• Dr. Rhesa Houston

Service Dog Emergency Preparedness

Emergency Preparations: Addressing the health and welfare of service dogs before the emergency


In my work as a veterinarian, I understand the importance of fast action during an emergency situation, every second counts. That’s why it important to prepare in advance. It is best to have a pre-planned emergency plan of action process in place for the handler and their service dog. Today with #LetsTalkTuesday, Assistance Animals Consulting is discussing what emergency information should be readily accessible in the event the handler of a service dog becomes incapacitated to provide for the health and welfare of the service dog.


A service dog has specialized training to support and help its handler with a disability. Service dogs support handlers with different types of disabilities. These disabilities can be visible or non-visible such as visual impairment, hearing impairments, seizures, mobility impairment, diabetes and mental disorders (such as post traumatic stress disorder). Service dogs are most often always with their handler.


At Assistance Animals Consulting, we like to prepare and discuss in advance the important service dog documents that should be readily available and accessible if the handler becomes incapacitated due to a medical emergency. Important contact information specifically for a service dog should be stored not only in the phone of the handler but also on the service dog. If the handler is incapacitated and the service dog also needs emergency veterinary medical support, having the veterinary medical contact information easily accessible will assist in helping the service dog to acquire timely medical care. We recommend having the following information on the service dog’s quick access emergency document list:

  1. Name of service dog

  2. First and last name of owner associated with veterinary account

  3. Primary veterinary hospital name and phone number

  4. Emergency veterinary hospital name and phone number

  5. Name and phone number of person responsible for service dog if handler is incapacitated

  6. Service dog’s up to date vaccination records and any important medical history

  7. Information on what task the service dog is specifically trained to perform

It is also important to note the accommodations provided to handlers under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and how it applies to service animals. The ADA indicates the following:

  • A service animal can be allowed to ride in an ambulance with its handler. However, if the space in the ambulance is crowded and the dog's presence would interfere with the emergency medical staff's ability to treat the patient, staff should make other arrangements to have the dog transported to the hospital.

  • A hospital must allow an in-patient with a disability to keep a service animal in his or her room. Service animals must be allowed in patient rooms and anywhere else in the hospital the public and patients are allowed to go. They cannot be excluded on the grounds that staff can provide the same services.

  • If a patient who uses a service animal is admitted to the hospital and is unable to care for or supervise their animal, the patient can make arrangements for a family member or friend to come to the hospital to provide these services, it is always preferable that the service animal and its handler not be separated. If the service dog is unable to stay at the hospital with its handler, the family member or friend can keep the dog during the hospitalization. If the patient is unable to care for the dog and is unable to arrange for someone else to care for the dog, the hospital may place the dog in a boarding facility until the patient is released, or make other appropriate arrangements. However, the hospital must give the patient the opportunity to make arrangements for the dog's care before taking such steps.

Pre-planning for dealing with an emergency helps to minimize the unknown and reduces stress and anxiety if the emergency situation presents. Assistance Animals Consulting provides a 3 Point Evaluation Strategy that includes an emergency preparedness plan. We believe in being proactive and preparing today in the event an emergency strikes tomorrow. A proactive emergency preparedness plan will help ensure the service dog is taken care of in the most effective manner.


Assistance Animals Consulting, we are an organization of veterinarians, recognized experts uniquely qualified to serve the community by providing resources for education, behavioral understanding, and guidance regarding working animals. We we collaborate, evaluate, educate and advocate for successful human animal interactions. If you would like guidance on developing an emergency plan of action for a handler-service dog team or any working animal, contact us today, let’s talk!

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