International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners

Emergency and Disaster Relief and Preparedness for People With Disabilities Partnered With Assistance Dogs

The following outline was prepared as a working document for a Consensus Conference initially scheduled for September 2005. Because of the impact of Hurricane Katrina on conference participants, many of whom are medical providers involved in disaster relief, the meeting has been postponed to December 2005 in Washington, DC.

We welcome the opportunity to share this document with members of the disabled community and ask for your input. Please place your comments in the space provided at the end of the document or contact us at the address given in that section.

Ed Eames, Ph.D., President and Toni Eames, M.S.
Treasurer, International Association of Assistance Dog Partners

Prepared for the Consensus Conference Sponsored by the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality
Hosted by The National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Mailman School of Public Health
Washington DC, Dec. 13 - 15, 2005


With the United States focus on emergency preparedness and disaster relief efforts, the needs of people with disabilities have emerged as a major concern. NCD, NOD, FEMA, HSUS, ASPCA, CIDNY and the Red Cross have dealt with aspects of assisting people and animals, but no organization has specifically dealt with the issue of the needs of people with disabilities partnered with assistance dogs.

The conference conveners asked the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners to send representatives to focus attention on the specific needs of assistance dog partners during disaster relief efforts. In addition, the issue of what we, as assistance dog partners, can do to prepare ourselves for emergencies is a central concern of IAADP.


An early effort to help assistance dog partners prepare for emergencies was the development of an Emergency Recovery Kit provided to all new members. The kit contains several bright red cards where members record information about their guide, hearing or service dog, including special diets, medications, surrogate caretakers and veterinary contacts. Members are urged to carry these cards in wallets, purses, car glove compartments, etc. Members are also urged to place comparable documents in their refrigerators, since this is the first place fire fighters and other first responders explore. Paste on stickers indicating the presence of an assistance dog in the housing unit are part of the kit, which can be pasted on the outside of a refrigerator, window or other prominent place. Bayer Animal Health, a major IAADP sponsor, supports the printing and distribution of the material. The ER kits have received tremendous acclamation from members.

IAADP also urges all members to microchip their canine assistants, since microchipping is the most accessible form of identification. Through a relationship with the Avid Company, free microchips are provided for all members. During the last two annual conferences held by IAADP, a free microchip clinic was conducted, and local veterinarians implanted the chips at no cost to participants. All relevant information is then placed in the Avid registry for lost dogs which can be accessed 24 hours a day. At its January 19, 2006 conference in San Diego, another clinic will be held.


I. What Is An Assistance Dog?

  1. Definition of a Service Animal from the Federal Register, Feb. 22, 1991: Service Animal means any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability including, but not limited to guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items.

  2. Other species: Although other animals, such as monkeys and horses, have been trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities, the presenters will focus on guide, hearing and service dogs.

  3. Varieties of Assistance Dogs:

    1. Guide dogs assist their blind and visually impaired teammates to safely negotiate the environment. They stop at curbs and steps, navigate around obstacles, locate entrances and exits and avoid moving objects including cars, bicycles, shopping carts and people. Guide dogs are taught intelligent disobedience and will refuse a command they perceive as dangerous or unreasonable.

    2. Hearing dogs assist their deaf and hard of hearing teammates by alerting to unheard sounds in the environment. These dogs make physical contact with their partners and lead them to the source of the sound. Dogs will alert to the smoke alarm, door knock or bell, telephone, alarm clock and kitchen timer. Among other things, hearing dogs can be trained to respond to a baby's cry or an emergency siren. Although much of the work is done in the home, alerting to sounds of traffic and the deaf partner's name being called are tasks taking place in public settings.

    3. Service dogs assist people with disabilities other than blindness and deafness in a variety of ways. One of their usual tasks is retrieving dropped or requested items. They also turn switches on and off, open and close doors, push elevator buttons, pull wheelchairs and act as support for people with balance problems. Dogs can be trained to respond to seizures and in rarer cases they can be trained to alert to the onset of a seizure even before the human partner is aware of the impending condition. Newer tasks reported to be in the repertoire of some service dogs include alerting to medical crises.

  4. Behavioral Standards:

    1. All assistance dogs are trained to a high standard of public behavior. That includes no barking, snarling or aggressive posturing.

    2. The assistance dog must be under the control of the disabled handler at all times.

  5. Diversity in breeds and size:

    1. The three breeds dominating the field of guide dogs are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherd Dogs. These large dog breeds are also frequently used as service dogs, although many other medium to large breeds are used as well. Since the majority of hearing dogs are shelter rescues, many all-American mixes are recruited into this field of work.. Smaller more active dogs make ideal candidates.

