Service Dogs Offer Independence
How many of you have ever been stuck in a predicament in which you needed an extra pair of arms to reach those pesky keys that never stay in your lap? Or how many times have you wanted to go for a walk and enjoy the beautiful day out, but needed an extra pair of eyes to steer you out of harms way? And how many visitors have you missed because you needed that extra pair of ears to hear a knock at the door? If you are living with a disability, chances are you’ve come across these instances quite a bit, but rest assured there is a cute fuzzy solution at your fingertips.
The solution I am speaking of comes in the form of a service dog. These amazing animals are becoming a way of life for many people with mild to profound disabilities. The reason for this is because of the independence they offer to their owners. The dogs can be trained to do just about anything, and this training can be adapted for specific tasks pertaining to your needs. If you are blind, they will lead you to different locations, alert you to upcoming stairs and curbs, and let you know when it’s safe to cross the street. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, the dog will signal you that they hear a sound, and then take you to it, so you can investigate. And if you have a physical disability, they will be an extension of your arms and legs by retrieving dropped items, opening and closing doors, and they can even help with balance and transferring (there are countless other ways they can help too). Sound interesting so far? It gets better!
For the most part, service animals are free to those seeking them. Their care and training (up until the time you take the dog home) is usually funded by private organizations and donations. All you do is submit an application fee (around $25) and agree to take on any expenses that go along with caring for a pet, like food and vet care, once they become yours. Additionally, there are a few overnight stays you must commit to for training purposes, and you are responsible for hotel and related expenses. The reward and independence that these service dogs provide are well worth it.
So how does it all work, you ask? Each organization is different and follows its own sets of rules, but generally the process is the same. Dogs are rescued from shelters or selected from breeders around the age of two based on their temperament. Dogs must pass a rigorous personality test before being selected for the program because certain qualities (like obedience, intuitiveness, and gentleness) should be inherent in the animal. Then the dogs are taken to a training facility, where they are taught general tasks through positive reinforcement. After your application is accepted, you are matched to a dog, and you begin training together for your specific needs. Once you are established as a good team, the service dog is signed over to you. The whole process takes about a year.
As with any decision, think this through. Taking care of an animal is a lot of work and can be trying at times. And even though the ADA allows service animals in all public places, you will have to use your judgment on what is best for your dog (i.e. a rock concert could hurt their ears). If for some reason the organization where you obtained the service dog feels it is not being properly cared for, they have the right to take the dog back from you.
There is one more option I’d like to share with you, and that is training your own dog. It can be done with a little help and a lot of creativity. I suggest reading up on it first, and you can do this at your library or by ordering books online.
If you feel like a service dog will be beneficial to you, I suggest you search around for different organizations in your area.