Humans have a long history of using animals in creative ways to solve problems and make up for our deficiencies. In more recent years, we have taken to using animals in more specialized ways. Dogs in particular have been used for all kinds of tasks which they are uniquely capable of and today they are used to help those who suffer from disabilities that make everyday life difficult for them to take part in.
Animals used in this way are called service animals and they are highly trained to help make the lives of their owners vastly improved. One of the most common uses for service animals is as seeing-eye dogs which help blind people enjoy a newfound independence by helping them safely navigate through unfamiliar locations and around other people.
Basic Blindness Information
Visual impairment is an issue that many have to deal with in their daily lives. As we age, our vision tends to degrade and can eventually reach a point where our vision is impaired to such a degree that daily activities become difficult or impossible to accomplish. Aside from loss of vision over time, some suffer from near or complete blindness that is brought on by trauma or disease.
Roughly 1 million Americans are considered to be legally blind (having a vision of 20/200 or worse). 20/200 vision means that to see something clearly, you would need to be within 20 feet of the object which a normal person could see clearly from 200 feet away. There are some people who suffer from complete or near complete blindness as well. The issues that come along with being blind are fairly self-evident, but it’s often difficult for people who aren’t visually impaired to understand just how different the world is without the faculty of sight.
Even reading this page of text requires specialized software that uses text to speech capabilities to read it aloud for someone who is blind. Things as simple as crossing the street or walking across a hotel lobby can become exercises of frustration and even become life-threatening at times for those who are blind. The difficulties that a blind person encounters in their daily life are numerous, but there are some solutions available that help make life at least a little bit easier for them. One such solution that can drastically improve a blind person’s quality of life is the utilization of a service dog for the blind.
What is a Service Dog?
Service dogs are specially trained canines that are taught to perform specific tasks on behalf of their master. The tasks that a service dog can perform are incredibly varied depending on the specific needs they were trained to aid a person with. Service dogs are used for helping those who suffer from epilepsy, severe anxiety, and blindness among other things. Service dogs are generally used by people who have disabilities that prevent them from leading a normal life that most healthy individuals can enjoy.
Highly trained service dogs are capable of performing all kinds of tasks such as pulling a wheelchair, alerting someone that they are about to have a seizure, or guiding them down a busy sidewalk. The main purpose of a service dog is to provide their owner with security and comfort in their daily lives as they go about their day. As such, it is imperative that service dogs are able to remain by the side of their owner at all times.
Due to this, service animals are highly trained not just to accomplish their specific tasks that are tailored to the needs of the owner, but also to remain calm at all times. The socialization of a service dog is essential to ensure they can perform their duties even on busy roads or crowded restaurants. Service dogs must be comfortable and adaptable to all kinds of environments and situations so they can reliably perform the necessary tasks required of them.
Sometimes called ‘seeing-eye dogs’, service dogs trained for blind owners are a rare commodity that can drastically improve their owner’s quality of life and increase their independence and confidence during daily life.
How Can a Service Dog Help the Blind?
Service dogs for the blind are trained to guide their master safely around obstacles such as other people, potholes, and telephone poles. A seeing-eye dog is generally equipped with a specialized vest and short leash-like handle that allows the blind owner to feel when the dog is trying to navigate around something or stop. They lead their master safely around and remain alert for anything that could put their owner in danger such as a car running through a stop sign.
Service dogs use their intelligence and keen senses to help blind people go about their daily lives in safety and confidence. They are able to provide their owners with the ability to go about their lives without worrying about walking into something or going somewhere dangerous. In addition to the services they provide, service dogs provide their owners with companionship that can make people feel more at ease when in unfamiliar places or doing new things. Service animals also tend to encourage other people to interact more freely with the blind owner thanks to the disarming nature of a friendly dog.
What Breeds are Best for Helping the Blind?
Service dogs can come in all shapes and sizes depending on what specific needs they are required for; however, seeing-eye dogs tend to be on the larger side of medium-sized dogs. This is due to the fact that service dogs for the blind need to be large enough to press against their owner’s legs to nudge them in a direction or stop them from walking into something. Another consideration for service dogs for the blind is their intelligence and personality traits. Due to these aspects, most seeing-eye dogs tend to be Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, or Labradoodles.
