072: Home Design and Service Dogs

Good Fit Poor Fit
Good Fit Poor Fit
072: Home Design and Service Dogs

Show Notes:

Home Design for Disabled Vet and Service Dog

Pet Ownership Statistics

Pet Industry Size, Trends, and Ownership Stats

Service Dogs Save Lives

Service Dog Statistics

American Veterinary Medical Association – Pet Population Data

Examples of Service Dog Tasks

Adaptive Pet Strategies

Video of Scott’s Leash

Picture of Nate’s Dog Phoenix


[00:00:00] Sarah: You’re Listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. A podcast that explores the interaction between people, design, and activity. Good Fit Poor Fit is part of The Universal Design Project, a nonprofit organization with a vision for every community across the USA to have a surplus of homes and opportunities for social participation that are universally and financially accessible.

[00:00:27] Learn more at universaldesign.org.

[00:00:31] Alee: Hi listeners, welcome back to another Good Fit Poor Fit episode. I’m Alee Halsey and I’m with the UDP this fall semester as a level two MOT student from James Madison University. Do we have any pet owners out there? I’ve been thinking a lot about UD and all the members of the household we have to consider when designing a home. Not only are our pets loved members of the household, but for many residents, they can be a vital part of how someone functions in their home.

[00:01:00] Recently I came across an article that got me thinking about this. This article featured a disabled veteran who is getting his Master’s in Architecture. He designed a really cool home for someone with a disability and their service dog as his capstone project. I thought this is such a unique perspective for UD.

[00:01:18] It seems as if service dogs and pets are often an overlooked member of the home. Some of you may be wondering would someone need a service dog, and what exactly do they do? Service dogs help with a wide range of disabilities so their owners can lead a more independent life. They can be trained for specialized needs, including wheelchair assistance, medical and alert response, brace and mobility support, visual assistance, hearing service, or psychiatric service.

[00:01:47] It’s also possible to cross-train them in a variety of these areas. There are so many tasks that they can do. A few examples are opening and closing doors, altering a handler to high blood pressure, providing medication reminders, and alerting a handler to their name being called. For my fellow OTs out there, this might spark some ideas for how service dogs fit into the PEO model. For those who are unfamiliar, this model considers how the person, environment and tasks they set out to do(also known as the occupation) all interact with each other to determine how well they’re able to complete their task. Where might a service dog fit into this equation?

[00:02:26] Nate: You make a great point about how the PEO model can fit into this topic. Models in occupational therapy are such a big part of what we do in the world for our clients. While we aren’t always speaking in the language that philosophical models of OT speak, they are at the core of all of our thoughts and ideas. For those unfamiliar as well as our visual learners.

[00:02:46] The PEO model can best be described as a triangle with the P (the person), the E (the environment), and the O (the occupation) each representing a point on the triangle. Similar to that of an electrical circuit, in order for this relationship to work, each point needs to be connected, hence the triangle reference, where all points are connected.

[00:03:04] The connection between all three points determines how well a person is thriving as an individual and the things they need or want to do every day. These activities are known as occupations. Cutting off the flow or circulation of the PEO model can result in disengagement or dissatisfaction with one’s life roles, routines, or occupations. Disruption to the flow of the PEO model can come in the form of disability or injuries to the person, limitations by outside factors from the environment, or activities becoming non-meaningful or difficult to partake in by the occupation.

[00:03:37] Traditionally, individuals would need to find a way to alter the P, E, or O in order to fulfill occupational engagement. However, this can be a place where service animals can thrive. A service animal can be the bridge in the gap in dysfunction by positioning itself within the PEO triangle and acting as a floater, helping out where needed.

[00:03:57] This way, whichever factor, P, E, or O needs support, the animal can assist in restoring connection between all three points, resulting in meaningful and rewarding participation in one’s life activities. Traditionally, the PEO model is used by a therapist at a clinical setting to determine where a therapist should focus their intervention.

[00:04:15] However, in nontraditional OT practice, we’re required to think outside the box of singular interventions. Non-traditional OT aims to address the many disparities with one intervention. In terms of the work here at the Universal Design Project, creating a surplus of homes and communities with accessible spaces aims to address all possible barriers that the environment can create, rather than focusing on just one barrier.

[00:04:38] To your point, service animals aim to do just the same. They can be the missing piece that allows for people to achieve their ultimate goal of independence.

[00:04:47] Sarah: I loved your description of the PEO, Nate, and how OTs always have these models in the back of our minds for how we work with different people in different situations and to your point, having a service animal in the equation can help bridge that gap for a person with a disability to complete the tasks they need and want to do during the day.

[00:05:07] The same is true for any piece of adaptive equipment, from a reacher to voice-activating lights, but in this case, the dog steps in to provide the assistance. This can be in a home that’s universally accessible, needs lots of changes to be functional, or for someone out and about in the community.

[00:05:26] I have seen a service dog help navigate a blind student around campus, ultimately being her eyes to negotiate crowds and finding a direct route to her destination. Basically, helping out with the P of this equation and filling in for her lack of eyesight. When the environment or the E isn’t a great fit,

[00:05:47] I’ve seen dogs open doors or assist with opening appliances that are difficult to manipulate for their owner. And lastly, since our lives are full of important occupations, or the O in this equation, dogs are there to pick up needed items that are dropped or are out of reach when tasks are being performed in the bathroom, the kitchen, laundry room, and other areas of the home.

[00:06:11] Dogs even assist people when working on their hobbies, volunteering, or paid work. These dogs are trained and specifically paired with people based on the activities they need assistance in doing. What a special bond many of these owners and dogs have in working in unison to participate in life together.

[00:06:32] Alee: I agree, Sarah, this bond is so unique and as we see how dynamic a service dog can be in this PEO perspective, it’s so much more than just a “helper”, but rather positioned right at the center of our life’s triangle. They not only become a vital part of what we do, but are also an extension of ourselves. In addition to the benefits that service dogs and pets bring to our households, we should probably also look at the numbers and see why it would make sense to factor these furry members into the equation for universal design. Currently, 70% of US households own a pet, which is equal to nine and a half million homes. That is substantial. Of these homes, 69 million own at least one dog. And of these dogs, 500,000 are being used as service dogs. If we have 500,000 homes that need to be designed for someone who cannot function without their service dog, it only makes sense that we would keep pets in mind under UD principles.

[00:07:35] However, aside from service dogs, there’s also a large number of emotional support animals registered in the US. In 2019, there were nearly 200,000 emotional support animals in the US. And this is just registered, but I think we can all agree that pets function as an emotional support animal across the board for households.

[00:07:57] Sarah: What interesting statistics, Alee!. I love your point that having a functional home in addition to a service dog makes a big difference in how people participate in their lives. And you’re right, there are lots of households out there where people really do rely on their dog because the home isn’t designed for them to be independent.

[00:08:16] I agree with you too. Sometimes animals just provide that companionship and love that we need. I have a neighbor who has a pet more in the emotional support category, and she actually has a few invisible disabilities herself. While her dog isn’t registered, he goes with her everywhere she’s allowed to take him, and he provides a source of comfort for her throughout the day as she lives alone. Being on the first floor of our apartment right near the elevator and the outside door just makes it easier and more convenient for her to take care of her dog too as she manages her own disability.

[00:08:53] Nate: You’re right on the mark with your point about our furry friends and their impact on us in all the best possible ways, I can say that I, for one, have experienced the roller coaster of emotions that comes with bringing a pet into the home. It feels great to be back at home after some time away at school to be reunited with our 12-year-old Cockapoo, Phoenix, who you can check out really enjoying this fall weather at the link below.

[00:09:15] Taking him in has made our lives so much more meaningful. Though he is not a service animal, we often joke that we are his service humans. But deep down, we know that the meaningful connection we share is mutually beneficial. All jokes about my pup aside, I would agree with your statement, Alee, that pets in any and all forms can serve as our support animals. Pets can be the reason that individuals are able to get out of bed on some days. They can be the factor that helps people relearn caretaking skills, or they can simply be another living thing in the home with you. If possible, and though they can be a lot of work, I think they can add countless benefits to the lives of many.

