Well, this was a question I asked myself a lot. How do I get one? and ultimately it took me years to process that I needed one. I had been thinking about bringing it up to my specialists, when my oldest specialist said "Have you considered an assistance dog?". I was trembling when we had the discussion I was so nervous. It became real to me.
I was legally disabled. I was disabled enough for her to bring this up after 10 years. I asked her a couple questions, and left with a note to tell my parents.
So let me ask what you might be thinking, or why you clicked this to begin with.
What is a Service Dog? They help disabled individuals live a more independent and normal life. They are required to be trained to do specific actions, tasks, tricks to directly help the disabling conditions of their handler. They are considered 'medical equipment' not a pet.
Although I don't like the term medical equipment, it's true. You can't be discriminated against when you have a service dog just like you can't be discriminated with when you're in a wheelchair.
The most common question I see surrounding this is;
How do I get a Service Dog?
The most important step to getting a service dog is being disabled, and agreeing that it is the correct course of treatment with your medical team. You can have the same conditions as someone and not be disabled. A diagnosis does not equal disability. Let me say that again. A diagnosis does not equal a disability. This was something I personally saw a lot of when I was researching for my se
lf. People would always ask "Am I disabled enough?" and that's a question only your medical providers can answer. I still see this question all the time. I feel so bad because it generally comes from minors, who are just gaining some autonomy. They come from bad backgrounds, aren't wealthy, and don't have understanding parents. Although I have understanding parents now, I don't know if they would have understood when I was 15, let alone where to start. I don't think we were nearly in a financial place to do it when I was younger either. I think it was even a shock to them. I am very reserved and I don't talk much; especially about things that are uncomfortable. Telling my parents every symptom I was having became more and more useless because I was just 'the child who cried wolf'.
Where do you go from here?
Well, after you've talked to not only your medical team, but your family & support system. You should contact or apply to organizations that you qualify for!
You should go to this website: https://assistancedogsinternational.org/ and search for Accredited Member Programs (ADINA If you're in North America). Why are all the waitlists so long? Well generally they're as long as it takes to train a dog, for you. You may be matched early. It may take the maximum time. Well, Is Bisha a program dog? No, She isn't. I've owner-trained her, which is legal in the United States. I didn't find a
program that worked for me or my family. I do, however, live close to DC/Baltimore. I was a long time fan of a youtuber-influencer turned dog-training-business-owner. She is AMAZING. I would recommend her and her team to everyone! I contacted her long before I got a puppy. She gave me a list of reputable breeders; I wanted goldens. I couldn't recommend my breeder more either. She was the kindest, most understanding women I've ever met. We had the litter temperament tested, and I was able to choose between a girl and a boy. (I obviously chose the girl haha) She didn't collar them, so I don't have a collar color! You should always contact a trainer before searching for what they call in the service dog community, a prospect. Well shouldn't you 'adopt not shop'? In my personal opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with ethical breeding. When I say ethical breeding I want to be really clear here. I mean finding a breeder that health & OFA tests, temperament tests, plans litters & breeds for temperament, and is interested in forming a relationship with you post pass-off. They always offer a home for the puppy if you can no longer take care of them, or need to return them. For example, Bisha's litter was planned. Both the parents were OFA certified, temperament tested (Fun fact: Bisha's dad is actually a working service dog!), & have routine health tests. It was also required in my contract that I follow up for the first few weeks. I've kept following up every few months now. I think that breeding for certain coat colors, money, size etc. is all super unethical! Ignoring the breeds genetics and creating future health problems, or temperament problems down the line is very unethical. It's not fair to their customers, shelters, or even ethical breeders! Can I still adopt a dog from a shelter and have that dog become a service dog? Yes! You can absolutely do this. I would always meet the dog in person so that you can personally temperament test them, with or without a trainer. (even though I strongly believe you should set yourself up for as much success as possible) Shelters have a habit of overselling a dog, or not disclosing it's entire history just to adopt them out.
All this training seems like a LOT of work. Why can't I just throw a vest on
my dog and take them everywhere?
You can't just pop a vest on your dog! It's illegal! Seriously, impersonating a service dog is a misdemeanor. Here is a link to the section of Virginia Law* (You can google this per state, it's a state law) https://bit.ly/3uC1Ifv
Service dogs save their owners from fainting, seizures, allergies, migraines, medical episodes, and much more. Bringing an untrained dog into a public space is stressful, not just for your poor pet; but for everyone around you. They go through a lot, I mean a lot of training to be suited for bringing them everywhere with us. My entire 2020 was treated like a job trying to make Bisha work. We had our issues but they have mostly smoothed out. They're also incredibly expensive! You're going through hundreds of hours of training, not just your time but with a trainer. You'll probably want a board and train or two. Plus just the cost of having a dog! Okay, that's cool; but I can go onto xyz website and buy a certification for 200$? Yeah....no. Don't do this. Not only are you hurting the disabled community, but you're wasting 200 dollars. That piece of paper is meaningless in the United States. | https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm
You can go here and read this huge document about what they are and how we are protected under the law as a team. Orrrr I can just give you the short version. We can be asked two questions; 1) Is that a service animal required because of a disability? 2) What work, or tasks has the dog been trained to perform? The staff CANNOT ask about the person's disability, require medical documentation, require special identification, or training documentation for the dog. They also can not ask the dog to demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task. The only places we are prohibited are private residences (at the owners discretion) and areas that must stay sanitary (i.e. operating rooms, kitchens etc.) We also can not be discriminated against, isolated, or treated less favorably than any other customer. We can not be charged fees that other guests are not. We are waived any fee's related to pets because a service dog is medical equipment.
Any more questions?? Did I miss something? I look forward to sharing more of this journey with you.