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Comfort/Therapy Dogs in Schools and Hospitals

My daughter who is a senior in high school suffers with asthma. Although it is controlled by a daily routine of inhalers and other medication, when exposed to dogs and cat dander she has a severe reaction which includes large doses of steroids. Katie cannot go to homes, drive in cars stay in hotels where there has been a dog so to avoid a hospital visit or prednisone. Last spring, I noticed an increase of Katie's asthma attacks and allergies after coming home from school. She was put on a few rounds of prednisone and increased her preventative and short acting inhalers. I found out the nurse at the high school had started to bring her dog in with approval by the City's health department school nurse as a "Comfort /Therapy Dog 3 days a week and was kept in her health/nurse room office. Although they new about Katie's asthma , a note from the pediatrician saying Katie had a severe dog allergy and could not be exposed to the dog, administration kept passing the issue and concerns along, and I think they did not know how to handle it. Months later, it continues to be an ongoing issue. If Katie had a medical issue at school, she can not even go to the nurses office because of dog exposure. Meanwhile, the dog has been all over the school and brought into classrooms for months. They have offered to keep the dog in one room and enter and exit through a separate school entrance but still don't understand the severity of having the dog in a building.Last June, KT was at Children's Hospital for jaw surgery. A woman from Boston Childrens Hospital came to the room with a therapy dog for her roommate. I thought I was seeing things! My daughter had animal allergies on her wristband. Which brings me to ask why, when so many people have asthma that are triggered by dog dander and exposure would hospitals, schools and planes allowing this to happen. If there is a service dog at a restaurant or store, my daughter can always leave. She cannot leave school or when she is in a hospital. Is it that people are not educated? 24 million Americans have asthma including myself. I feel with this new wave of "comfort" and "therapy" dogs being allowed in our public schools, hospitals and planes, there will be a increase in ER visits, hospital stays and Anaphylaxis. 

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  • K8sMom2002

    Steenie and … that's a tough situation, and I hear your frustration.  We are definitely hearing more and more about how two disabilities can clash. I can't imagine having a child who has asthma who can't go to the nurse's office!

    In addition to the note from your daughter's doctor, does your daughter have a 504 plan in place? If so, have you spoken to her 504 coordinator?

    If you don't have a 504 plan in place, here's a .

    And here's an AAFA resource about the .

    Do you know if the dog in question is a ?  There is a difference. And what are your local and state ordinances and laws concerning service and comfort/therapy dogs? 

    Back when I was in a similar situation — school administration seemed immovable and unwilling to do what I thought they should — one thing that helped me was some advice I got from another mom:

    "Focus on what your daughter NEEDS." 

    When I focused on what my DD needed, and I could state that in a simple, concrete, non-confrontational way, it kept the conversation locked in. Whenever they offered their objections, I could say, "Yes, I understand your position, but my DD still needs …" 

    That helped them focus on solving DD's problem. It moved them from a position where their heels were dug in to one where they thought creatively.

    They came up with solutions I wouldn't have thought of, and since THEY came up with the solutions, they liked them better. 

    What you're describing sounds extremely frustrating … but you sound like an excellent advocate for your daughter … we're here for you!

     

  • Jen

    Hi Steenie,

    Welcome to our forums.  That definitely sounds like a frustrating situation.  I do think that having a dog in the health room presents challenges for anyone going there who might be allergic to dogs – they go to get their meds, because they are sick, etc and then are exposed to their allergen.  I agree with Cynthia.  I would talk to the administration and request an evaluation for a 504 plan.  

  • Kathy P

    Welcome Steenie. I'll echo K8smoms question about a 504 plan. If she doesn't already have one, you can request an evaluation for one. A 504 plan will follow her to college too, so even though she's a senior, it's not too late. My son is a senior and we did his first 504 plan this year (not for asthma, but a different condition that can effect his attendance at school). If she has one already, have you asked for a meeting to reevaluate things based on the current situation?

  • Miss_305

    I'm so sorry you're going through this! I feel your pain as I too have uncontrolable allergies that turn into a huge asthma attack that I end up in the E.R. with a prednisone shot and a breathing treatment. It sucks. I can't even go to the bank because everyone brings their support animal. Grocery stores now too. I thought I was the only one with severe animal dander allergies/ ashtma. I have talked to my Doctors about my condition and everyone I spoke to (specialists at that) looked at me like I was different because they would prescribe different asthma inhalers and allergy pills to "control" my allergies/ Asthma towards pet dander. NOTHING WORKS!!! So, I really feel your pain.

