animals help with the basics of life such as mobility issues and they also provide emotional support. However, nowadays there are clear obstacles for service dogs during COVID-19 that cannot be overlooked. Without a doubt, many in the medical community have predicted a sweeping global pandemic in the world’s future but few foresaw the impact it would have on the most vulnerable in society such as those that depend on service animals.


The Fear of Leaving the House


Usually, a service dog assists a person with leaving the house but during the COVID-19 pandemic, many who rely on the animals are considered vulnerable due to health conditions. Most areas advise those who have precarious health to only leave their homes when necessary to avoid potential exposure. Being housebound often leads to depression not only for the human but also for the service animal who is used to getting out frequently as an aid to their owner. 


COVID-19 Obstacles for Service Dogs


Service animals have historically been embraced by disabled individuals because they help to alleviate ableism by providing freedom. The dog assists the person in navigating through stores and around obstacles. However, during COVID-19 the rules in many grocery stores have now changed. To maintain social distance, aisleways are now marked one-way and the service dog no longer knows which way to lead his owner. The dog has not been trained to read the one-way indicators. 


Social Distancing with a Service Animal


A service dog will lead a person who cannot see properly and prevent them from bumping into other individuals, but they do not socially distance because they have not been taught to pay attention to such things. While leading their owner, they might allow the person to graze the shoulder of another shopper or come closer than the mandated six feet. This can cause panic and dismay for everyone involved. 


On an upside, social distancing does mean that people who often ask to pet a service animal will likely not ask for such a privilege as they try to maintain the six-foot rule. 


Many retailers are only allowing a select few individuals to enter a store at a time so long lines often form outside the building. Sadly, a service animal is trained to simply walk into the store without heeding the need to stand in line. Many people do not understand the training instilled in the animal and might object because they think that the dog and the handler are trying to ‘skip’ the line. A confrontation with an angry person is very upsetting not only for the disabled person but also for the dog who is only trying to perform the functions he has been taught through years of training. 


Solutions to Obstacles for Service Dogs During COVID-19


Thankfully, many are advocating for solutions to obstacles for service dogs during COVID-19. Small things such as priority entry for disabled individuals with service animals, special reserved shopping hours, and assistance services are just a few things that store owners and many local officials are discussing as possible solutions. 


Despite the current difficulties, most people who rely on service animals find solace in their four-legged friend’s companionship during such uncertain times. The service dog not only provides freedom but also friendship which eases the loneliness of isolation.

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