Service dogs serve a very important role in society. In the last several decades they have worked with people who have disabilities, helping them navigate through life. Service dogs fulfill a very important task of helping disabled individuals handle tasks and also serve an emotional role. Those that have a service dog feel an unspoken bond between them and the animal. They have become part of their family and going a day without them is hard to imagine. Are you in need of a service dog? We have put together this article to help explain how to get a service dog!
What is a service dog?
Even though many people believe they know what a service dog is they are actually incorrect. Service dogs are not performing acts that can do a special trick on command. They are also not emotional support animals, or therapy dogs, which are not nearly as highly trained. So what is a service animal? According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are defined as dogs that are “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability”. It can include training in physical, intellectual, sensory, psychiatric, or other mental disability. Unlike emotional support animals (which are a wide range of animals like cats, horses, etc), the only legal service animal is a canine. There is actually no officially recognized certification or training program for emotional support animals. Meanwhile, service dogs are extremely well trained and help support a huge range of disabilities. It is actually not hard to qualify for a service animal. However, finding the means to receive one is far more complicated.
The Different Types of Support Animals
It is important to note that since the process for obtaining a service dog has a tendency to get drawn out having an idea of what support animal is precisely right for your individual circumstances goes a long way. For example, if you are deaf there is absolutely no question a service dog is required. However, if you are suffering from a mental disorder a therapy dog is a more appropriate solution. There are many instances where people, unfortunately, confuse the different types of support animals. Service dogs sound practical so they expect one even though the condition may get partially alleviated through another source. Let’s examine the different types of service animals:
- Therapy Animal: The wide range of different animals serve a therapeutic value just as the name implies. A canine that visits a nursing home once a week to interact with residents is a good example. It is not just limited to dogs too. In general, therapy animals provide comfort and affection to people.
- Emotional Support Animal (ESA): These domestic animals help mitigate many emotional and psychological symptoms associated with a condition or disorder of the handler. ESA dogs do not need to get extensively trained. The biggest requirement is that they are well-behaved, calm, and outgoing. Emotional support dogs are allowed in certain places where other pets are prohibited.
- Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD): These animals are designed to serve a specific psychiatric or mental disability. Therefore, the animal is specifically trained to help alleviate the symptoms associated with a singular disorder or condition. One of the more common is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, those suffering from anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and Bipolar Disorder also benefit from PSD dogs.
- Service Animal: These animals are restricted to one type – dogs. Service dogs are highly trained and adaptive. They are specifically designed for people suffering from a disability. Their training helps the individual overcome their disability on a daily basis. Unlike the other types of support animals, service dogs are also allowed in any public place or establishment that otherwise would ban pets under law. The other types of support animals generally need to receive permission from the establishment beforehand.
Finding the right type of support animal for your individual circumstances is crucial. A service dog may or may not represent the most appropriate animal for you.
Disabilities that Benefit from Service Dogs
While it is certainly not a tell-all list, here is a good indication of some of the many disabilities a service dog is trained and can help deal with:
- Mobility issues (i.e. paralysis)
- Sensory issues (i.e. blindness)
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Bone and Skeletal (i.e. scoliosis)
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Your Right to a Service Animal
If you are an individual suffering from a disability you have a right to a service dog according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA protects disabled individuals by providing service dogs in an effort to live a normal life. The ADA also protects disabled people by allowing service dogs in most places animals are traditionally not allowed. It includes airplanes, libraries, restaurants, hotels, and public transportation. Service dogs are trained to work with certain disabilities. As long as the canine is classified as a working animal and not a pet, you and your service dog are protected under law. Many disabled individuals depend on these loving dogs every day to help them with necessary tasks as well as for emotional support.
What defines a disability?
