Vail Pet Talk column: Giving thanks for our pets |

Vail Pet Talk column: Giving thanks for our pets

This is the time of year when we give thanks for so many things in our lives. While often at the forefront of our thoughts and actions, our pets rarely receive the verbal or written thanks they deserve.

So, here's to you, companion animals everywhere. Thanks for all you do. It is quite a lot. Let's look at some of the many ways pets enhance our lives.

Service animals are defined by The Americans with Disabilities Act as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Service dogs have been individually trained to perform specific tasks to help the person with a disability.

Service Dogs do many things

Typically, we think of these dogs aiding visually and hearing-disabled people, but they also help diabetics recognize when their blood sugar is low and can also alert epileptic patients that a seizure is coming. Here are some other lesser-known things service dogs do to help: Service dogs can help mobility-disabled people by pulling them in their wheelchair, pushing elevator buttons and doorbells and even present a wallet to help pay for stuff (I don't think they can count change, but don't quote me on that).

Service dogs are also excellent for mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, emotional stress and even autism. Specifically, they are known to aid the release of the feel-good hormone serotonin from our brains. Years ago, one of my children's friends was so shy at our home she would not talk or engage any of us; I finally got her conversing but only when she was petting one of our dogs.

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Using statistics on disabled Americans and the percentage that own service dogs, we can conclude that there are roughly 400,000 service dogs in the United States. Training is quite an endeavor; the average cost to train a service dog runs around $25,000.

Another type of classification for companion animals to help us is an emotional-support animal. Emotional-support animals are people's own personal pets that have been prescribed by a mental health professional such as therapist or psychiatrist. They provide comfort and support for people with emotional disabilities.

All domesticated animals may qualify as emotional-support animals (cats, dog, mice, rabbits, birds, snakes, hedgehogs, rats, mini pigs, ferrets, etc.), and they can be any age. Emotional-support animals do not require any special training; the only requirement is that they be "manageable" in public. Certification is voluntary but recommended for reasons of credibility. All you need is a letter from your health care professional.

Afraid of flying?

Many people fly with their emotional-support animals, and airlines are quite accommodating. Just make sure to contact the airlines and have all your paperwork in order; airlines differ in requirements, so always check. It is disturbing, but I know many people abuse this aspect of emotional-support animals to fly with their pets.

Working dogs are another class of dogs that greatly deserve our thanks. These dogs are workers. They are dogs such as military dogs that perform many difficult and dangerous tasks such as bomb detection and crowd control and help with PTSD. Police dogs are another type of working dog and aid in drug detection, crowd control and sniffing out bad guys.

Best Friends

Other types of working dogs are sled dogs, guide dogs, hunting dogs, scent dogs (food, bombs, drugs, money, criminals, etc.), search-and-rescue dogs, herding dogs, ranch dogs and even acting dogs. I hope I didn't leave any type of working dog out; if I did, don't be too ruff on me.

Perhaps the best and most rewarding job for our pets is the best friend job. And a heck of a lot of us have these best friends. There are roughly 75 million pet dogs and 85 million pet cats in the United States. Approximately 37 percent to 47 percent of all households in the United States have a dog, and 30 percent to 37 percent have a cat.

So, whether working to protect us, helping to comfort us or just befriending us, our pets deserve a big round of thanks. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Dr. Steve Sheldon practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He can be reached at 970-524-3647, or at the clinic website,