With 29 million pets in Australia, and Australia being one of the leading countries for pet ownership, there is no doubt that pets are popular in Australian households.
Pets play an incredible role in people's lives. They are companions, provide a sense of purpose and equally contribute to happiness, physical activity, and a fun environment.
For most Australian households, their pets are much loved companions, but the role of pets in our community goes far beyond providing company. For people living with disability or mental health barriers, they can provide all of this and so much more.
A pet has the ability to enhance independence and allow people to live a safe and meaningful life.
Understanding an individual’s needs for an assistance pet is no easy feat and the access to assistance animals in Australia can sometimes seem overwhelming, or like it is tailored to meet only very specific needs.
But what service animals are available in Australia?
Quite possibly the most recognised service pet in society and arguably the cutest, guide dogs help people who are vision impaired. These dogs are incredibly intelligent and have the important role of helping people to navigate everyday life. This can include tasks such as helping people leave their home, getting to and from work, and identifying hazards in, and around the community.
They can also learn directions from commands, memorise routes to and from your favourite destinations, help you catch public transport and provide you with the confidence to continue growing your independence.
Service animals are available to aid people with physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida and those injured from serious accidents.
Much like Guide Dogs, these animals are trained to help people living with disabilities to complete everyday tasks. These tasks can include picking up some shopping, opening and closing doors, unloading a washing machine, retrieving important items before you leave the home, alerting your neighbours in case of an emergency, operating lifts and traffic lights and so much more.
Mental Health and Intellectual Disability
It's true that pets can have an outlasting effect on people. Almost 90% of pet owners in Australia say their pets have an incredibly positive impact on their lives and contribute to their daily happiness.
Support dogs are specially trained to reduce stress, provide a calming environment and improve the overall quality of life for people living with anxiety, depression, and intellectual disabilities. These dogs provide a safe space, compassion, can contribute to increasing your exercise and social interaction, love you endlessly and give you a sense of purpose.
A 2018 study of a visiting dog walking program for people with intellectual disabilities in supported living found that dog walking has the potential to encourage friendly encounters, which in the long term could be catalysts to help people with intellectual disabilities build social connections in their communities.
These clever dogs are specifically trained to identify key sounds and respond with an action. For people living with a hearing impairment, these dogs will not only provide you endless love but also do the job of alerting you when someone is at your front door, let you know when your alarm is ringing, come find you when your child is crying and guide you to safety if your smoke alarm is ringing.
Once a dog has spent time in your home, they will start to learn specific sounds to your home. They can lead you to your oven alarm, and recognise your phone ringtone or your friends, family, and neighbour’s voice. These dogs will gently tap you on the leg with their paw and continue to take you to the location of the sound.
Assistance Dogs have proven to enhance a child’s social, verbal, and cognitive skills. Along with this, these dogs provide a structured routine and a level of responsibility designed to encourage healthy development into adult years.
These dogs are known to become part of the family, and their benefits can stretch across all members of the household, and provide balance, love, joy, and peace of mind. Assistance dogs are trained to reduce stress, provide sleep time assistance, enhance safety, and assist in entering the community.
Facility and education dogs
Dogs at school and in the workplace? Yes please! Along with all these incredible one on one supports, dogs have also been known to pop up in schools, facilities, and workplaces.
These dogs are specially trained to help reduce stress and provide a calming environment to increase social health and wellbeing.
In Australia, a service dog has full public access rights, meaning they are allowed to enter all public spaces, including public transport.
The only exception to this is zoos, aquariums, sterile environment, food preparation and quarantine areas. It is illegal for a service dog to be denied entry at all other public places.
So, are most service animals in Australia dogs?
Well yes mostly, dogs are incredibly adaptable, easy to train and vastly loyal, making them the perfect companions. However, recently Australia has been branching out and getting more savvy with its services - fish, horses and cats have also been known to play the role of a service animal by providing mobility, sensory through touch and feel, and ongoing companionship.
To find out more about assistance dogs in Australia, here are some helpful links:
Regardless of your age or lifestyle, people living with disabilities or mental health barriers may be able to access a service animal through their NDIS funding. Find out more here.