How do you handle an emergency situation as a service dog handler? What can you do to make it easier on you, the service animal, and the first responders? These are all questions we should think of, but rarely actually seek the answer until it’s too late and an emergency situation has already occurred. So, then, where do we start?
ICE: Know and Educate Your Local Response Teams
- Make sure all of your local authorities, particularly the fire department and EMS teams, are notified in advance of your disability and your Service Dog. Firehouses usually love visitors who call ahead and particularly those who bring something yummy, like a casserole, brownies or cookies. It not only helps your local response teams to be aware of your partner and know him, but it also helps your partner to acclimate to the strange sights and smells of a fireman in uniform, gurneys, trucks and ambulances and a plethora of other stimulus.The middle of an emergency is not the time to test your partner’s ability to stay calm, focused and settled while surrounded by the hustle and bustle of oddly dressed, weird smelling and sometimes frantic strangers. Additionally, you’re far less likely to get push back from them if they already know your Service Dog. Many EMS teams vouch for a familiar working dog at the ER door and help bypass the potential hassle of getting your partner admitted to the hospital with you, particularly if you’re unable to communicate as well as you could in a different situation. For more information on hospital access rights and Service Dogs, check out this article.
If you have a home monitoring system, you can call them and ask them to add information in your profile that describes your Service, his distinguishing features (breed, color, coat length, size, etc) and his access rights, regardless of whether or not you’re able to speak for him. That way, if an emergency occurs and they dispatch first responders, they are able to notify them in advance.
Finally, call and notify your local Emergency Information Management office that you have a Service Dog and that he is not to be separated from you in the event of an emergency. Request to be added to their disability registry. Then, personally notify each emergency response department (i.e. Police, Fire Department, EMT, etc…) in your community, and ask that they “tag” your address as having a Service Dog on site.
ICE: Remain Calm and Be Prepared to Communicate
- Stay calm. It’s far easier said than done, but remaining relaxed will ease the stress of both you and your canine partner. Remember, whatever you’re feeling travels straight down the leash to your dog. Additionally, an untroubled demeanor will better allow your Service Dog to perform his duties well. There’s plenty of chaos and tension in an emergency without you adding to it. Let the first responders do their job, and let your dog do his.
- Expect first responders to be unfamiliar with Service Dogs unless you’ve specifically reached out to your local emergency response teams and worked to educate them and get them acquainted with your partner. Be prepared to explain everything in detail, and carry written copies of the laws and an explanation of how Service Dogs differ from pets, their job and their access rights just in case you’re unable to speak or are unconscious. Do not be offended if the EMT calls the police K9 unit or fire department to assist with your partner. The EMT may not be comfortable around dogs, or may not have the knowledge of how to handle a Service Dog and is reaching out for help. Patience and remaining calm are the keys! Check out this guide on handling a Service Dog access challenge so that in the event things don’t go as smoothly as expected, you’re ready.
ICE: Plan Ahead
- During an emergency situation, if you are able, try to get your Service Dog’s gear (vest with patches, backpack, harness, or cape) on, along with his harness, collar or head halter and leash. Have him ready to go so that all anyone needs to do is pick up his leash and walk. This will allow first responders to locate and identify your partner with no questions asked and allow them to move as quickly as they’re trained to. If your partner causes undue delays, they’re fully justified in leaving him behind. If you are unable to get your dog’s gear, you may inform the first responders when they arrive of its location.
- Keep your medical information close by so that you can inform first responders, and let them know what your Service Dog helps mitigate for you. For instance, if you have a Service Dog that is able to alert to seizures, first responders will know to watch your partner and be ready for an alert. They will also be better equipped to decide whether or not your Service Dog needs to ride with you in the ambulance.
- Keep a Service Dog emergency kit ready so that first responders can grab it on their way out with you. This kit should have dog food, water, any medications the Service Dog requires, leash, vest/harness/backpack or cape, a bowl, cleanup bags and vet information. This will prevent the first responders from having to dig through your home looking for supplies if needed. Check the supply kit monthly to ensure that the items packed are fresh and up to date.
ICE: Service Dog Team Benefits
Emergencies are hard on everyone, but you can prepare for the unexpected with just a little time and effort. You’ll be more at ease knowing your partner is included in your emergency response plan, and if your partner has the chance to familiarize himself with the response teams, he will be more relaxed as well. Don’t just “hope” your partner will be brought along or that the EMT will understand his legal rights. Hope is an emotion, not a plan, and if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
What’re you waiting for? Look up the numbers for your local fire department and start gathering supplies for your Service Dog bug-out bag. You may not ever need them, but it’s better to have them and not than need them and wish you’d done it.
Have you been in an emergency situation with your Service Dog? If so, is there something you know now that you wish you knew then? Chime in with a comment and let us know!
Click here to download our guide to interactions with Service Dogs for first responders.