Getting a service dog can significantly improve your life, especially if you’re a Veteran. However, acquiring a service dog costs a lot of money. And you wouldn’t want to jeopardize your finances. Find out how you can get a free service dog or reduce the cost significantly with the help of these tips.
But first, let’s explore some basics about service dogs and what they do.
What Do Service Dogs Do?
Service dogs are specially trained dogs that assist people with a physical or mental disability to live independently by performing everyday tasks. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) describes them as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”
Every service dog is trained for specific tasks for their owner. For example, guide dogs help their visually impaired owners move around and travel safely, signal dogs let their deaf owners know someone’s knocking on their door, and seizure response dogs alert their owners of an oncoming episode.
Don’t confuse Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) with service dogs. ESAs only provide comfort or companionship just by being with their owners. They aren’t trained to perform specific tasks, so they don’t qualify as service dogs.
Service Dog Qualifications
The ADA doesn’t require you to train a service dog professionally. But your dog has to meet some specific requirements to qualify as a service dog. Here are some of the requirements your service dog must meet before you take him out in public:
- Service dogs must be well mannered at all times
- They should have received at least 120 hours of training
- They should be able to ignore distractions, like other dogs barking, food, smells, or strange sounds unless it is part of the service dog’s task
- Service dogs must be able to respond quickly to commands
You must also be able to provide a stable home for the dog and participate in its training process.
How to Know if Your Dog Is a Service Dog Candidate
The most common breeds people use as service dogs are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherd Dogs. But you don’t have to limit yourself to these breeds. If you have a suitable breed but are wondering if you can train it to be a service dog, simply lookout for the following qualities:
- Shows more alertness than reaction
- Can perform repetitive tasks
- Is always willing to please
- Can socialize easily in different environments
- Can learn new skills
If your dog ticks all the boxes for these qualities, you may have a service dog candidate already!
3 Steps to Get a Service Dog
The following three steps can help you increase your chances of getting a service dog assigned to you:
1. Get a Doctor’s Recommendation
A vital step to take before acquiring a service dog is to provide a medical report from a licensed healthcare provider stating your condition and the treatments you have received. The certification should show that you were treated for a particular disability and need assistance living normally.
Together with the medical report, the healthcare provider must also provide a recommendation letter after monitoring and treating you for a while. The letter should indicate the severity of your condition and how a service dog can help manage your situation better.
2. Apply at an Agency
Next, submit the recommendation letter and medical report you get from the doctor to a service dog agency.
After submitting your application, the agency trains your dog at a fee. However, the fees are usually quite high, and this might be a challenge since you’re looking to get a free service dog.
3. Organize a Fundraiser
As mentioned earlier, the cost of getting a service dog is relatively high, and you may find that you can’t afford it as a Veteran.
One of the ways to raise the funds you need is to organize a fundraiser. Fortunately, some dog service agents will provide you with fundraising options if you have any financial constraints.
How Much Does a Service Dog Cost?
Service dogs provide invaluable help, but they’re also very expensive. A service dog can cost between $17,000 and $50,000. This amount usually includes the training costs, feeding costs, medical costs, and other necessities.
The personality of the dog and the trainer are also factors that can determine how much the training will cost and how long it will take. So, if you already have a dog with some qualities of a service dog, good for you! This may reduce the service dog training cost and duration.
Like pet dogs, service dogs also need basic necessities like a healthy diet, treats, grooming, routine vet visits, checkups, vaccines, and so on. According to Forbes, keeping a dog could cost upwards of $17,650 a year depending on its size and breed.
How Much Does It Cost to Register a Service Dog?
Registering a service dog typically costs between $100 to $200. It’s a necessary process, and you’ll have to follow the guidelines set by the ADA.
You also have to ensure that you register your service dog with verified agencies as there are many scams posing as service animal agencies.
How to Get a Free Service Dog
With the high costs of getting a service dog, less than 1% of Americans living with disabilities use service dogs. So, it doesn’t hurt to devise a means of getting a free service dog, especially if you’re a veteran.
1. Train One Yourself
Training your service dog yourself can be daunting, especially if you are living with a visual impairment, but at the same time, it comes with a lot of advantages. What’s more, you’ll be training the dog according to your specific needs, which also helps you achieve your goal.
2. Apply With a Non-Profit
Some service dog agencies have a fundraising list or allow you to apply for grants that can reduce the cost of acquiring a service dog. However, the list is usually long, and the process might take a while. But, the wait is usually worth it, especially if you have tried out different activities to raise funds without success.
Some charities provide free service dogs for Veterans and other people living with visual or hearing impairments. See some of them below:
For people living with a visual impairment:
- Southeastern Guide Dog
- Fidelco Guide Dogs
- The Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation
- Guide Dogs of America
- The Seeing Eye
- The Guide Dog Foundation
For people living with a hearing impairment:
Sierra Delta for Veterans
We are a registered non-profit organization on a mission to empower both disabled and non-disabled Veterans with access to approved dog training.
While you need to qualify for a service dog and take them with you everywhere, Life Buddies are a bit simpler. They’re still trained for your unique and individual needs, but you may not need them for all parts of your day.
This gives your relationship with your dog more flexibility while strengthening trust. 9 out of 10 Veterans in our community choose the Life Buddy Program because they find it more suited to their needs.
Join us today to learn more about how Sierra Delta can help empower you with Life Buddy or, if you qualify, a service dog through our free Life Buddy program.