Additional considerations for service dogs are their social skills and how well they deal with busy places, loud noises, and the presence of other animals. Service dogs are expected to remain calm and perform their duties regardless of what’s going on around them. Because of this, they need to have a gentle disposition and an ability to remain focused and ignore extraneous stimuli. They should also be healthy breeds with a pedigree of healthy parentage because the training they require is expensive and time-consuming.
The health of a service dog is essential as an unhealthy dog could not perform its tasks and the cost of training would mean that an untimely death of the animal would be extremely expensive for the owner. Service dogs can be very costly to purchase due to the intensive nature of their training and the stringent requirements of their personality and healthy history.
How Much is a Service Dog for Blind People?
Anyone who has owned an animal is aware of the fact that they can be quite expensive at times. This is doubly true for service animals which come with the expected costs of owning any animal such as food and general care requirements. Budgeting for an animal also needs to take into consideration the fact that they may get ill or injured and could require veterinary care aside from standard health checkups and vaccinations. The cost of an animal is drastically increased when it is a service animal.
Service dogs are expensive for numerous reasons. Primary among these is the fact that the training which a service dog must undergo is extensive and can take quite a long time. Service dogs can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $70,000. This cost is due to the training they require and the need for them to be healthy animals with a long history of healthy and friendly parentage. A pedigreed dog with a strong line of healthy parents can easily be a couple thousand dollars or more even without the intensive service dog training.
Obtaining financial assistance for the purchase of a service dog is possible through various avenues such as grants, loans, and crowdfunding. Grants are a very appealing option but can often involve long waitlists due to the popular demand for funds used towards purchasing a service dog. Personal loans are a reasonable option, but a lot of research should be conducted prior to signing anything in order to ensure the terms of the loan are agreeable.
Crowdfunding is a great option that can be accomplished through the use of sites such as GoFundMe where users can ask other people to donate towards their specific needs. Crowdfunding is a viable option but is by no means guaranteed to provide results. Having a strong social media presence will aid you greatly in obtaining the funds you need, but oftentimes a successful crowdfunding campaign is more a matter of luck than anything else.
It may be hard to believe that service dog training is this expensive, but the training is extremely intensive and can take a long time to complete from start to finish.
Service Dog Training
Training for service animals is a complex process due to the specific nature of the training required and the stringent requirements for the animal to be able to adapt to any situation. Proper service dog training can take around 2 years to successfully complete before the dog has proven its ability to effectively carry out its tasks under varying circumstances. A large part of the training involves socializing the animal to be able to remain calm no matter what is happening around them.
Service dogs must be able to deal with loud noises, crowded areas, and unexpected changes with a calm demeanor and gentle nature. They must become accustomed to being around other people and animals while always remaining focused on their task. This extreme level of training is necessary because service dogs, especially ones trained for the use by blind people, are given responsibilities that involve the safety of their owners. A service dog that doesn’t perform its duty properly could result in serious injury or even the death of their master.
The training required of a service dog also involves training the person who is going to utilize that service dog. This is imperative so that the future owner understands the signals that the dog gives them and also knows what commands to give to the dog in different situations. The training process is long and difficult, but the results are an amazing animal that is capable of saving its owner’s life on a daily basis. A well-trained service dog can vastly improve their owner’s quality of life and give them the ability to live a normal life despite their disability.
How Do You Get a Service Dog for Blindness?
Getting a service dog requires the written permission of your doctor. Physicians can write prescriptions for service dogs that are given to people with disabilities which are deemed severe enough to limit their ability to perform regular tasks throughout their daily lives on their own. Once it has been agreed upon by the patient and their doctor that a service dog is a good option for the patient, the patient can then begin the process of finding the right animal. The service animal experts at USSA can help you understand all the options available to you and aid you in your search for the perfect service animal.
Different people have different needs and expectations. As such, the search for the right service animal is unique to each person. Finding the right one for a reasonable price can be a difficult process, but the end result is well worth the effort. A highly-trained service dog can have an immediate and long-lasting impact on the quality of a blind person’s life by providing them with independence and security in their daily lives.
Browse the resources available on the USSA website to learn more about service animals and emotional support animals to find the right option for your needs. Contact us today with any questions you might have about service dogs or to get started with the registration process.