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.