What You Need to Know About Guide Dogs

Guide Dogs are often thought of as being linked to the blind and are regularly called “seeing eye dogs” however, this is no longer the reality of this wonderfully trained companion. Each day, we are likely to see a guide dog and other service animals assisting people with disabilities, comforting the elderly and those homebound due to illness.

Guide Dogs have been widely recognized for their usefulness as guides for the blind and, more recently, emotional and psychological support for those with PTSD and other anxiety and depression-related illnesses. Outside of that, assistive animals are commonly found working as therapy companions and are trained to emotionally support individuals or groups. They are also trained to happily accommodate many different personalities.

Although Canada lacks a unified definition of a Service Animal or even a singular name for an animal providing support, Ontario does offer legislative protection to the users of “service animals” or “guide dogs,” allowing them enhanced access to public facilities.

The Human Rights Code protects against the discrimination of people with disabilities, including those who rely on service animals.

What kinds of service dogs are there?

In short, service animals fall into 4 different categories: Guide Dogs, Emotional Support Animals and those used for Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs. The former is trained to work and support a single person, while the latter is trained to keep an even temperament among many personalities. Breeds most commonly associated with service dogs are Labrador Retrievers and German Shepards; however, they also include Poodles and Boxers. Good service dogs must be intelligent, tidy, and friendly, have a strong work ethic and have the ability to bond quickly.

What do they do?

The scope of use has expanded greatly in recent years, and service animals are used daily to detect seizures, help monitor diabetic blood sugar levels and even respond to anxiety-related events of those with PTSD. Guide dogs of the blind or “seeing eye dogs” help those with limited or no vision avoid obstacles they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

Service animals facilitate the independence of their handlers by supporting them at home and in day-to-day interactions, essentially allowing disabled people to rejoin society in an active way.

Where do they come from?

Many qualified trainers who train and certify their dogs as assistive support animals can be found throughout Ontario and Canada. Officially, there is no National Occupation Classification for those who train service dogs.

How much do they cost?

Service dogs cost between $15,000 and $30,000 but can run over $40,000 depending on the specifics and type of disability one suffers from.

Are they covered?

In Canada, the Medical Expense Tax Credit makes accommodations for Service Animals and those who rely on them. Until 2017, disabled persons were restricted by disability and severity of impairment when applying for Government funding. Only those with blindness, deafness, severe autism, severe diabetes, severe epilepsy or a severe and prolonged impairment that restricts the use of the arms or legs were eligible to get assistance. In 2018, the proposal was tabled to include those with severe mental impairments, including PTSD.

Does your service dog need to be certified?

No, however, to be covered in Canada under the Medical Expense Tax Credit or METC for reimbursement, your dog must have been provided by a person or organization that is training dogs specifically to handle your specific disability. The CRA will ask for proof of purchase to determine the quality of the animal’s breeder.

How does someone qualify for a service animal?

The CRA requires signed statements from a medical practitioner discussing your disability or impairment, listing when it began and when if at all, it is expected to end.

Service animals support many different people with many different disabilities. In Canada, there are limited standards for service dogs. However, the government does attempt to reconcile incurred costs by offering coverage in the METC. These expensive and specially trained dogs bring joy not only to those they support but to everyone around them.

Written by Jennifer Goreski, CCR

For more information on Service Animals, please visit the following resources: