International Assistance Dogs Week

Hello, and welcome to International Assistance Dog Week! Did you know there’s a week for almost anything? This week is also World Breastfeeding Week…

For Bright and me, every day is Assistance Dog Day, but it’s great to have a designated time to raise general awareness. There are events happening all over the country that are aimed to help people understand the importance of working dogs.

What about the international part, though? I thought it would be fun to research some organizations outside of the US that provide service dogs to folks in need.


Japan has legislation similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act which allows for people with disabilities to take their service dogs into any public place, but there are two major differences. The first is that all service dogs must be certified by a school registered by the Labor and Health Minister and the person must always carry an ID card, and the second is that there is no mention of what happens if someone tries to deny access. Between those things and the fact that it costs around 100,000 yen (about $1,000) to get a license I bet there are a lot fewer fakers.

I could only find a few Japanese organizations that provide service dogs, and most of them are for guide dogs, like Japan Guide Dog Association, but I also found an article about Japan Service Dog Association. The article states that there are only about 62 certified service dogs in Japan, with somewhere around 15,000 people who could potentially benefit from them. JGDA works hard to promote awareness, though, through a monthly open house and other educational programs.

Apparently labs make good working dogs all over the world. Source: Axiom Magazine

Apparently labs make good working dogs all over the world.
Source: Axiom Magazine

South Africa

In South Africa, most people think of working dogs as guards; the overall awareness of service dogs for people with disabilities is very low. In fact, I could only find two organizations – South African Guide Dog Association, which only trains guide dogs, and Paws for People, the first fully insured and licensed therapy dog organization in South Africa. Founder Lesley de Klerk saw an unfulfilled need for service dogs, though, and decided to do some research. In 2005, Lesley and another dog handler/trainer, Jennifer Williams, headed to Massachusetts to learn about the service dogs game from NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dogs Services), and took what she learned back to her home base in Johannesburg.

There’s not a ton of information on the website, but it appears that Paws for People has helped to certify at least one team. You can read their story here.

Paws for People in Johannesburg.

Paws for People in Johannesburg.

United Kingdom

The UK has the kind of system that has been proposed and shot down in the US; there is an umbrella organization called Assistance Dogs UK, and they accredit charities that provide service dogs. It’s a pretty black and white system: either you’re certified or you’re not. The front page of their website has a clear list of which organizations are accredited, so there’s no question as to whether a dog is legitimate. If it’s not identified as a graduate from one of the schools on the list, it doesn’t have public access. While each of these organizations is administrated separately, an applicant can be confident that the training and support standards are the same across the board.

There’s controversy around this philosophy in the United States because we have so many folks who have trained their own service dogs. What would be the regulation around that? Would a shift cause them to lose access for a period of time, or even permanently? Would it create extra expenses? It’s all very sticky.

One of the accredited organizations, Dogs for the Disabled, tells some awesome partnership stories here.

Always Moving Forward.

Sometimes I think about what a neat time in history I live in. From the standing not-wheelchair to the advancements in disability related legislation, there’s a lot to be excited about. As I looked for information about service dogs around the world, I found that there’s a lot of room to grow, and I’m happy to be part of the movement.


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