It is common for blind people to be accompanied by a dog that shows them the way and helps them with daily activities. Ânimas is an association based in the city of Porto that trains dogs with the purpose of delivering them to families or individuals with some limitations, both physical and neurological. Abílio Leite, director of Ânimas explained to The Portugal News how this association develops its work.
Ânimas is an association that emerged in 2002 and, according to Abílio Leite, was created "as a result of the intentions of a group of university professors who were convinced of the potential of animals, with people, namely people with any functional diversity."
From 2002, Ânimas dedicated itself to "animal-assisted intervention programs." In 2004 it received public utility status and in 2011 it obtained “international accreditation as an entity that educates assistance dogs.” Currently, the association trains dogs for people with "motor difficulties, people on the autism spectrum, people with epilepsy, people with diabetes and people with post-traumatic stress."
To ask the association for help, the association needs proof of the illness, such as a multi-purpose certificate of disability, "whose disability is certified by a medical board." Candidates for adopting an assistance dog are interviewed by health professionals, being in the association working as volunteers “psychologists, occupational and speech therapists” and even teachers. Veterinarians, agronomists and zootechnicians are also working voluntarily in the association, as well as dog trainers.
Most of the dogs trained to help those in greatest need are of the Labrador breed, due to their “extremely docile temperament” and for having a soft bite, which hardly spoils any of their owner's objects. At three months of age, the puppies are taken from their mother and for a year they stay in a foster family. The host family will try to allow the puppy to behave as such. It will have the sole mission of feeding, playing, pampering, and educating, and the most complicated part, in controlling physiological needs. After reaching one year of age, the dog is taken to the house of one of the handlers, where it will learn to live in a family environment, as well as other basic rules for dealing with the disabled person who will welcome the dog. Instructor training lasts for one year. In the second semester of that year, the education of the animal is carried out in agreement with the person who will receive it. The delivery of the dog to its beneficiary is done gradually, through simple actions such as the delivery of a biscuit. During the first semester, the biscuits are given by the trainer, but from the moment the training with the beneficiary begins, the new owner will compensate the dog with food. The animal is also screened to avoid delivering a dog that will have hip or knee problems. All to ensure that the animal can perform its functions after four or five years of age. At the age of 12, the dog “retires” for “no longer being able to accompany the beneficiary in the usual daily tasks”. In this situation, the animal “either stays with the beneficiary”, or the association assumes responsibility for caring for the animal. However, Abílio Leite says that usually, the beneficiaries end up keeping the dog until the end of its life.
To have an assistance dog is not enough just to ask the association for it. In addition to the presentation of documents that prove the disability of the person who made the request, an assessment is made to the family that intends to take in an assistance dog. The director of Ânimas told The Portugal News that easy access to social networks makes people see "many fantastic stories", romanticising and acquiring the wrong ideas of the work of an assistance dog, which cannot be seen as just s pet. Those responsible for evaluating families measure the expectations of the household. According to Abílio Leite, expectations must not be too high, to avoid that after the dog is delivered, the association is not blamed for the dog not meeting the high expectations of the family. During the interview, the association's director used as an example a mother who thought that the animal would make her child, who was on the autism spectrum and non-verbal, start talking. Abílio Leite admitted that the dog "wouldn't make the child start talking." To avoid any problems, the association, in these cases, prefers not to give a dog to the family.
Like guide dogs, assistance dogs can enter anywhere, such as supermarkets, hospital appointments and restaurants, for example. In the words of Abílio Leite, “the person resulting from their disability has the right to have an assistance dog”, and as such, has the right to be accompanied by the dog wherever they want to go. However, the association's director points out problems with taxi drivers and TVDE. When the drivers realises that the person is accompanied by an assistance dog, they commonly deny the service, just because the person has the animal with them. In those cases.
Abílio Leite considers that “the assistance dog, in addition to being an asset in solving day-to-day obstacles, is above all an asset in the inclusion of the person in society, the person's disability is no longer the centre of attention, and instead your dog becomes the centre of attention.” Therefore, the person will feel more included, because their health problem is no longer the focus of a conversation.
Ânimas gives the dogs free of charge. Each dog ends up having a value of €25,000 for the association. Expenses are paid with the support of donations, for example. The association does not have the support of public entities, however some business groups "give annual support" which guarantees "the production capacity as it has been until now." Abílio Leite admits that he intends to be able to help more people, but more capital is needed to be able to cover all the requests made to the association. As such, there is a project with a “fairly worldwide projection” called Giving Tuesday, where a donation can be made directly through the platform's website: https://projetos.givingtuesday.pt/projeto/juntos-mudamos-o-mundo /?fbclid=IwAR2lYS0wotivwImZMWDJoR6JATHSOBa9TWbI8jJLDMD4HxwSE3oioJkxHaQ. Donations can also be delivered via MBWay to 936 871 283.
To date, the association has delivered 38 assistance dogs, as well as developing 24 research projects in the area.