Transport Tips When an EMS Patient has a Service Dog

by on November 18, 2010

in EMS Tips

This is a guest post Emily Williamson. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here. Post updated October 10, 2012

I am the human half of a service dog team that recently was in an awful automobile accident. Somebody ran a stop sign and drove their SUV across the top of my SUV. I use a service dog to help me mitigate the effects of Klippel Feil Syndrome (don’t worry if you do not recognize it, most doctors have not heard of it either). It is a deformity of the cervical spine that made an ER visit a requirement after any accident. So, obviously, I needed transport. I also suffered head trauma, lower back trauma, and blacked out.  I also am severely hard of hearing.

The EMS crew that responded to the accident had no information about Service Dogs. Here I was, in intense pain and fully packaged, having to argue that my service dog could not be left behind in my decimated vehicle in the middle of nowhere. People frequently argue that Service Dogs are monetarily valuable (Bug-A-Boo’s training ran about $20,000 and is insured for $250,000). Forget the money, Boo is my life, because I have none without her ability to hear for me, to help me navigate terrain (I have a lack of feeling in my feet), to alert to spinal headaches, and is the reason my husband can travel for work (Boo is trained to call 911 in an emergency).

After an extended argument, the point became moot, because a fellow Red Cross volunteer drove by and stopped at the scene.  This person transported Boo to the hospital.

I do not want to share the in’s and out’s of when to, when not to, and how to transport a service animal on an ambulance. There is a lot of information and a good deal of gray area involved.  Because, regardless of what the disability world thinks there are times that it is not appropriate to transport the owner and animal together.

Alternate Modes of Transportation for Service Dogs

Sorry for the long introduction, here are my tips. A service dog does not have to be transported on the ambulance if the owner can not maintain control of the animal, would interfere with the care of the handler, or the dog is not behaving appropriately. Disoriented animals can act in unusual ways until they settle.  This is true after many emergency situations and during disasters.  However, the owner and the service animal should arrive at the hospital at the same time (as best as can be managed).

Alternate modes of transportation can include:

1.  Animal control can transport the service animal.  However, a service animal should never be confined with another animal.

2.  Police can transport the animal.  In my area,  a small rural community, this one seems to work the best and is my favorite.

3.  Fire can transport, if they are available and will not be forced to leave their zone.

4.  A friend or neighbor can transport.

5.  The EMS supervisor can transport the animal in the fast response vehicle.

Regardless of who transports the animal (if not on the ambulance), please, make a note regarding whose care the animal was released in the EMS paperwork and if possible have the police note it as well.  A lost service animal is a traumatic experience for a disabled person.

Thanks for letting me share my experience and possible alternate methods to transport a service dog. I am happy to say that after my bad experience, EMS supervisors did let me talk to their crews about service dog laws and added additional training on the subject.  The crew was not being mean, they just did not know.  The problem seems to be solved, at least here.

Read more on this topic from a September 2012 EMS World article – Service Dogs and EMS

Emily Williamson is a  volunteer with the Highlands County (Florida) unit of the American Red Cross where she serves as the coordinator of the Health, Safety, and Disaster Preparedness programs, instructs CPR at all levels, and responds to disasters. In the past, she volunteered with search and rescue teams (canine assist) and served on AmeriCorps National Readiness and Response Corps.

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  • Jeremy B. Richter

    Good tip. Certainly makes us stop and think what we would need to do in this situation. My partner and I are talking right now about how we would handle this situation should it ever arise. I'll also be passing it along to coworkers today to get them thinking.

    • Thanks Jeremy for sharing and discussing. Did you come up with any other ideas or questions?

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  • Harry Mueller

    In my 30 year career I have never had a problem transporting a service animal when it was appropriate until recently and it has highlighted a problem with service animals.

    Recently we encountered a patient who had dog who they stated was a service dog. No problem, this means we would transport the dog with us. I’ve done this numerous times. The patient was placed onto the stretcher and wheeled to the elevator of the building with the dog growling at us all the way. After the patient and the dog were placed into the ambulance and transport was initiated the dog snapped at my partner while he was placing an IV. I have never seen a service animal behave in this fashion before.

    When we arrived at the hospital and the staff found out what happened in the ambulance they insisted that the dog be removed or kept on a short leash held by a person (not the patient) throughout the patients course of treatment. The patient was uncooperative with this and produced papers that declared her dog an “Official Certified Service Animal” from company in Oregon. The ED staff relented and later a staff member was actually bitten by the dog.

    Later I did a little research and found that this particular company would provide all comers with paperwork declaring their animal a “Service Animal”. All the person needed to do was provide a letter stating that they needed a service animal from a physician (if you didn’t have a physician that could provide the letter they would get one for you) and a letter form a vet stating that the dog was healthy, vaccinated, and “not vicious”. Send these letters along with a $65 check or money order and you had an “Official Certified Service Animal” with a certificate and a patch for an animal vest. Thats all, no other requirements, no training, nothing.

    It highlights a problem with service animals by showing that there is no uniform method of certifying an animal as a service animal. Companies can declare any animal a service animal who can meet arbitrary requirements that they set up as long as they send a check.

    I will continue to give service animals the same treatment that I always have. They perform irreplaceable functions for a wide variety of patients. My hope is that someday there will be some type of nationally recognized body to certify that service animals meet a minimum standard that includes proof of training and suitability to be a service animal. As long as there are companies out there that are using service animals as a way to make a quick buck there will be people who are uncomfortable dealing with service animals at all.

  • Christine

    Thanks for letting us know about what to do in this scenario. Personally, I have never even considered this situation. As a dog-lover who especially appreciates service dogs and the jobs they do, I would likely have tried to place the dog in the ambulance, like I would any family member – if it was very clear he/she was a service dog and my supervisor was in agreement.

    You might think about getting a medic alert bracelet/necklace/etc. with basic instructions for your partner. Just a thought, since we are trained to look for that and it would be very relevant in an emergency situation when you could not give instructions.

    • Thanks. Most service dogs should have identification – collar, vest, and or card the owner carries.

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