The first thing used to determine if someone qualifies for a service dog is their need. Your disability determines who is eligible for a service dog. A lot of people born with disabilities qualify differently than those that developed a disability later on. If you have a mobility disability (such as needing a wheelchair), you would qualify for a different type of service dog than you would if you had diabetes. In many cases a doctor may need to sign off on a person’s qualifications in order to be determined eligible for a service dog. For example, I had a psychiatrist and a therapist for my PTSD and they signed off for me to get my service dog. In addition, I got a letter from my hearing impairment doctors.
The second thing to consider once you’ve determined that you may be eligible for a service dog is: do you want to have a service dog? It will be with you 24/7. You really have to make sure you have the budget for it. There are different levels of government assistance through social security that can support someone in attaining and caring for a service dog, and some types of aid that seniors may qualify for.
Service Dog Costs
I did not qualify for government assistance, so I had to determine my budget for getting a service dog. What could I afford?
From there I had to decide if I was going to get a service dog that was already trained – which would be more expensive. For example, my untrained puppy cost $5,000. The cost of a trained service dog, at around 2 years old, can be about $40,000! Even though I saved money by getting my service dog as a puppy, over the last two years, I’ve spent over $20,000 on all the training, food, medical, insurance, and more that I needed to train and care for my dog. And there will be more costs to come: he’s currently trained to support me with my PTSD, but still needs training to help me with my hearing impairment.
Service Dog Documentation and “Proof”
Sometimes people think a service dog handler needs to prove their dog is a service animal by showing off documentation or having the dog perform a task. That’s not how this works. Once you have gone to your doctor and let them know you want to get a service dog, they will write you a letter stating that you qualify to have a service dog. That’s all you need.
Anyone that asks for any more documentation for your service dog doesn’t know the law. When getting proper documentation, most doctors and therapists do have the service animal guidelines to go over with you. So please note to yourself: it is not appropriate, and it is not law, for someone to ask you to perform a task with your service animal.
Advice for Those Considering a Service Dog
First and foremost, depending on your disability, know that there’s a responsibility that comes with this tool. You really have to understand how the dog is going to respond to your triggers so you know how to respond to the dog. The reason that Justice Speaks educates is there’s a side to having a service dog that not everyone considers; It gives you a lot of extra attention that you don’t necessarily want. People need to understand that interacting with a service dog distracts it from doing its job. A lot of people will distract you and your dog.
Your relationship with your service dog is a give and take. Learning how to take care of the animal that also takes care of you is a task, and that dog goes everywhere with you, so everywhere you go, you have to be prepared.
For me, the benefits outweigh the cons. Like so many other people, my service dog serves a vital role in my life. I go through my day with more ease because I know if I don’t hear something that I should, my dog will hear it for me and alert me.
What questions do you have about qualifying for and paying for a service dog?
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