  • Kathy P

    Sorry the docs are being dismissive Mis_305. It's really hard when you are the outlier. It often means you have to fight harder for the treatment and support you need.

  • Steenie

    Thank you SO much for your kind responses and words of wisdom!! I never even had thought of 504 plan. I am now looking into it. The dog is not a service dog, but yet administration said the dog was written in some of the students plans for therapy/comfort. Imagine!? I have been looking into our Newton ordinances and as I assumed its ok for service dogs but not for therapy Dogs. The service dog needs to be trained and work specifically for a person with a disability. The City's Health Department Nurse just sent me a form and asked if I would sign it so she could speak to my daughters doctor about this and said in the letter that,     "explained that in order to accommodate K's dog allergy, D. the support dog; would never be in the health room, would be kept in an office that K. would not need to access and would only use a designated door that would not cross K's path. You indicated that this plan was not acceptable. You described your daughter's condition as being a very extreme case of asthma that quickly worsens with the most remote exposure to dog dander (including poodles). And that once the asthma is triggered, aggressive treatment can be required".    

     I don't want to sound like a whacko, but they don't understand how dander is all over the school and does not stay in one place and accumulates. I still cannot believe these are nurses who don't understand the seriousness of asthma and what can happen when exposed. I never thought in a million years I would see the day that animals came before a child's breath (or lack there of!)  Thanks all for listening!!! 

  • K8sMom2002

    @Miss_305, hugs on not being a "textbook" case … you'll find several of our members here are in the same boat. And yes, like Kathy P says, it means having to work with your docs to figure out "out of the box" solutions. It's very frustrating, but you are definitely NOT alone or the only one.

    @Steenie, I would definitely pursue a 504 plan — it's not too late!

    However, I would be hesitant about letting the school talk to my daughter's doctor directly, without you as a party to the conversation. I would also be hesitant to release extensive medical records to my daughter's school. I have heard of cases where that's happened and things have been taken out of context or misunderstood — no ill-intent is meant, but school administration are not doctors and they don't have the training to interpret test results or doctor's notes. It's awfully hard to "un-ring a bell," and sometimes a person on a 504 committee might get hung up on one thing they heard — or thought they heard.

    Why not instead ask the doctor to issue a letter stating that, due to your daughter's history of repeated reactions at school and despite aggressive attempts to combat that, she needs a 504 plan with whatever accommodations he feels appropriate?

    What I have done in the past is to draft the letter myself for his/her review (my DD has two specialists that handle two different disorders that fall under a 504 plan, so both specialists issue their own letters). The doctor can make any changes, then give a copy of that letter to you to take before the 504 committee. 

    I would talk to the 504 committee coordinator and ask what sorts of documentation they require, and I would assemble that packet myself. 

    If they insist on speaking to the doctor before proceeding, then what about arranging a conference call? That way you'd be there to correct or clarify any misunderstandings and refresh the doctor's memory of any recent reactions. 

    You can always stipulate that in cases of medical emergency, school officials are authorized to speak to your daughter's doctor until you can reach your daughter's side. 

    I will say that doctors themselves don't seem to like talking directly with school officials for much the same reason as I've outlined before. In my experience, they'd rather issue one carefully thought-out letter.

    I had to go through our first 504 plan meeting without the resources I suggested above — and it was so much harder! I wish I'd been able to watch  before that first, frustrating meeting — it would have given me a good overview of how the process works for any disability. So I would highly recommend watching that video before you get started!

  • Shea

    I have severe asthma and allergies to cat and dog dander and am completely frustrated as well with situations like this. It makes me so mad. Right now, I am on disability with a chronic allergic disease that the exasperating factor was repeated chronic exposure to cat and dog dander (eodinophils sdsdurrounded my heart and gave me as hesrt attacknat age 28) Since then, myballergies have been very severe. I have run into "therapy" dogs everywhere, including at my immunologists waiting area. People do not know or understand dander allergies typically, and when they do, their hands are tied because service animals have fought their way into public places to help disabled, but asthmatics and allergic individuals have not won the battle for their rights yet. I want to help the fight, but I am also tired of it.

    I had to pull out the serenity card for myself, and luckily qualified, fought for, and won disability benefits. I am now homeschooling my son, who just turned 5, and when the next school year starts we will be using K12.com, which is technically a public school, done by combination of virtual classrooms with real teachers and students, hands on materials sent through mail, and a coach (usually parent or relative who guides coursework). We attend homeschool co-op classes at our local community center, which follows stricter guidelines on using safe green cleaning products, and not having carpets in most areas, and we get go pick our classes (I am able to attend with my 5 year old if I like), so I can be there to help him advocate for himself (he has severe animal allergies as well), and those classes are once a week, and are not mandatory, so if we need to leave due to a dog coming in, we can just leave (although the community center so far is one of the few places that has had no furry animals in it and some classes are held outdoors). I like the route we have chosen so far.

