Service dogs play an indispensable role in the lives of many people with disabilities. They provide assistance in performing daily tasks, offering a sense of independence and improving their handlers’ quality of life. But how does one go about getting a service dog? This guide will take you through the steps involved in acquiring a service dog.
Understanding Service Dogs
Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities. They may guide individuals with visual impairments, alert those with hearing impairments to sounds, help someone with mobility impairments to perform tasks or even detect the onset of medical issues such as seizures.
It’s important to understand that service dogs are not pets; they are working animals with a job to do. However, they form deep bonds with their handlers and become a cherished part of their lives.
Steps to Getting a Service Dog
The following are the main steps to make your way onto getting a service dog:
1. Assess Your Need
The first step in getting a service dog is determining whether you could benefit from one. This generally requires a diagnosis of a disability from a healthcare provider.
Service dogs can be trained to assist individuals with a wide range of disabilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person may qualify for a service dog if they have a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Here are some specific disabilities that often qualify for a service dog:
- Mobility Impairments: These can include conditions like spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. Service dogs can help with tasks such as retrieving items, pushing buttons for elevators or doors, or providing stability for walking.
- Visual Impairments: Individuals who are blind or have significant visual impairments can benefit from guide dogs, who help them navigate their environment safely.
- Hearing Impairments: For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, hearing dogs can alert them to sounds like alarms, doorbells, or someone calling their name.
- Psychiatric Disabilities: This can include conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe depression, and anxiety disorders. Psychiatric service dogs can be trained to perform tasks such as providing pressure during panic attacks or alerting to potential triggers.
- Neurological Disorders: Individuals with conditions like epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, or autism may also qualify for a service dog. These dogs can be trained to alert to seizures, provide balance support, or assist with tasks that can be challenging due to fine motor skill difficulties.
- Diabetes: Diabetic alert dogs can be trained to detect changes in blood sugar levels and alert their handler to hypoglycemic episodes.
2. Understand Your Commitment
Having a service dog is a considerable commitment. They require care, just like any other dog, including feeding, exercise, grooming, and veterinary care. Be sure that you’re prepared to meet these needs.
3. Apply to a Service Dog Organization
There are many organizations that train and provide service dogs. Research options in your area and ensure they’re reputable.
There are numerous service dog organizations across the world. Here is a list of some reputable organizations in the United States:
- Canine Companions for Independence (CCI): One of the oldest and largest service dog organizations in the United States. They provide dogs free of charge to individuals with various disabilities.
- Guide Dogs for the Blind: This organization trains and provides guide dogs for people who are blind or visually impaired.
- Paws With a Cause: They provide assistance dogs for people with a range of disabilities, including hearing loss, seizure disorders, and children with autism.
- Assistance Dogs International (ADI): While not a service dog provider itself, ADI is a coalition of non-profit assistance dog organizations that set standards for service dog training. Their website has a directory of accredited members from around the world.
- The Seeing Eye: One of the most well-known guide dog training organizations, they provide dogs for people who are blind or visually impaired.
- NEADS World Class Service Dogs: NEADS offers a wide range of service dogs, including dogs for physical disabilities, hearing loss, and autism, as well as service dogs for classrooms, hospitals, and courthouses.
- 4 Paws For Ability: This organization focuses on providing service dogs to children with disabilities and veterans who have lost use of limbs or hearing.
- Patriot Paws Service Dogs: They provide service dogs to disabled veterans at no cost.
- Canine Assistants: This non-profit trains and provides service dogs for individuals with physical disabilities or other special needs.
- Leader Dogs for the Blind: They provide guide dogs to people who are blind or visually impaired.
After selecting an organization, you’ll need to apply. This typically involves providing information about your disability and how a service dog could assist you. Some organizations may also require a home visit or interview.
4. Wait for a Match
Getting a service dog can take time. Once you’re approved, there may be a waiting period while the organization trains a dog to meet your specific needs.
5. Training and Adjustment Period
Once you have your service dog, there will be a training and adjustment period. You’ll learn to work together and develop a partnership. It’s crucial to follow the organization’s guidelines and recommendations during this period.
Costs and Funding
Getting a service dog can be expensive, often ranging from $15,000 to $30,000. This includes the cost of raising the dog, training, and placement. However, many organizations offer financial aid, grants, or payment plans. Some health insurance plans may also cover part of the cost.