People who have lost their hearing or sight do not always like relying on other people to help them complete the tasks they once were able to do with ease. Veterans returning home from deployment may suffer from disturbing flashbacks of time spent in the trenches. People living with an anxiety disorder may not know when a panic attack will happen, but when it does, it is difficult to ride it out alone. For people with a demonstrated need, knowing how to get a service dog may mean the difference between gaining their independence and peace of mind and sliding further into despair.
WHAT IS A SERVICE DOG?
According to the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), a service animal is defined as a dog that has been adequately trained to perform tasks or do work for people with disabilities. Some common examples of what service dogs can be trained to do include:
A service animal can also perform other duties or tasks that would assist someone living with an impairment to be able to function and maintain a high level of independence.
People should remember that service dogs are highly skilled and trained working dogs. Therefore, while they are cared for by the person who they are partnered with, they are not a family pet. They hold a meaningful and critical position within the house.
WHO QUALIFIES FOR A SERVICE DOG?
To qualify for a service dog, you must be able to demonstrate an inability to perform a major life task. The dog that is paired up with you must be able to complete that task for you. People who have a disability that keeps them from being fully independent or perform everyday tasks without help qualify to receive service dogs. Typical examples are people who are blind and hearing impaired. People who also suffer from an illness or disorder that keeps them from being able to function normally such as epilepsy or mental illnesses qualify for service animals. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a growing segment of this category as more and more veterans are being diagnosed after being deployed in hostile areas for any length of time.
A doctor may prescribe a service dog to help expedite the process, which can be lengthy depending on a few factors.
EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS
There is a rising population of people who claim they need an animal to deal with emotional issues; however, the issues do not qualify them to have a service dog. In these instances, psychiatrists typically prescribe the use of an emotional support animal. These animals, generally small dogs, do not undergo the months and months of training that service dogs go through. These animals are not trained to perform a task the owner can't nor are they considered working dogs. They simply provide comfort in the way any loving pet would.
The ADA has officially taken the position that emotional support animals are not working dogs, and therefore are not given the designation and rights that support dogs are provided. This exclusion upsets the people who claim to need to take the emotional support animal in places where pets are not allowed. At the time of this writing, the ADA has not changed its stance on this issue.
RIGHTS AFFORDED SERVICE DOGS
Because service dogs are working, they are permitted to enter into areas that pets are not. For example, a service dog can accompany a person to doctor's appointments, restaurants, on airplanes and in hotels. The latter two are not permitted by law to charge for a service dog's ticket or hotel room.
Not included in these dog waiver situations are emotional support animals. Remember, the ADA does not put emotional support animals in the same category as service dogs. As such, the rights granted to working dogs and their owners do not transfer to emotional support animals. If a couple goes on vacation, and one person has a service dog, and the other person has an emotional support animal, the service dog could fly free in the cabin, while the other would have to be crated and the fee paid for doing so.
One of the biggest catches in all this is a business proprietor cannot ask for proof of the service animal's designation as such because it would be like asking someone to disclose his or her disability. Therefore, it may be difficult or impossible to refuse service to people who are trying to take emotional support animals into places where pets are not allowed. While the ADA allows the refusal of services to emotional support animals, it also doesn't allow business owners and operators to ask for proof of the dog's status.
HOW MUCH DOES A SERVICE DOG COST?
The average cost for a service dog is $60,000. This amount includes the veterinarian care over the course of the dog's life as well.
HOW DOES SOMEONE GET A SERVICE DOG?
There are a few organizations that train service dogs and give them to people who have a demonstrated need for one. Guiding Eyes for the Blind is an example of a non-profit organization that breeds, trains and places dogs with blind people. There are specific qualifications that the person must meet before being placed in line to receive a dog:
Guiding Eyes for the Blind matches people up with dogs whose personalities and energy levels suit each other to form a mutually beneficial working partnership. Once a match has been made, the recipient of the dog must go through months of training without ever working directly with the dog that he or she would be receiving.
The dogs are donated to the person in need free of charge. It is all made possible through fundraising and private donations for those who support the organization.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is just one example of an organization that offers these services for free. Some organizations provide service animals at a reduced cost to those in need and even offer to help fundraise to get the funds necessary. There are typically waiting lists for service dogs as the need far outweighs the availability. The wait is longer for people seeking financial assistance in getting one.
HOW TO AVOID SCAMS
Unfortunately, there are plenty of unsavory people out there looking to make a buck at your expense. These people may seem genuine in wanting to get you a service dog, but there's a catch: they need the money upfront. You tell them you can't afford much, so they ask what the most is you can contribute, and then no matter what that price is, they accept it with the promise that a foundation or donations will help cover the rest.
If the whole thing sounds too good to be true that's because it most likely is. If an individual approaches you in any way promising to get you a fully trained service dog, but you can't vet the claim or the person, do not maintain contact. Chances are it is a scam. You will wind up paying good money or at least as much or as little as you can afford for a dog who is not ADA trained and qualified.
There are entire websites dedicated to falsifying service dog certificates and gear to turn any dog into a service dog. What would the purpose of this be? First off, it allows scam artists to pass off an ill-trained animal as a service dog to collect money. By the time the victim figures it out, the scammer is long gone, along with the money. Other times the website helps people to register their dog as a service animal to be able to take the dog on trips or in places that only allow service animals and not house pets.
Unfortunately, people with disabilities are often the target of scammers. If the deal seems too good to be true and you can't verify what the person is claiming, do not agree to purchase a dog. Chances are, it is a falsified records situation.
Service animals are becoming a vital tool in helping people who suffer from disabilities and disorders gain back independence. Even though the process for how to get a service dog may not be ideal, especially if you don't have the financial resources to purchase one, the wait may be worth it.