September was designated as National Service Dog Month, and one Berks County native is working hard to ensure that the public is informed about what that means.

Susan Focht owns and operates Dogs In Service Project, a nonprofit that teaches individuals about the different types of Assistance Dogs, laws surrounding Assistance Dog ownership, and provides advice to people with disabilities looking for an Assistance Dog.

Focht also helps individuals assess which type of Assistance Dog is best for their particular needs. Dogs In Service is named after three of Focht’s own dogs that helped her over the years: Daisy, Isabella, and Shadow.

According to Focht, there are three main types of Assistance Dogs: Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, and Therapy Dogs. Different laws apply to each different type of dog–for example, a Service Dog is legally allowed to go everywhere that their owner goes, whereas both Emotional Support Dogs and Therapy Dogs have different restrictions.

In addition, if a Service Dog is harassed or harmed by either humans or other animals, that can result in a hefty fine for the perpetrator(s).

Focht’s passion for working with Service Dogs and educating the public about them began in the 90’s when she was in high school. As a teenager who struggled with focus issues and possible autism, her German Shepherd, Daisy, helped her focus on her schoolwork by providing comfort, and even helping her find her place in a textbook if she got lost.

Focht also mentioned her dog Isabella, who was a “glorified Emotional Support Dog” with an uncanny ability to detect her sister’s pregnancies, miscarriage, and even cancer, and Shadow, who assisted her recovery from a debilitating car accident in 1999.

As a nonprofit, donations are always appreciated: dogsinserviceproje.wixsite.com/disproject

Focht works hard to teach the public the difference between types of Assistance Dogs so that their owners can understand their (and their dogs) rights. “When you see a dog with a vest on, respect their space,” said Focht, noting that certain Assistance Dogs wear a badge on their vest detailing whether or not they can be approached by strangers.

“Please read the vest through. All of us handlers love to hear how good our dog is; how good our training is, but please do respect whatever [our dog] has on their vest…it’s our billboard.”