Paw hygiene No reason to ban service dogs from hospitals

Under a UN agreement, assistance dogs such as guide dogs, signal dogs and medical emergency dogs are welcome in hospitals and other public places. In practice, however, they are regularly refused entry. Hygienic reasons are often cited as the main argument for this. Research now shows that assistance dogs ‘paws are cleaner than the soles of their users’ shoes, and therefore paw hygiene is not a reason to ban assistance dogs from hospitals.

Over 10,000 people in Europe use an assistance dog. Think of guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired, hearing or signal dogs for the deaf and hard of hearing, medical response dogs and psychiatric assistance dogs.

Under European law, these dogs are welcome in shops, hospitals and other public places. In practice, however, many assistance dog users and their dogs are regularly denied entry. In the Netherlands, four out of five users of assistance dogs report having problems with them on a regular basis.

Often, hygiene reasons are given as the main argument for refusing entry to assistance dogs. Research by the University of Utrecht now shows that the paws of assistance dogs are cleaner than the soles of their users’ shoes, and therefore paw hygiene is not a reason to ban assistance dogs from hospitals.

To investigate this, Jasmijn Vos, Joris Wijnker and Paul Overgaauw from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University took samples from the paws of 50 assistance dogs and the soles of their users’ shoes. For comparison, they also examined an equally large group of dogs and their owners. Vos and her colleagues examined the samples for faecal bacteria (Enterobacteriaceae), which are very common outdoors, and for important diarrheal bacteria (Clostridium difficile).

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“The dogs’ paws turned out to be cleaner than the soles of their shoes,” says Jasmijn Vos, a master’s student at Utrecht University. “This invalidates the hygiene argument that is often used to ban service dogs from public places.” In addition, the diarrhea bacteria did not appear on the dogs’ paws at all and only once on the sole of a shoe.

81% of the assistance dogs are rejected

Dutch assistance dog users were also asked about their experience. 81% are still regularly denied entry to public places with their dog, even though this is prohibited by law. This is mainly due to a lack of knowledge of the person refusing entry: a lack of knowledge of what an assistance dog is, how it can be recognized, and about the rules of the law.

The study also shows that assistance dog users are only a small fraction of the total number of patients in Dutch hospitals. Should they decide to take their assistance dog to the hospital or elsewhere, this should be made possible. Assistance dogs usually behave well and are no more hygienic than humans!

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