Have you ever thought about getting a service dog to help you be more independent? Dogs have always brought great joy into my life. Dog are intuitive and can sense the needs of their humans. Dogs are man's best friend and with highly specialized training they can do many things to help people with disabilities. I have four dogs and a cat right now, so my house is full of animal love! The next animal I bring into my home will be a service dog. I didn't know much about how to find the right service dog and how to find reputable organizations. I have done my research and I wanted to share what I have learned with all of you.
Definition of a Service Dog
A service dog is a trained canine that performs various tasks for their human partners who has a disability. This can be a physical or mental disability. A service animal is defined by the Americans with Disabilities act as a dog that fundamentally aids disabled person's life. This could include helping a person with poor balance, assisting people who use wheelchairs, guiding the blind or alert someone who is about to have a seizure. There are laws in place to allow people to have their dogs in public places.
Unfortunately, many people are abusing the law that protects the ability of people with disabilities to have their service dogs with them in public places. Several online commercial enterprises sell certificates, vests, and badges for helper animals that have no specialized training. There have been over 200,000 emotional support dogs registered since 2011. Many of these untrained animals are registered to people that don't have a diagnosed disability. Emotional support dogs do not qualify as service dogs under the ADA. The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs. Psychiatric service dogs are trained to sense an impending panic attack and help prevent it. There are now 21 states that have laws making it illegal to misrepresent an animal as a service animal or fraudulently represent oneself as having the right to have a service animal.
How can service dogs help a person with a Mobility Impairment?
Assistance Dogs International (ADI)
Assistance Dogs International
- Hit the button on automatic doors
- Pick up dropped objects, such as a cell phone
- Turn off and on a light switch
- Assist a wheelchair user in getting up a ramp
- Assist with a transfer in or out of bed.
- Help to stabilize a person with poor balance
- Adjust their humans' position
- Carry a grocery bag
- Unload and loading front loading washing machines
- The list goes on and on!
sets the standards of excellence in all areas of dog assistance acquisition, training, and partnership. They were founded in 1986 and have become the leading authority in the assistance dog industry. If you are looking for a service dog it's a good idea to make sure the organization is ADI accredited. On the ADI website, you will find a link to search for service animal providers in your area. Once you have typed in your location multiple organizations will appear. There organization specifically for veterans and most train service animals for specific disabilities. Once you have narrowed it down to a couple of organizations you can call and ask them a few questions.
Questions to Ask Service Dog Organizations before signing a contract
What breeds do you use as service dogs?
The breeds are chosen by their history of success with specific types of disabilities. In many cases for people with mobility impairments organizations train Labrador Retrievers or Golden Retrievers. Labs and Golden retrievers have an easy-going temperament and are strong enough to help people with poor balance. Dogs that are used to help a person with poor balance and bear weight are only allowed to work for six to eight years, then they must retire. Standard Poodles and Labradoodles do not have as high of a success rate graduating from service dog training, therefore they are rare. According to Kristen Hartness
, Executive Director of Canines for Kids, the Poodle breeds are reserved for people who need a service dog but have documented severe allergies to the non-hypoallergenic breeds. In many of these programs, the dogs are bred and raised specifically to become a service animal. Kristen Hartness did a presentation on service dogs at a recent Abilities Expo
. Kristen speaks nationally and internationally on the benefits of service dogs for people with all types of disabilities. Often the dog's trainer is the one who pairs the dog with their human based on the skills of the dog and the needs of the person.
What costs will be involved in getting a service dog?
Service dogs are trained by other non-profit and for-profit organizations. Depending on the organization you choose there could be costs involved. Make sure you know your financial responsibility before starting the process of acquiring a service dog. There are many expenses involved in dog ownership like vets bill and food. Make sure to take all of that into consideration before you decide to get a service dog.
What happens to my service dog when it’s time to retire?
Most service dogs work for an average of eight years. When the dog gets older and it becomes difficult for them to provide the assistance they must stop working. Many disabled handlers keep their service dogs as a pet after they retire. Some organizations have contracts that require the animal to be returned to their prior agency after retirement. That agency will then find a loving adoptive home for the animal. I think it is really important to know the organization's rules before signing a contract. If you would like more information about what happens to service dogs after they retire there is a great article on the Anything Pawsable website.
Lauren and Buchannan
Lauren Taylor, a Numotion customer, has a great service dog named Buchanan. I asked her a few questions about what it is like to have a service dog.
Karen: What does Buchanan do for you that is most helpful?
Lauren: “He picks things up for me all of the time. Items that would be difficult for me to reach without assistance. He also makes me feel safe. It's nice to have him with me in public because he barks on command and could scare someone away if I felt like I was in danger."
Karen: What is one thing people don’t think about before getting a service dog?
Lauren: “When you have a service dog with you all of the time people in public people try to pet the dog. If you are a service dog handler it becomes your full-time job to educate people why they should not pet working service dogs. People instinctively want to pet the dog, but that is very distracting to the animal.”
Karen: How is it traveling with Buchanan?
Lauren: “He uses the bathroom on the very helpful command. Buchanan has been very easy to travel with so far. When you travel with a service dog you must bring a collapsible water bowl and anything he might need while on the road. Having a service dog is almost like having a child. The handler is responsible for all of their need at home and on the road."
The Story of Numo
The Numotion family are big supporters of service dogs. We realize the important role that service dogs play in the lives of many of our customers. In 2018, Numotion decided to provide a scholarship for a puppy born in Australia in November of 2017. Her name is Numo and she was flown from Australia to Seattle Washington to start service dog training at Summit Assistance Dogs
. Summit Assistance Dogs is a fully accredited non-profit organization that trains some of the best service dogs in the world. Numo is by far the most beloved member of the Numotion family. We have been following her progress over the last two years on Instagram
and keeping up with her through her blog posts on Numotion.com. When Numo completes her training she will be placed with a very lucky human with a disability. Numo’s training will help that person live a more independent life filled with the love of their new companion.
Service dogs help thousands of people with disabilities live more independently. For many people living alone might not be possible without the assistance of their expertly trained canine. There are many reputable service dog organizations across the country, but it’s important to do your research if you are considering adding a canine companion to your family. Getting a service dog is a huge responsibility and not a decision to be taken lightly. If you are looking, I hope you find the perfect service dog for you and your family.