Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Service Dogs for Invisible and Visible Illnesses

My dog Dixie
When most people think of service dogs they think of guide dogs that assist the blind.  Oh, I know service dogs can help with more than the blind but I didn't have a complete picture. Now my own dog, Dixie, she helps me out as a informal service dog; she is not certified therefore I can't use her help in public. Dixie has had not any formal training; however, she helps me with getting up from a chair, helps me up and down the steps, and she monitors me when I'm really ill (she knows to pester others in the house if I need help). She has helped me get off the floor a time or two (Yes, I hear you, very funny, "She's fallen and she can't get up). It wasn't until I met my daughter's friend, Elise, that I began to more fully understand just what service dogs can do. 

Elise is the Disability Advocate and Volunteer Trainer at Phoenix Assistance Dogs (PAD). She also has a seizure alert dog. Elise began to open my eyes as to what all service dogs can do. By legal definition, a service dog is one specially trained to lessen the effect(s) of a disability. This includes — but is not limited to — disabilities such as: visual, hearing, mobility, seizure, and "invisible" disabilities that are debilitating, but not necessarily obvious to the public. 

Although guide dogs have been use since the mid 16th century, in the 20 years service dogs have expanded their roles. Beside guide dog work, they can help with balance issues, mobility and wheelchairs assistance, hearing, seizure, and migraine alert, they can calm those dealing with anxiety disorders, and assist those with dissociative disorders to become grounded. 

There are close to  180 organizations that train service dogs for those who are disabled. Some are non-profit and do not charge for their dogs but others are for profit. The bad news is that the waiting lists for the non-profit dogs tend to be long. It often takes 2 - 5 years for your name to come up. Dogs that you get through these programs are thoroughly trained and screened. These programs offer follow and continue to help re-certify the dog on a yearly basis (this is an option not a requirement).

It is sad to say that not all dogs make it through the service dog program. Some dogs just aren't service dog material for one reason or other. There are trainers that can assist you to train your own dog; however, you run the risk of choosing a dog that may wash out. And then what will you do. If you want a service dog, you will need to carefully consider the pros and cons of self training program vs a program trained dog.

I know that I don't want to risk getting attached to a dog and then have to give it back. So I don't believe the owner training program is for me; physically I can't handle it either. I am involved in a program where I can choose either the owner training program or I can have them raise the puppy for me. I know for this particular program the waiting list is about 18 - 24 months for a program trained puppy. Right now I am fairly certain I'll have them raise the dog, but I'll keep my options open.
Elise and her service dog Burke


  1. I don't think I can ever train our two minpins to be service dogs, but at least they help me sometimes by forcing me to get up and do something despite pain and feeling ill.

  2. No, Barbara in your case I don't think a minipin could be of much help as a service dog for you. I checked out your blog a bit and think a larger dog that could at least help with balance would be better for you (but as I don't know all your illnesses, I can't guess as to what other things a service animal could help you with). How every studies do show just petting dogs, inparticular decreases pain. I couldn't agree with you more, dogs do have a way of forcing you up and out of bed at time. They do this even when you are feeling ill; and, that sometimes is a very good thing.