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Invisible Disabilities and Medical Alert Dogs

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"Why do you have a service dog?"

"You don't look like you have anything wrong with you."

"What does your dog do, anyway?"

If you or someone you know has had a medical alert dog for an invisible disability, you may be all too familiar with these kinds of questions and comments. When most people hear the term 'service dog', a few things may come to mind. They might think of a guide dog leading the blind, a hearing dog for a Deaf individual, or a service dog walking alongside a disabled child's wheelchair. While all of these situations are unique, they all have something in common; they are all visible disabilities.

Visible disabilities are all around us, and service dogs are certainly an enormous help to many people who are Deaf, blind, or who have physical limitations. However, visible disabilities do not account for all disabilities - and they are not the only type of disability for which service dogs are used. For individuals with invisible disabilities, a medical alert dog may be a life-changing - and life-saving - form of assistance.

Medical alert dogs provide security and assistance to individuals with a variety of disabilities, from seizures to diabetes to heart issues to severe migraines. People with these conditions often feel isolated and may be anxious to go about daily activities - leaving the safety of your home is a frightening thought when you never know when the next seizure or dangerous blood sugar drop may occur. In cases like these, a medical alert dog is the difference between living a full life and just getting through the day. For people with severe diabetes, a diabetic alert dog can give them the freedom to live their lives without the worry of keeping a constant watch on their blood sugar levels. A medical alert dog can alert to a seizure before it occurs, helping their handler to reach a safe place and avoid an injury. They can warn people with internal conditions and migraine headaches when an attack is about to come on, giving them time to get life-saving treatment. Medical alert dogs are integral to the lives of people with these kinds of disabilities - but not everyone sees it that way.

Individuals with medical alert dogs face the same issues as those with other types of service dogs, mainly the looks and questions and unwanted attention that a service dog can bring. Those with invisible disabilities, however, face another issue - disbelief. Many people who have medical alert dogs don't look any different from the average person. There are no outward signs of a disability, and because of this, the public may look down on medical alert dogs as unnecessary. They may question whether the service is needed, or act rudely towards the dog's handler.

Some people may even accuse disabled individuals with having a fake service dog. There are many dishonest people who have tried to pass their pets off as service dogs, not knowing how much damage they are doing to those with real disabilities. Fake service dogs destroy the public's trust in service animals, and raise suspicions toward anyone who has a service dog. Moreover, this dishonesty makes it all the more difficult for individuals with invisible disabilities to be accepted with their service dogs.

Medical alert dogs are every bit as important to those with invisible disabilities as service dogs are to people with visible disabilities. Raising awareness about the work of medical alert dogs, as well as the medical conditions they are needed for, is a responsibility that everyone involved with service dogs should take seriously. Service dogs are heroes to those with all types of disabilities - even if it's one that you can't see.

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