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By Guest Blogger Therese Nadeau

Service dogs can do amazing things. They can remind someone to take their medication. They can detect imminent seizures and help with recovery. They can open doors, fetch a phone, and act as a person’s eyes and ears.

But they aren’t pets. Just like bomb-sniffing dogs or other “professionals,” service dogs have a job to do. When you see them in action, it’s tempting to picture life with a best-friend-plus-household helper. But life with a service dog comes with some adjustments.

Here are some things to consider before taking on a four-legged partner.

Understand the reasons you want a service dog and how it will affect your life

To be successful with a service dog, it helps to have clear goals. It helps even more to have realistic expectations regarding the whole sweep of doggy behavior, from barking at strangers to being distracted by passing squirrels. It’s the owner’s responsibility to help the dog be a service dog no matter what the situation.

If you’re still thinking you want a service dog . . . congratulations: you just signed yourself up as a dog trainer and ambassador for service animals. In other words, be prepared for a service dog to change the way you live.

Training takes commitment – and time

The typical training period takes anywhere from six months to two years – or more. My dogs could respond to over 80 commands, but the process to get there took years.

Most people get their dogs from schools or trainers who start the training process. Some schools hold two- to three-week “boot camps” where you train intensively with a number of dogs. At the program’s end you select your dog. Other people prefer to find their own dog and send it to be trained. I chose a local service dog organization, and trained with a private trainer. The choice is very personal.

No matter where the process starts, the owner has to be involved in the training or the dog will become a pet. For instance, feeding table scraps to the dog will likely encourage the dog to beg. Doing that at a restaurant can get the both of you kicked out. To succeed, the owner needs as much training as the dog.  In addition, when you are newly training a service dog, it is important that you are the only person to show attention, give commands and exchange lots of love to build a bond with each other.

Be ready for the attention

People love dogs. And most people are very curious about service dogs. Going out in public with a service dog attracts attention and a LOT of questions. When I go shopping, I have to add 10-15 minutes in the store for people to stop me and ask questions.

Service dog teams also need to help others understand service dog etiquette, from not petting or feeding the dog to asking first before trying to help. People partnered with a service dog also should be ready to explain their own preferences for interacting with the dog.

I happen to like teaching people and will answer the same questions where ever I go. If you’re outgoing, a service dog is also a great conversation starter. But if that sounds really annoying to you, or if you don’t like the attention, you might want to think twice about a service dog.

Be ready to advocate for access

Many people who serve the public may not know the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules about allowing a service dog on premises. Businesses and organizations have to make accommodations for service dogs. This includes restaurants, hotels and hospital patient rooms. Hotels can’t charge extra for accommodating a service animal or relegate guests with service animals to “pet friendly” rooms.

But even though the law is on your side, as a service dog owner you have to be ready to advocate for yourself and the dog. I’ve learned that if someone refuses to let me in with the dog, I may have to argue the case.

One time at a restaurant with friends, the waitress told me, “The dog is not allowed in here because there’s food.” She didn’t care that it was a service dog. Often, when people learn about the ADA law allowing service dogs, they’re OK with it. This time, the waitress was not going to change her mind. We wound up eating somewhere else. However, I did follow up with the parent company and they did take action. The point is to not just let it drop, or things will never get better.

You need to be an animal lover, or it probably won’t work

This may sound obvious, but if you’re not comfortable around dogs, chances are you also won’t be comfortable with a service dog. Because even though they’re trained, a dog is a dog and they’re going to still do those things dogs do.

What I learned from my dogs

My dogs taught me that you have to do what you’ve got to do and not be afraid of anything. No matter what the situation, we found our way together.

This was an important lesson because it’s a fact of life that dogs don’t live as long as humans. At some point, we have to say good-bye. We may end up caring for their needs more than they are caring for ours. It may seem strange to say, but that can also be a blessing. Having to take care of them kept me distracted from my own issues. We knew we were helping each other.

While saying goodbye to my service dogs was more difficult than words can say, I would do it over and over again. They have made a huge difference in my life both physically and emotionally. They taught me determination, perseverance, to stop and enjoy life, and unconditional LOVE.

Final word

Having a service dog by your side is definitely not for everyone, but for those of you that decide it is and you are ready for this endeavor . . . Go for it!!!  It’s worth the hard work and patience. Your life will FOREVER be changed.