    Today there was a dog in the Barnes and Noble. My son jumped back, I rolled my eyes, and shook my head. Everywhere… And no service label.. There are too many and it is growing… Most of them "emotional" therapy dogs, which as a psychology graduate, I feel that it is not good to have to take an animal everywhere with you. 

     I am going to start my own certification like they have for green buildings, they will be Asthma and Allergy Friendly Buildings, and I will find a way not to allow ANY furry or allergy triggering animal inside. Maybe it will be an outdoor designated service animal area. If that is not allowed, maybe I will just place those super high pitched dog whistles (that humans cannot hear) over speakers until the dogs pull their confused owners out (no one will ever know…. That is probably not mindful, but I am just so sick of this battle). I do not know how I will do it, but I will make a safe haven for people with severe dander allergies! Until then, I am just going to focus on keeping my son and I away from long and or frequent exposures to dander.

  • K8sMom2002

    Who knows, Shea? With the advent of "wearables" and robots, furry animals may be replaced by fur-less helpers for folks who need that support. 

  • Marc

    Great thread of information.  I am new to the forums.  I am adult with asthma and am so thankful my kids did not get it.  I can't imagine having such an issue in a school.

    i travel a lot and see a lot of pets on Delta.  I am reaching how to advocate for asthmatic's right.  In the mean time I have picked up a pack of N99 (99% effective) comfortable dust masks in case I run into a flight with an animal.  I shouldn't have to wear one…I have ADA rights too…but better safe than sorry. 

  • Anne P
    Shea posted:

     

    Today there was a dog in the Barnes and Noble. My son jumped back, I rolled my eyes, and shook my head. Everywhere… And no service label.. There are too many and it is growing… Most of them "emotional" therapy dogs, which as a psychology graduate, I feel that it is not good to have to take an animal everywhere with you. 

     

     It's really hard when accommodations for different people with different disabilities clash.  It's a tough situation, and society has to find ways to accommodate everyone.

    BTW, service dogs don't have to have any label or special tags.  The only thing a business can ask is if it's a service dog and what task it's trained to perform.  There is no legal requirement to wear vests or carry any ID.

  • Jen

    Anne –  I kind of wish there was  a legal requirement for service animals to wear vests/their owners to carry ID.  If we do ever end up getting a service dog for ds (who has autism, is non verbal and runs away), I think I will make sure the dog is easily identifiable as a service dog. I think that's important so that appropriate accommodations can be made for all.  

    Steenie  - I do think that if there were a way to keep the dog in a classroom/area of the building that your daughter doesn't go to, that might help.  Do you think that is something that would work?

  • Anne P

    I agree, Jen.  I think it's rather weird that there is no requirement that service dogs wear vests or other ID, but that's how the law was written.

  • K8sMom2002

    It's such a delicate balance — I'm reminded a bit of our own situation food allergy wise. So many more people have gluten/wheat allergies and sensitivities as opposed to my DD, who has a life-threatening allergy to corn, plus corn is considered hypoallergenic by the food and drug industries. It makes for many a potential trainwreck.

    I've walked into many a church or school event with the popcorn machine going full blast and kids throwing popcorn around. The reason the organizers chose corn was that they could make sure it was free of all or most of the major 8 allergens — while DD, on the other hand, is perfectly okay with all the major 8 allergens. It's just corn that can kill her.

    I have to realize that what can harm my kiddo is someone else's lifeline. At the same time, other folks have to remember that what harms THEIR kiddo or themselves is OUR lifeline. We all have to work together to keep EVERYONE safe and healthy. 

    But I really feel for folks who are in a situation where the ONLY thing they can do is manage their environment, and suddenly they are faced with another, competing disability that clashes with their needs, and there's no escape — they have to be on that plane or they have to be in that school. There just has to be a way to meet everyone's needs in that situation — or at least prioritize those needs.

  • Steenie

    Hi all !Thank you all for the great advice and feedback! This has been so overwhelming but one of the best suggestions that was given was to watch the 504 plan webinar. Boy, I never would of even thought of that!! This has been such an eye opening experience for me and at least now I can plan for when she goes away to school next fall. Until then, I am spreading the word about this issue.

