Emergency Services & Service Dogs

Talk to any Service Dog handler about one of their greatest fears when it comes to their Service Dog and you will hear: What if I’m in an accident, or extremely ill and I’m unconscious? Paramedics or Emergency Medical Technicians have loaded me in an ambulance and are taking me to a hospital!

"Oh No! My Service Dog! Where is it?"

In an accident, injury, serious illness the safety and health of the human victim is the primary concern of the first responders. This means they may ignore, or just not the aware that you have a service dog in your vehicle, in your house, or in your apartment.

How can you best prepare for these rare emergencies that can occur unpredictably and randomly?

If you are in your car, chances are you have a vest or harness on your Service Dog. Many handlers have a patch on the vest or harness that says “Do not separate from handler.” Also, handlers frequently have a patch identifying the dog as a Service Dog. The Service Dog may be riding loose on the seat, in a safety restraint harness attached to the seat belt, or in a crate or cage in one’s passenger vehicle. Or, if Service Dog may be on the lead with its handler on public transportation, or any place the handler has gone.

In one’s home or apartment one can have a distinctly readable notice to first responders, fire fighters, police, paramedics and EMT’s. This notice might include that a Service Dog is inside and instructions to make sure one’s Service Dog is transported to the hospital in the ambulance with you, or by police officers. It is also important to include ICE (In Case of Emergency) instructions just in case you are not coherent or conscious. These instructions would be who to contact to come and get your Service Dog, or the name – address - phone number of your veterinarian and/or boarding facility that your Service Dog could be taken to.

Is actually is a good idea to also carry the ICE information on your person, and on your Service Dog’s collar, vest and harness. Metal emboss dog tags are a good choice for the collar and harness. A highly visible patch on the harness and vest are good idea to have as well. Don’t forget that sometimes a Service Dog will bolt and run away in an emergency situation. It is also important to have your Service Dog tattooed, micro-chipped in addition to having the standard dog license tag and or rabies vaccination tag on your Service Dog’s collar.

Some vests have pockets on the sides where written information on a piece of paper or laminated card can be stored. Make sure that there are instructions on a tag or patch to direct the first responders to the information in the pockets.

You might say that’s a lot of work to have that much information for something that may never happen. But, when you think of what could happen if nobody knows what to do with your Service Dog in an emergency, your Service Dog could be taken to the local animal shelter. And there is no telling what could happen to your partner there!

Okay! We’ve talked about worst-case scenarios, now let’s talk about what your rights are at the person with a disability who uses a Service Dog and is being transported to a hospital by ambulance.

You are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990 and 2010) to be accompanied by your Service Dog in an ambulance as long as your service dog is under control and is not aggressive in any manner. However, depending on the size of your Service Dog and the emergency stabilization and treatment you require on the way to the hospital could mean that your Service Dog would have to be transported by the police.

Otherwise, your Service Dog can travel on the gurney with you, or on the floor of the ambulance. You would be surprised at how well your Service Dog can fit itself on a gurney with you no matter what size it is!

Retired Captain Cecilia Warren, MS, MBA has written an excellent article for Service Dog handlers and Emergency Medical Services personnel discussing the ADA requirements regarding Service Dogs in ambulances! She refers to Guide Dogs in her article. Guide Dogs are a type of Service Dog.

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