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Recognition of the powerful bond between ourselves and pet animals has proved vital in the increasing and effective use of assistance animals. The value of guide dogs in raising the quality of life for those who are visually impaired is well known.
With training, pets can help their owners to lead a more normal life, as with the case of guide dogs for the blind. Animals are also being trained to help deaf people to identify and react to signals they cannot normally perceive.
For those hard of hearing there is specialised assistance available from "hearing dogs" which are trained to react to specific noises (e.g. doorbell, fire alarm and telephone) and draw their owner's attention to them. There is also a growing number of assistance dogs which help the severely disabled.
The best thing assistance dogs can provide, in addition to real help and companionship, is a large measure of independence.
A study conducted by Dr Karen Allen from the University of New York in Buffalo, found that an assistance dog could save health authorities about US-$ 352 per week for health services or US-$ 13,027 per year, when annual costs of the dog are taken into account. Assistance dogs free the time of unpaid family members acting as carers, giving them the opportunity to seek employment, thus easing state support costs. Ref Karen Allen: 'The healthy pleasure of their company. Roles of animals in enhancing human health and quality of life"