When my doctor recommended that I get a service dog to help me cope with my fainting and anxiety, I thought it was a novel idea, but wasn’t sure how realistic it was. I knew dogs could be trained to assist people with both physical and psychiatric maladies, but I’d never thought of having one myself. Was my illness serious enough to warrant a service dog? According to my doctor and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it was. So, with the hope of restoring some normalcy to my life, I took my doctor’s advice.
I had just adopted Henry, a Chihuahua/Dachshund puppy, and wondered if he was big enough. If he was, who could train him? Did I need to be trained too? How much would it cost? What kind of documentation would we need? Would Henry need to wear a special vest? Would I need to wear a special vest? I had so many questions.
After some Googling, I found the ADA website, which answered a lot of my questions. They have a list of 37 frequently asked questions about service dogs. They address: Definition of a Service Dog; General Rules; Exclusion of Service Animals; Requirements for Employers and Business Owners; and the Rights of the Owner of a Service Animal.
Here is the link to all those questions…
OK, SO WHAT DO I DO NEXT??
Once I knew that little Henry was up to snuff, I found a local trainer who was qualified to train service dogs for people like me. Her name is Penny Scott Fox, and she is located in Altadena, California. www.scott-foxtraining.com. We completed six months of classes, and Henry learned the tasks he needed to help me: Go Get Help, Provide Tactile Stimulation, Disrupt Overload, Lap Up and Panic Prevention.
We’d done all the training and followed the ADA requirements, but nothing prepared me for how awkward I felt once I started taking Henry with me to work and into public places. The attention we got was overwhelming and I didn’t know how to handle the questions from strangers about my reasons for needing Henry. Even though I was totally freaked out Henry wouldn’t let me give up, and that was when I found Service Dog Central, and organization that provides support and information for people like me.
If you are considering getting a service dog, here is some info from their site. It’s amazing, make sure to check it out.
Do I Qualify for a Service Dog?
The answer to this question may be more complicated than you expect. First, there are different definitions of disability in different federal laws. The definition for Social Security Disability Income is not the same as that in the Americans with Disabilities Act (which determines whether you qualify to use a service dog in public places where dogs are not generally permitted). It is possible for an individual to qualify for SSDI and not qualify for a service dog and vice versa. You must evaluate your situation separately for each context.
The definition of disability under the ADA is a legal, not medical, definition. Since a lawyer generally can’t diagnose medical conditions and a doctor generally can’t interpret the law, you may get stuck somewhere in the middle trying to figure it all out.
Check out servicedogcentral.com for more information.
How Do I Find a Service Dog Program or Trainer?
There are several lists of service dog providers on the internet. That’s a good place to start, but remember that just because they appear on one of these lists doesn’t mean they are qualified or even legitimate. It is still up to you, as the consumer, to do your research and make sure they are what they appear to be.
Service Dog Central also maintains a list of clients from our online community and the programs they’ve worked with so you can talk with real clients of some programs and get the inside scoop.
Some resources for finding service dog programs:
Pet Partners – https://petpartners.org/about-us/
American Dog Trainers Network – http://inch.com/~dogs/service.
Dog Scapes – http://dogcapes.com/trainers.
Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers – http://www.ccpdt.org
Karen Pryor Academy – https://www.karenpryoracademy.com/find-a-trainer
Association of Pet Dog Trainers – https://apdt.com/resource-center/