Service dogs are a blessing – but how do you get a service dog? Who qualifies for a service dog? What all do you have to do? These are questions that I get all the time, being a service dog handler myself. So, I have put together a comprehensive guide: “What does it take to have a service dog?”

1. You Must Have a Disability That Qualifies You for a Service Animal

There are many different disabilities that qualify you to have a service dog. In many cases, these disabilities may be invisible. Some examples of disabilities that would qualify for service animals are: 

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • ALS
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Sensory Disabilities (Blind, Deaf, Etc.)
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • And more…

2. Your Dog Will Be With You at All Times

Having a service dog is one of the biggest blessings I have had in my life. I have children, run a business, and have a non-profit. My dog rarely leaves my side, throughout the craziness of life. Having my dog with me everyday has allowed me to feel more secure in my surroundings, and confidence in my ability to navigate my daily life as a whole. 

I have been diagnosed with PTSD, I am hearing impaired, and I have a replacement ankle that creates mobility issues. My dog has been beneficial in helping me with each of these things throughout my life. 

  • PTSD: Having a dog who understands my triggers and how to pull me out of them has been life changing. 
  • Hearing Impairment: Having a dog who can hear and react to sounds which I may not be able to hear has been a literal life saver. From dangerous situations to everyday audio cues, my dog has been the help I need.
  • Mobility: When I got my dog, I did not expect it to be so helpful with my mobility. Bernese Mountain Dogs like to pull; it is instinctual. With a little training, this can be great. When I am having trouble with stairs, my dog helps pull me up. For the first time, I am able to go up stairs.

That being said, if you prefer to not have these the constant responsibility of having a dog with you at all times, a service dog may not be for you. It is, after all, still a dog. Dogs require training, check ups, food, and overall care.

3. Anticipate the Expenses of Owning a Service Animal

Service dogs are are not cheap. The food, the vest and leash, vet bills, travel expenses, and all the grooming and care that goes into having a dog is expensive – let alone the costs associated with training and/or purchasing of a service dog. It is important to establish a budget before you get your first service dog.

4. Know the ADA Law

Service dogs come with certain civil rights. For example, you cannot be forced to pay a pet deposit if you are renting a house. There are a whole plethora of civil rights that come with owning a service animal.

Unfortunately, many people do not know your rights and may unintentionally infringe on them. That is why it is important to have a grasp of what you are entitled to and what you are not.

I trained my own service dog. To me, I felt it was important to learn the ADA law not only for the protection of my rights, but also so I could pass the testing for Public Access. If you hire a trainer for your service dog, they should be well versed in ADA laws.

5. Understand That Service Dogs Are Not a Cure-All

Service dogs cannot ever cure your disability. My hearing was not magically repaired after getting a dog, and neither was my PTSD. A service dog is a tool, one who can alert you if they hear a sound, but not one who can help you hear it for yourself. Justice (my dog) helps me deal with repercussions, but does not solve all of my problems. And in most cases, they can’t solve all of anyone’s problems.

Service Dogs are a blessing, but it is important to educate yourself on what it takes to be a handler. It is just as much your job to take care of the dog as it is the dog’s job to take care of you.

What’s Next?

So you want to move forward and get a service dog, what is the next step? The first thing that every prospective service dog owner should do is make sure that their disability qualifies them for a service animal. You can find everything you need to know about what qualifies you here.

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