[00:09:49] Alee: I could not agree more. Aside from the assistance and comfort they bring, there is so much that they can teach us too, and if we want to maximize those benefits, it’s important to think about how we can design a home so that they can do these important jobs best. I want to jump back into the article and some of the great ideas this architect had for how to make a home more conducive to a service dog.

[00:10:12] When thinking about dogs in particular, I know I’ve had family dogs that have struggled with slippery hardwood floors. I liked that he made a point to add in durable, slip-resistant flooring. The durability of the floor is just as important when you think about claws scratching the floor or even mobility equipment of the owners.

[00:10:32] Sarah: Yes, I agree, Alee. I have seen lots of dogs slip around on those slippery floors, and this design element can be really thought about and considered for both the homeowners and the service dogs, as you mentioned. Individuals that use mobility equipment, especially those heavy power chairs, can really do a number on the floors if they’re not durable.

[00:10:52] We have tile in our bathrooms and the grout in between those tiles have been breaking down due to the weight of the chair putting pressure on different portions of the floor, especially with the amount of turning and back and forth that occurs when my husband is doing bathroom tasks. Another helpful element I’ve heard people talk about in their home is a radiant floor heating system, and that can keep slippery floors dry, but it also provides more comfort for pets who need to remain by their owner’s side to assist them. This benefits us humans as well, because it keeps our feet nice and toasty as we move throughout the house.

[00:11:30] Alee: Great minds must think alike because this architect mentioned the very same feature! I thought about how this could also reduce the number of throw rugs, mats, or cushions on the floor that you might use for a pet’s comfort or your own. This would make a big difference in potential for trips or falls.

[00:11:48] I’m also picturing those rainy days where your pet goes out and tracks wet prints all across slick floors. With radiant floor heating systems, this unseen hazard can be easily resolved. This brings me to another inventive idea he incorporated into his design for letting the dog out, which is a remote-controlled garage door that opens out from the living room area to the yard.

[00:12:11] I’m not sure I would’ve ever thought of this! This allows the service dog to have easy access to the yard while the owner can still be within eyesight, and this was an important point he made. He emphasized having an open, one-story floor plan that was needed so the service dog can see the owner at all times.

[00:12:29] Nate: I think that all of these innovative ideas are great adaptations to the home that can increase accessibility, not just for humans, but also the animals that live there too. However, as we have so often talked about, universal access isn’t always reasonable in terms of price or space or resources available in your home.

[00:12:45] Therefore, there are numerous adaptations that can be done in the home or to simple products that can help to create an environment easier to care for service animals in any other pets. Thinking with an OT brain, it is important that we are thinking about all the activities that our clients may want or need to engage in, which can sometimes be overlooked in the therapy setting.

[00:13:03] Sure, an individual themselves is able to return home and care for themselves, but what about their pet? The pet is a part of the home and a part of their family, so if proper care of the pet cannot be achieved, is the individual really fit to return to their home? Luckily, innovative minds have helped out pet owners all over the world and have the ability to care for pets in creative ways.

[00:13:24] Some of the most innovative tools that I have seen for pet care have actually come from the simplest household items. For example, an adaptive pet feeder where a simple plastic funnel often used in the garage is attached to a PVC pipe. Users simply need to fill the funnel with food and it’ll drop out the other end.

[00:13:41] This eliminates the need to bend over, reach or place the food in an animal’s bowl. This is just one simple product that could be made for extremely cheap that can help someone care for their pet in ways that they may not have thought of before. A common life role that is often altered due to disability, illness, or injury is the role of a caretaker.

[00:14:00] The inability to care for oneself or others severely alters one’s perceived quality of life and can present many mental health challenges. Therefore, working to care for pets can be a goal for individuals. They no longer feel as if they are that burden to others because they’re able to care for those who need help. They’re able to provide for others.

