How to interact with service animals in medical emergencies

A service animal can be a great help to responders as well as the client — as long as you know the tasks it’s been trained on

By Michelle Lynne March

There are times when EMS providers arrive at a scene to find a service animal accompanying a patient. It is vital to identify the importance and growing recognition of service animals in the community, and the unceasing comfort and healing power they provide to their human partners.

A service animal is a dog (and in some cases, a miniature horse) that has been individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. A service animal is a working animal, not a pet. Although not mandated, they are routinely identified by wearing a vest or harness to indicate they are in work mode.

Service dog Delmar comforts Paramedic Chris Minich while on-duty.
Service dog Delmar comforts Paramedic Chris Minich while on-duty. (Photo/John Minich)

Different Service Animal tasks for different Owner needs

Federal law allows service animals to go anywhere open to the public where they’re needed to assist their partner. They perform a variety of tasks for different needs, including" 

And of course, service animals give unconditional love.

First and foremost, upon arrival at a scene it is critical for EMTs to identify a service animal and recognize the tasks it’s trained to perform. EMTs should initially observe the dog, and if the patient is coherent, request to approach the service dog with calm movement. Get down to the dog’s level to engage its scents, which will make the dog more amenable to your moving its master.

Service animals can provide assistance to EMS providers. For instance, a patient may have suffered from a seizure, and when EMS arrives, the service dog may be alerting or protecting the patient. By possibly identifying subtle changes in patient behavior or a change in bodily scent, the dog can assist EMTs in this particular medical emergency. Therefore, it’s necessary for EMTs to understand the role of the service animal.

Transporting service dogs in the ambulance 

A service animal is also likely more in tune with their established partnership with the patient than an EMS provider is, and some service dogs are trained to stay with their partner when seizing. When transporting a patient, it is important to not separate the service animal from its partner, as the dog continues to provide a healing effect on the patient.

Service animals should remain with their partners unless they are deemed in an uncontrolled state or present a direct threat to the health or safety of others. A crate, seat belt, or other restraint should be used to keep the service animal safe when transporting.

Service animals not only help those in our community, but often assist EMS providers as they humbly service humanity with their unique intervention. And in times of need, they’re always present to provide support to their partners.

About the author

Dr. Michelle Lynne March is an Adjunct Faculty at Kaplan University's College of Public Service, teaching Educational/Development Psychology under the School of Arts and Sciences.


1. United States. Department of Health. Bureau of Emergency Medical Services Policy Statement. (2007, July, 6). Service Animals. Retrieved October 6, 2013 from

2. U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. (2011). Revised ADA requirements: Service animals. Retrieved January 28, 2014 from

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