I’ve been sick the last few days. Some sort of stomach virus, I think. That’s why I haven’t posted in a few days. Thankfully, I am feeling better now. But it got me thinking about dealing with health care issues with a service dog.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, people that rely on service dogs are allowed to take their dogs to most health care facilities, including doctors’ offices and hospitals, as long as the presence of the dog doesn’t cause a “fundamental alteration in the provision of goods or services.” What that means in practice, and in plain English, is that you cannot take a service dog into an area where the presence of the dog would compromise the quality of care given to you or to other patients.
One easy way to think about it with regards to a hospital is to consider in which areas of the hospital people have to wear special clothing. In an operating room or a burn care unit, for instance, staff members all have to wear gowns and gloves and masks and shoe covers and hair covers. However, you cannot dress up a dog like that. The presence of a service dog could cause serious problems and there is really no way around it, no “reasonable accommodation” that could be made in order to allow the dog’s presence.
Plus, if you are having surgery, you are not going to be able to manage your dog and your dog is not likely to be able to do any tasks that help you with anything. Most likely, you’ll be unconscious but even if you are having surgery under local or regional anesthesia and are awake, you’re not going to need your dog to pick up things for you or open doors for you or alert you to sounds or whatever it is your dog usually does for you.
You should, however, be able to take your service dog to the emergency room, to the lab, to the cafeteria, to the gift shop, and to visit patients on most units of the hospital. If you are going to the emergency room because you are sick, though, you might want to bring along a friend that can help with your dog. If you end up being there a long time, your dog may need to go outside and you might not be able to take it for a walk right then. If you have to get x-rays or certain other tests, it may not be safe for your dog to be in the room with you, and hospital staff is not responsible for caring for your dog.
If you need to be admitted to the hospital for some reason, in most cases you should be able to take your service dog with you if you want to, but you should think about it carefully. If you are sick enough to require hospitalization, you are probably too sick to take your dog for walks and to take care of your dog in other ways. You could arrange for a friend or family member to come in several times a day to take your dog for walks, or you could hire a dog walker to do that. Still, your dog is probably going to get bored and unhappy doing nothing but sitting beside your hospital bed for several days. Most people that rely on service dogs choose to leave their dog with a friend or family member or send their dogs to a boarder when they need to be hospitalized.
Some people with service dogs have also told me that their dogs seemed pretty freaked out to see them in the hospital right after surgery. Even dogs that had been around hospital patients before, like visiting someone in the hospital, were upset to see their owners in a lot of pain and smelling like… well, whatever people smell like right after major surgery. Blood and guts, maybe?