Intuitive Bonds: How My Service Dog Understands Me Better Than I Know Myself

How My Service Dog Understands Me Better Than I Know Myself

by Steven L May, CVJ, VRCE

We want to thank our friend, Steven L May, CVJ, VRCE for writing this incredible article about service dogs.We appreciate him and his work in our industry.

Having a Disability Service Working Canine (DSWC), distinct from Emotional Service Dogs (ESDs), can profoundly impact one's emotional, psychological, and mental well-being, especially within the demanding field of veterinary medicine. Over a 44-year career, where the demands of caregiving extend into day and night, the presence of a DSWC offers unique and multifaceted benefits. Recently, I have had a DSWC, so let us examine the intricacies of these benefits, considering the specific roles and responsibilities of a DSWC and how they intersect with the challenges and rewards of a lifelong career in veterinary medicine.

Understanding the Role of a Disability Service Working Canine:

A DSWC is trained to perform specific tasks that assist individuals with disabilities in navigating their daily lives. Unlike ESDs, which primarily provide emotional support, DSWCs are trained to perform practical tasks related to mobility, sensory assistance, medical alerts, and more. For individuals working in veterinary medicine, a DSWC can provide invaluable assistance in the clinic and everyday life, enhancing independence, safety, and overall well-being.

Emotional Benefits:

The emotional benefits of having a DSWC are significant and multifaceted. These animals provide companionship, loyalty, and unconditional love, offering comfort and support during the joys and challenges. Their constant presence can alleviate loneliness and isolation, particularly during long shifts or overnight duties. Additionally, the bond between a handler and their DSWC fosters a sense of connection and belonging, which is especially important in a profession where the emotional toll of caring for sick or injured animals can be substantial.

Psychological Benefits:

From a psychological perspective, the presence of a DSWC can have profound effects on mental well-being. These animals are trained to perform tasks promoting independence and autonomy, boosting confidence and self-esteem. In a career as demanding as veterinary medicine, where the stakes are high and the workload is intense, the assistance of a DSWC can help alleviate stress and prevent burnout. Their calming presence can provide a welcome respite from the pressures of the job, promoting relaxation and mental clarity even during the most challenging situations.

Mental Benefits:

The mental benefits of having a DSWC are closely tied to their role as a working partner. These animals are trained to recognize and respond to their handler's needs, assisting with tasks such as retrieving medication, alerting to medical emergencies, and navigating crowded or unfamiliar environments. In a veterinary setting, where split-second decisions can mean the difference between life and death for an animal, a DSWC can offer peace of mind and reassurance. Knowing that their canine partner is there to assist and support them can help veterinarians approach their work with confidence and focus.

Specific Benefits in Veterinary Medicine:

Within the context of a veterinary career spanning 44 years, the benefits of having a DSWC are particularly pronounced. Working long hours, including nights and deadlines, where the job demands can take a toll on physical and mental well-being. The presence of a DSWC offers practical assistance during these demanding times, such as alerting to emergencies.

Furthermore, the bond between me and my DSWC can be a source of motivation and inspiration. These animals witness firsthand the dedication and compassion their handlers bring to their work, reinforcing the importance of their efforts and providing a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Additionally, a DSWC can help maintain a healthy work-life balance, ensuring I always have a supportive companion.

Challenges and Rewards of Overnight Shifts:

Veterinary consulting often requires overnight work, where the pace is unpredictable, and anything can arise. While these shifts can be physically and mentally demanding, the presence of a DSWC can provide a sense of security and companionship during the quiet hours of the night. Their keen senses and alertness can reassure me when I work alone, helping them stay focused and vigilant even during dark hours.

Despite the challenges of overnight work, there are also unique rewards to be found in providing care during these hours. The quiet of the night allows me to focus more intensely on tasks, providing individualized attention and care without the distractions of daytime activities.


Regardless of having a DSWC, I practice serious precautions due to any potential zoonotic diseases at any veterinary hospital environment, dog park, on an airplane, or in my office location. Besides vaccinations and heartworm prevention, my canine has a fecal examination by quarter and comprehensive blood panels and urinalysis three times a year, and she is strictly not allowed in any animal hospital treatment area (except when illness occurs).

The emotional, psychological, and mental benefits of having a Disability Service Working Canine (DSWC) are profound and far-reaching, especially within the context of a lifelong career in veterinary medicine. Over 44 years, the presence of a DSWC offers invaluable support and assistance, both in the clinic and in everyday life. Their role as working partners and caregivers enhances independence, promotes well-being, and fosters a deep sense of connection and companionship.

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