  • K8sMom2002

    Yay! That webinar was a fabulous resource for me, and I can't recommend it enough. Still, I'm always glad when someone else gets just as much out of it as I did!

    There's a lot of resource info on the AAFA website about asthma — , etc. Could you print that out for folks who may respond well to printed info?

  • Steenie

    I am new to this too. I am interested to know if there has been an increase of ambulance calls and ER visits from passengers coming off of planes to airports. It's tough because although the dog may not even been on your flight, it could of been sitting in the same seat previously. Nothing worse than thought of a long flight and your lungs narrow, become inflamed. It can turn into a real emergency situation. People don't understand that there is no such think as "hypoallergenic" dogs. It is the protein in the saliva, urine etc. I am trying to send out my story to allergists, doctors, and will also be sending out to newspapers. I'm afraid this is the start of a long, uphill battle. I think we are at the forefront of this "therapy dog/animal" issue.

  • K8sMom2002

    Steenie, until there are clear guidelines in place for folks managing dander allergens, I would recommend talking with your doctor about a good solid plan for flying. And I would also talk to your airline carrier to see what accommodations they may have. I know Delta has a link to their "traveling with a disability" — for some reason I'm not able to make a pretty link, but here's the website.

    I'm sure other carriers have similar departments. It may not be perfect, but it's a place to start.

  • Kathy P

    Steenie – we welcome you to as well. We are always looking for personal stories for your blog. That page also has our guidelines.

  • K8sMom2002

    Steenie and Miss_305, how are you doing? I hope your asthma has been under control and you have had no recent issues with reactions from comfort/therapy dogs.

  • K8sMom2002

    Been thinking about folks who may have had to travel over the holidays or visit folks who had pets, and I remembered this thread. @Steenie and @Miss_305, did you guys have to deal with pet dander over the holidays?

  • LAC
    Steenie posted:

    My daughter who is a senior in high school suffers with asthma. Although it is controlled by a daily routine of inhalers and other medication, when exposed to dogs and cat dander she has a severe reaction which includes large doses of steroids. Katie cannot go to homes, drive in cars stay in hotels where there has been a dog so to avoid a hospital visit or prednisone. Last spring, I noticed an increase of Katie's asthma attacks and allergies after coming home from school. She was put on a few rounds of prednisone and increased her preventative and short acting inhalers. I found out the nurse at the high school had started to bring her dog in with approval by the City's health department school nurse as a "Comfort /Therapy Dog 3 days a week and was kept in her health/nurse room office. Although they new about Katie's asthma , a note from the pediatrician saying Katie had a severe dog allergy and could not be exposed to the dog, administration kept passing the issue and concerns along, and I think they did not know how to handle it. Months later, it continues to be an ongoing issue. If Katie had a medical issue at school, she can not even go to the nurses office because of dog exposure. Meanwhile, the dog has been all over the school and brought into classrooms for months. They have offered to keep the dog in one room and enter and exit through a separate school entrance but still don't understand the severity of having the dog in a building.Last June, KT was at Children's Hospital for jaw surgery. A woman from Boston Childrens Hospital came to the room with a therapy dog for her roommate. I thought I was seeing things! My daughter had animal allergies on her wristband. Which brings me to ask why, when so many people have asthma that are triggered by dog dander and exposure would hospitals, schools and planes allowing this to happen. If there is a service dog at a restaurant or store, my daughter can always leave. She cannot leave school or when she is in a hospital. Is it that people are not educated? 24 million Americans have asthma including myself. I feel with this new wave of "comfort" and "therapy" dogs being allowed in our public schools, hospitals and planes, there will be a increase in ER visits, hospital stays and Anaphylaxis. 

    I am so sorry your daughter suffers like this– I suffer from the exact same type of life-threatening dander asthma and allergies, as do other members of my family, and I have found the public to be increasingly hostile when I self-advocate. I am almost always forced to leave a store of public building because store and business owners, managers and staff put the dog ahead of my safety. Dogs are literally being put ahead of human lives. When even the hospitals aren't safe for those of us with dander-sensitive asthma and allergies, it is a very scary situation, indeed. I am hoping to mobilize some other asthma and allergy sufferers to assist with a legal effort to change laws, strengthen the laws to prevent fake "service dogs", empower store owners to bar pets from their buildings and maybe start some class action lawsuits against businesses and public services and transportation companies (such as airlines) who are violating the ADA by not accommodating people with dander-sensitive asthma and allergies. Let me know if you are interested in helping. My name is Laurie.