Service Dogs: Advancing Access and Equity

When BLM employee Sheila Dailey prepares to go to the field, she packs her safety equipment, fuels up the truck, and brings along project files. But the most important “item” she brings along is her 6-year-old husky mix, Belle Louise. Belle is a service dog and Sheila’s constant companion. For example, Belle assisted Sheila with a fencing study to reduce wildlife deaths from cars along Highway 550 north of Cuba, New Mexico. They’ve also hiked local BLM trails, including the accessible trails in the El Malpais National Conservation Area, one of her favorite places.

"Everyone in the Rio Puerco Field Office has been very supportive of me and Belle Louise,” says Sheila.


Photo shows a desert landscape with a white suburban parked on the left, eight people standing around roughly in a circle, most of them with yellow or orange safety vests on, and Belle, the service dog, sitting looking at the photographer.
Belle on a work trip along Highway 550 in northern New Mexico with her BLM co-workers.


As a Realty Specialist for the BLM Rio Puerco Field Office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Sheila and her companion Belle are together both in the office and in the field. Belle helps Sheila, a veteran, with post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression. Although service dog certifications aren’t legally required in the United States, Sheila got Belle certified and registered. Belle has a photo ID showing that she is a registered service dog, and she wears a vest to indicate—to both Belle and the humans around her—when she is working and can’t be petted.

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is defined as any breed of dog that is specifically trained to do work for a person with a disability. When Sheila begins a new job, she and Belle (without her vest) walk around to meet their co-workers. Sheila uses this opportunity to get to know them, answer their questions or concerns, and discuss expectations, such as not petting the dog when Belle is working.


Belle, a tan and white husky mix dog, is wearing her service vest and sitting under a desk in a BLM office.
Belle, a working service dog, sitting under Sheila’s desk in her office.


Sheila also tells her new colleagues that if they see Belle alone, something might be wrong, so they know to follow her back to Sheila, in case she needs help. Another tip: Sheila recommends listing not just a family member but also the dog’s trainer or kennel on the “In Case of Emergency” cards federal employees fill out.

As Sheila and Belle prove so vividly, the more we learn about each other, the better we can support each other—and our service animals.

Cathy Humphrey, Experienced Services Program – Project Manager