If you go by the technical definition it is “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” In other words, a disability hampers or completely limits vital life tasks such as seeing, hearing, standing, walking, eating, thinking, and sleeping. Additionally, people with disabilities have rights when it comes to service dogs. It is not acceptable under the law for an owner, manager, or other representatives of business (public or private) to inquire what disability warrants the presence of a service animal. The only information a representative of an institution may ask is if the dog by your side is a service animal. They also may inquire about what tasks the service dog is trained to perform for you. Any other information is not appropriate for an owner, manager, or other representatives to receive and is at your full disclosure. Furthermore, ADA law guarantees disabled individuals the right to live with a service dog regardless of the policies in place at the residence. It includes types of living like apartment complexes and other housing that generally does not allow pets. Also, the landlord or manager is not allowed to refuse you service due to the animal. Nor can they require a pet deposit or extra fees for having a service dog.
How do you qualify for a service dog?
The first step is to get qualified which is very straightforward. All you need to do is receive written documentation from a healthcare provider that you have a disability and request further assistance. You can speak to your primary care physician or another specialist about the precise type of documentation you will need to provide. The healthcare provider will then sign off in agreement that you are receiving treatment for an emotional or psychiatric disorder or disability, and that you require the support and assistance of an animal. Once you receive the necessary paperwork it is time to begin your search for finding a good service dog.
Where do you get a service dog?
Service dogs are obtained via a number of professional organizations. If the handler is skilled enough there is also the option to train a pet you already have in your possession. However, the latter is fairly rare because the training is so extensive and challenging. Unfortunately, receiving a service dog can sometimes take years. So is there any way you can speed up the process? What should you know that can help get you an insider’s edge?
Steps to Get a Service Dog
Before you take the first step it is important to really consider that if the responsibilities of taking care of a service animal are right for you. Most people love pets and for good reason. They offer non-judgemental love and affection. They are reliable. Most animals like to cozy up and provide relief during a difficult day. However, having a pet, even a well-trained service dog, is a big commitment. Dogs require time and energy to make sure they are also properly fed and well taken care of. Even remarkably well-trained animals like service dogs have some requirements. Do you consider yourself physically, mentally, and financially stable enough to handle one? If the answer to that question is ‘yes’ then it is time to move forward with how to get a service dog. Please note the following process is generalized. There are many organizations out there that train and offer service dogs. However, these are the basics:
- Get documentation from a healthcare provider. It essentially explains your disability and that you are a great candidate for a service animal.
- Submit an application. Since there is a high demand for service dogs there is an application process. The reason for this is canines that act as service animal require a lot of training. Not every dog is set out to be a service dog so finding the right one for your condition takes some time. Additionally, the organization needs to determine whether you are an appropriate candidate.
- Meet with the service dog provider. If the application gets approved – congratulations! The next step is to meet with the provider of your new service dog. It is a great opportunity to ask a TON of questions. The more questions the better. You want to make sure they are the right organization to handle your request.
- Choose a dog or have the dog selected. It can vary based on the organization. Some may outline a few options for you to select. Meanwhile, others might only have one dog in mind that is a qualifying candidate. It is an opportunity to get to know your new service dog better!
- Start training. It depends on the provider but some may require an initial deposit to start the training for your new service animal. One drawback to having a service dog is the expenses. Training is not cheap. So the sooner you can start saving for a potential deposit the better.
- Learn more about coexisting with your new best friend. While the canine undergoes training this is the perfect opportunity to learn more about what life is like having a service dog. You can learn about their needs, what to expect, and more a lot by checking with legitimate sources.
- Consider fundraising. Also while your new furry friend undergoes training you should consider a fundraising campaign. Thanks to online sites like GoFundMe and Crowdrise the need to go door to door no longer exists. Fundraising helps support the high costs of investing in a service dog.
- Training is completed. Once the training is completed you will get notified. Now is the time to make the official transition. You are officially the handler of a new service dog. We recommend celebrating this happy event with a welcome home party with friends and family.
- Follow-up lessons. It is common with many organizations to have a few weeks of everyday lessons between you and the service dog. It helps build a close interaction between you and the canine. The service dog also gets to know you better and how it can better enhance your life.
Though it does not take much effort to get qualified for a service dog it does take some time, patience, and money to make it a reality. However, the investment is well worth it. Service dogs are absolutely beloved by their handlers and make lifelong companions. Their ability to help improve the daily life of disabled individuals is indescribable. Search the web for some great service dog providers and get started on training when you feel the time is right.