II. How Will A Relief Worker Recognize an Assistance Dog?

  1. Equipment worn:

    1. In public many assistance dogs can be identified by capes, harnesses, backpacks, or vests with patches, etc.

    2. In the home assistance dogs do not usually wear identifying equipment.

    3. The ADA does not require assistance dogs to wear identifying equipment in public, but many do.

    4. There is no certification or national licensing of assistance dogs, so requesting such identification cards can be viewed as a legal violation.

  2. Emotional Support Dogs:

    1. Many people receive emotional support from being in the presence of a dog. The assertion of an individual that a dog remaining in his or her company is a needed accommodation to a disability does not qualify the dog as a service animal.

    2. Emotional support dogs are not given legal status by the ADA. However, a service dog trained to perform specific tasks for an individual with a psychiatric disability is recognized as a service animal under ADA.

    3. If in doubt a relief worker may ask what tasks the dog has been trained to perform and how he/she has been trained. However, no inquiry may be made about the nature of the person's disability.

III. How Can the Relief Worker or Responder Accommodate the Person With A Disability Partnered With An Assistance Dog?

  1. No Separation

    NO attempt should be made to separate the disabled person from the assistance dog.

    1. Assistance dogs should be permitted in emergency or evacuation vehicles.

    2. Under major disruptive conditions, the assistance dog may show signs of confusion and should be given time to settle down.

  2. List of Households

    The issue of maintaining a list of households with assistance dogs raises issues of privacy but some people may have signs posted in the window or other places in the dwelling unit indicating the presence of their working partners.

    If a list of people with disabilities partnered with assistance dogs is developed, the information must be readily accessible to relief workers and responders.

  3. Injured Dog

    If the assistance dog is injured veterinary aid should be made available if possible.

  4. Emergency Caregiver

    If the human partner is incapacitated, Placement of the assistance dog with a caretaker is important.

    1. Many assistance dog partners carry material in their purses, wallets or dog's backpacks or pouches with contact information in case of an emergency.

    2. Many assistance dogs are microchipped and these identification markers carry information about caretakers, veterinary care, etc.

    3. Local animal control organizations may be willing to provide them care and shelter if the human partner is incapacitated.

IV. What Can a Shelter or Medical Facility Do To Accommodate a Person With A Disability Partnered With An Assistance Dog?

  1. No Separation

    NO attempt should be made to separate the disabled person from the assistance dog.

  2. The Allergy or Phobia Issue

    Even if other members of the public claim to be allergic, afraid of or phobic about dogs, the assistance dog must be allowed to stay with the human partner.

    If another member of the public has a documented disability, accommodation must be made for both the disabled partner of the assistance dog and the other person with a disability.

  3. Equipment Needed

    Dog food, water bowls and other equipment should be stored and made available in shelters.

    1. Portable crates or baby gates can be stored to isolate the assistance dog from children and inquisitive adults.

    2. No attempt should be made to distract, pet or feed the dog without the express permission of the handler.

  4. Injury to the Dog

    If the dog is injured, veterinary aid should be sought.

  5. Relief Problem

    If the disabled partner is unable to take the dog out for relief, a designated person, either volunteer or staff member, should be willing to do so.

  6. Location in Shelter

    Every effort should be made to provide a quiet or more secluded area for the assistance dog for respite purposes.

V. If an Area Is Declared A Frozen or No Entry Zone, What Assistance Dog Accommodations Might Be Needed?

  1. A person trapped at home will need dog food, help getting the dog out for toileting, and possible veterinary care.

  2. Caretakers and veterinary staff need to be allowed into the frozen zone.

  3. If temporary housing must be found, landlords and others must be made aware of the disabled person's right to be accompanied by the assistance dog.

VI. How Can A Person With A Disability Partnered With An Assistance Dog Prepare For An Emergency?

  1. Know his/her access rights.

  2. Know who is responsible to help in evacuation or relief effort.

  3. Have knowledge about the availability of transportation.

  4. Know the location of shelters, all of which should be accessible.

  5. Prepare evacuation emergency cards with information about care of the assistance dog if the team is separated. These materials should be placed in the refrigerator, since that is the most durable household item and where responders look for information.

    1. Identification of emergency caretaker.
    2. Identification of veterinarian.
    3. Special dietary restrictions.
    4. Medications needed and their administration schedule.
    5. Keep copies of a health record with updated vaccinations.
    6. Update information periodically.

  6. Enter contact numbers for caretaker and veterinarian in the cell phone In Case of Emergency (ICE) system.

  7. Have a dog first aid kit and emergency relief kit readily available:

    1. Several days of dog food, water, supplements, medications and toys
    2. Flea control products and heartworm preventative
    3. Grooming equipment

VII. Under What Conditions May An Assistance Dog Be Excluded From A Shelter, Medical Facility, Emergency Vehicle Or Other Forms Of Transportation?

  1. If the dog is a direct threat to the emergency workers' or shelter's ability to provide its services to others.

    1. Demonstrable aggressive behavior.
    2. Inability of the human partner to control the dog.

  2. If the dog does not meet the definition of a "service animal".

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