[00:14:18] With this in mind, pet care can be an intervention strategy that greatly increases an individual’s perceived quality of life. For more products or ideas in the adaptive pet care world, check out adaptivepetstrategies.com that will also be linked below to explore products, resources, and many blog posts that people have for caring for pets in adaptive ways all over the world.

[00:14:41] Sarah: That is such a great resource, Nate. I’ve had quite a few patients that were worried about being able to care for their pets after having back surgery and had limitations on not being able to bend over. This also reminds me of one of the products a few OT students worked on with Scott for a class project.

[00:14:59] I’ll share the video in the show notes of the finished product of this, but they helped create a leash for Scott to use with a dog. We currently don’t have a dog, although we both grew up with dogs and really love them, but would often dogsit his childhood dog Grace, when his mom would go on vacation. The biggest issues he had was that he couldn’t hold the leash in his hands while using his manual chair because he needed his hands free to push his chair, and he didn’t want to tie a leash to one side of the chair because he was afraid that a dog would pull him to the side unexpectedly throwing off his balance.

[00:15:35] In addition, he doesn’t have great finger function, so manipulating the lock to clip it onto the leash was nearly, impossible. So, we brainstormed with two OTs and came up with a nifty contraption that attached to the chair evenly and allowed him to take grace outside by himself without fear of falling.

[00:15:55] While we don’t have a dog now, I can see where our daughter’s pleas to get a dog in the future may win us over, and this again will be another adaptive device Scott can use with a leash, whether it’s a service dog or not.

[00:16:11] Alee: What a great class project! And a tool that I’m very glad you have ready to go if Caroline does sway you. I like how you both touched on tools that not only help us if we have restrictions, but also improve our body mechanics and conserve our energy so we can care for them well and as long as possible.

[00:16:30] A couple more tools I think serve this purpose well are pooper scoopers and toys like the ChuckIt or cat wands. There’s a large variety of pooper scoopers out there, but the one I think would work particularly well functions similarly to a reacher but has a two-sided scoop on the end. This reduces the need to bend and squat or use a heavy shovel to retrieve pet waste, which is important since this task is one that you do numerous times in a day.

[00:16:58] Likewise, using the long-handled ChuckIt to pick up and throw a ball or a cat wand that has a string and toy on the end, reduces the physical effort that you have to exert to toss it around and retrieve it if that’s not part of your pet’s skill set. Simple changes or tools can make all of the difference.

[00:17:18] I like how the featured architect also addressed the small details that can make a big impact on how they can care for their owner in the home. In his design, he included paddle light switches since these are the most dog-friendly to operate. A home like this would also need to place these switches at a level where the dog could easily jump up to use their nose or paw to turn the switch on or off.

[00:17:40] And this got me thinking about all the different ways we could create a home environment where it’s easier for the dog to help us. Some examples might be tying a rope around a fridge or dishwasher handle so it’s easier for the dog to open those doors, or utilizing baskets or open shelf low storage so that they can retrieve or put away needed items.

[00:18:00] Nate: It truly is remarkable what we can teach service animals to do, they can be such a help around the home, and nothing makes me happier than scrolling on social media and seeing dogs and other service animals learning new tricks or tips to help out their humans. Therefore, you make a great point, Alee, in choosing features of the home that not only benefit the human user, but also the service animal.

[00:18:20] Alee: When thinking about my own experience, figuring out a place to wash your pet can be a big hurdle. I’ve seen some people take the pets into the shower or the bath, but only to risk hurting themselves or the pet slipping on the slick tile floor or base of the tub. Sometimes I’ve seen others use a kitchen sink, but this can cause quite a mess.

[00:18:39] Many will opt for an outdoor bath using the hose, but this often poses the risk that the pet could run off or go straight back to the mud. I came across some great examples of how this UD dilemma could be resolved by adding in a pet wash station in your home’s mud room. Is this something that either of you have seen before?

