Assistance dogs are vital to many people who need them to perform daily tasks. While guide dogs for the blind might be some of the most familiar, there are hearing dogs for people with hearing impairments, dogs that can detect and respond to medical emergencies like seizures, for example. While these dogs are often welcome in many places where pet dogs would not be, they are sometimes refused entry.
European researchers decided to investigate whether hygiene was a justifiable reason for refusing to admit assistance dogs to retail establishments and hospitals. Statistics show that in the Netherlands, four out of five people that use assistance dogs regularly experience difficulties entering such places, even though they should be allowed under Dutch law.
Reporting in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the scientists found that dogs' paws are cleaner than the soles of the shoes their owners wear. They concluded that hygiene is not a justifiable reason to ban assistance dogs from entering hospitals or other places.
In this study, the researchers took swab samples of the paws of 25 assistance dogs, as well as their owners' shoe soles. They also took similar samples from 25 pet dogs and their owners. They focused on looking for bacteria commonly found anywhere outdoors and in poo called Enterobacteriaceae, which has different strains, some of which are harmless while others are harmful, and pathogenic bacteria that cause diarrhea called Clostridium difficile.
"The dogs' paws turned out to be cleaner than the soles of their shoes," revealed study co-author Jasmijn Vos, a Masters student at Utrecht University. "This makes the hygiene argument that is often used to ban assistance dogs from public locations invalid."
C. difficile was not detected on any of the dogs' paws either. But it was found on the sole of one person's shoe.
In the United States, service animals are permitted entry into facilities (government buildings, businesses and non-profits) under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) even when dogs are not normally permitted. These animals are defined by the ADA as dogs that have been trained to work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. The ADA states that the dog's task has to be directly related to the person's disability, and emotional support animals are not considered service animals according to the United States Department of Justice.