United States Dogs at Work Issue Features Service Animals

The United States Postal Service honored the faithful dogs that work with and for their human friends with a set of four 65-cent stamps. They were issued on January 20, 2012 in Merrifield, Virginia. These stamps pay the rate for first-class mail weighing more than one ounce and up to and including two ounces. The stamps, painted by John M. Thompson and designed by Howard E. Paine include a seeing-eye guide dog, a therapy dog, a tracking dog, and a search and rescue dog.

Guide dogs date back to World War I. To help veterans who lost their sight in the war, a school in Potsdam Germany started training German Shepherds as guides. Dorothy Harrison Eustis, a wealthy American woman interested in training dogs, visited the school and was impressed. She wrote an article about the school that was published in the Saturday Evening Post. When Morris Frank, a young blind man from Nashville, Tennessee heard about the article, he asked her to train a dog for him.

He joined her in Switzerland for the training. His dog was Buddy, a female German Shepherd and together they became the first American guide-dog team. With $10,000 in seed money from Ms. Eustis, Frank opened a dog guide school in Nashville, the first in the United States. Today there are over 10,000 guide dogs in the United States and Canada helping sight-impaired people to live normal, productive lives.

There are many jobs for tracking dogs. Basically a tracking dog is trained to use his excellent sense of smell to locate people, drugs, explosives and other items. Dogs that find missing people, are called search and rescue dogs (SAR). Because of their efforts many people who would not have survived a dangerous situation are alive and well. Once hope of finding a missing person alive fades, cadaver dogs are brought in. These dogs are trained to find decomposing bodies.

Security personnel use detection dogs to sniff baggage at airports and other sensitive places in order to locate explosives or other illicit substances. After a fire in which arson is suspected, arson dogs are brought in. They are trained to find accelerants used to set fires and then to sit on the odor. This way they don’t destroy or disturb evidence.

Dogs who are gentle, friendly and at ease when handled by strangers may get a job as a therapy dog. Therapy dogs are used in hospitals, nursing homes, and schools – anywhere there are people who can benefit from the comfort and joy of close contact with a friendly dog. A new twist on this concept is Tail Waggin’ Tutors. These dogs “listen” as children read aloud to them. Children who are poor readers and embarrassed to read aloud in front of classmates are not self-conscious in front of the dogs.

Some high-stress schools are also using therapy dogs to ease student stress. The dogs are found in counseling centers, pet-friendly dorms, walking around the campus, and in libraries. At Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School you can even check out a therapy dog the way you check out a book from the library.




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