[00:18:58] Sarah: Oh yes I have, Alee. In one of our recent student projects with an interior design student, we actually worked on a universal design wash station that we were designing for a wide variety of uses. We had it located in the very back of the garage, actually right next to that mud room area that you were talking about and it had a wet area and a drain on the floor that could be used for washing wheelchairs, mobility equipment, and other big things that get dirty around the home from gardening tools, containers, and even kids outdoor toys. In addition, we had an upper section that could be used as a raised area to wash a dog or act as a smaller sink for washing those things you don’t want to do inside. Maybe you could even wash that pooper scooper out here. The sink area had a retractable hose and was tall enough for someone to roll underneath and sit at the sink facing forward. I love this idea so much because it serves so many purposes and not only serves the dog, but the owner, and it makes it easier to clean all those things we put off cleaning because the process can be so difficult.

[00:20:09] Alee: You’re exactly right, Sarah. The wash station can be so multipurpose. This can save you space and money by having it all in one rather than several designated places throughout the house or inside. In terms of strictly pet washing, this can also be pretty cost-effective as opposed to purchasing a prefabricated pet washing station or opting to use a groomer.

[00:20:32] If you already have a sink in your mud room, you can pretty easily re-pipe the drain to accommodate a dog wash. Of course, as Sarah mentioned, you can customize it however you like from raising the station up higher so you aren’t bending over too much, using a shower wand, and more.

[00:20:48] Sarah: Oh, and one more thing before we get off of this topic of cleaning, I was also thinking about all of that dog hair around our house that can be quite a nuisance as well, especially if you struggle to operate a typical vacuum cleaner. Those robotic vacuum cleaners are great at doing a sweep of the house to pick up that hair left by your animal as well.

[00:21:11] Nate: All of this talk about the flexibility of how an animal can help in the home is making me realize that the PEO model may have to add a letter. It’s almost as if the dog is the missing piece to this puzzle, and like it was made to be a part of the team. But in all seriousness, if you’re lucky enough and able to incorporate one, animals can become an extremely helpful part of the home.

[00:21:32] They can become a part of daily activities. Humans rely on one another to divvy up responsibilities and it makes life manageable. Animals can be just that for those living with no other social partners in the home. So when thinking about an animal, it can be the P to provide the social supports one needs, or it can be the E to the environmental access that one needs.

[00:21:51] Or it could be the O to help in completing an activity, or it could be all the above. And that’s the beauty of the flow and the connected triangle that is the PEO model.

[00:22:00] Alee: What a great way to sum up the value of an animal we can have in our home, Nate. Another perspective from an OT lens is I can see how this is just one example of how non-traditional practice can serve the changing needs of our community. The number of Americans who own pets continues to grow each year, and for these people, so many IADLs are involved in pet care.

[00:22:23] Non-traditional practice entities like the Universal Design Project, have the opportunity to address this need by offering UD solutions within the home that are conducive to everyone, including our furry family members. The value is huge. It could make the difference between a service animal being able to do their job in the home and keep their owners safe, or perhaps determine whether someone could have the option to utilize a service animal in their home at all.

[00:22:49] For other pet owners, it will affect how much they can participate in pet care, and if they can do so in a safe and enjoyable way. We’d love to hear from you all about your ideas or what you’ve done in your home to make it easier for your pets or service animals. We invite you to share with us in the comment section below so we can learn more.

[00:23:09] I hope you all enjoyed this episode. It’s a lot of fun to think about the wide range of who we can serve using universal design. Sarah and Nate, thanks so much for your input in sharing your perspectives as an OT student and OT in non-traditional practice. I hope you all have a great day!

[00:23:24] Sarah: Thanks for listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. I’m your host Sarah Pruett, Program Director and Occupational Therapist at The Universal Design Project. Learn more about our work at universaldesign.org, and find more episodes and links to subscribe at goodfitpoorfit.com If you have questions or topics you’d like to discuss, email us at [email protected].

[00:23:54] Thanks for fitting us into your day!


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