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One Comment

  • Nora Suminski says:

    I am extremely grateful to have found your site! I am on a fixed income and I became a gaurdian /adopted a special needs man when I was 23 yrs ok’d. I am now 49 and he’s had a significant stroke and may never walk again. This said, his emotional well being is deteriorating as he’s desperate to come hime. I have 23 yrs experience in healthcare but I find it absurd to continue his stay in nursing home for 10-15 minutes per day if PT when he can get in home services 24/7 care here and I am commited to bring him to outside PT if approved by cruddy Medicaid. I need some equipment and safety belts for recliners, hospitak bed w rails as well as he’s an animal lover as am I. But I know his impulsiveness will be to rt and pick items up he drops and will fall due to the stroke. I feel like his depression has set in deeply and is hindering his recovery. I DO how ever need a little help with moving some furniture I just can’t do alone AND I know he would greatly benefit from a service Dog. How can I apply for this and I are their any grants I can apply for on his behalf ?? Please advise. David wax not born this way and was severely abused then left at the barbaric STS ( which I know if it’s unacceptable “care” which was neglectful as I was forced to work in a specific cottage fir 1 yr. I cried everyday I left as I could do nothing to help. I tried & was ignored. It’s funny though the entire state has 1 oursyde zp&A dept w an exception if Southbury. They have an internal one which in itself is beyond bizarre. This wax in 2016 and I was told my home w/ David and my then younger children would be targeted. I could no longer work there as a oast victim if abuse nyself, the knowledge of Davud whom I adopted as he was a neighbor, a state client living on his own and neglected as they came once a year to get federal funding for the sept of which he saw none of. I financially recieved zero compensation as some may think for 20 yrs so me adopting him was strictly out of live. After all these years yrs he says I’m his mom ( he’s 79 and I am 48) but in grand scheme I am his mom. My 21&1i yr olds were born after I started voluntarily taking in Davuds care and he’s lived w us all their lives. The depression if losing much of his independence is torture enough but staying in this nice nursing home he’s treated well but he’s spiraling into a deep depression. If he comes home ASAP I KNOW HIM BEST & Now he will tey harder at least to gain his right arm back but as far as walking it’s nit looking good at all. He’s going to need a service Dog and until he gets ine which I realize is a long process I’ll be sleeping in a Recliner in his room as a safety measure. If you have ANY recommendations on any place that could simply hekp me move some bug furniture I’d donate please advise as well. But right niw my focus is to sign up for ANY grant or whatever needed to get him a service dog as I’m hoping it cus help w/ opening doors , picking items up and sense any aura of stroke /azure activity. The community always compliments ME for taking him in and giving him a REAL family. He no longer cringes as if he will be hit or abused, STS stated in his notes he’s had no emotion capabilities but that is the farthest fron the truth. It just took a loving family and Aprox ten years for him to bring him out of his ptsd from abuse as a young child and young men. Please help me in anyways you can. He truly needs this and I know it will provide years of help/assistance & joy to him as he’s healthy in every other way. Now that we know he has had a stroke for some reason I have firmly requested he be checked for any and all causes to be aware of and gets a loop monitor next week. But what if I fall asleep and after his bed comes in if I can get Medicaid to even provide these adaptive equipment things I need .. I would feel so much safer knowing a dig can alert me of anything wrong. Or at least have a chance of getting help to him quickly. Please consider my request as it’s breaking my heart to see he’s feeling defeated, severely depressed to be away from his family so long and ie never, ever in 35 yrs seen or heard him sob as much as I have begging to come home. We all wsnt him hone and happy with us. I do know I need some respite and at home helo but it’s much cheaper for insurances to pay for these adaptive equipment he needs then a months payment of nursing hime at 14 grand a month. I could not believe the outdated and frankly unsafe gait vents they were using in the ot/Pt dept but as usual it’s administration fault The staff APPEAR TO BE KIND. BUT IM SLSO AWARE AS IVE WITNESSED HORRUFIC STAFF AT STS BECOME TOTALLY DIFF & real great CARETAKER when families or top brass came in unit. Suddenly they’d do puzzles w/ clients yet never ever interacted like this when it was just staff and residents so I’m very weary and watch out fir the super outgoing and involved staff when I go.
    Some of Those are the ones who are the worst and most neglectful staff behind closed doors. I want him home, healthy and Safe. The OT dept Is coming to do a safety check in my hoe and measurements. That said Dscud was a hoarder and. Was behavioral if we went in his room. But he no longer has his independence to physically walk at all let alone on his own diwn then to socialize with his this community who adores him. I feel like if anyone could use a service dog after the life he’s had of abuse until he found me & begged me to adopt him .. David w/out a sliver of doubt deserves this. My problem is how to afford one and who I can apply to so we can get ine in training ASAP. I’d truly appreciate any and all input /_advice. I can’t handle seeing him in this deep depression by being stuck there this long and for 10-15 min of OT when I KNOW HIS DEPRESSION IS ADVERSELY AFFECTING HIS RECIVERY I HE DOES/can recover. I will be here 24/7 with him w/exception of a little respite care to recharge my own batteries. It is slit if work and I’m well aware as I did this type of work iver 23 years for the state. Not 3 weeks after his stroke w/2 blood clots he had to be brought from icu in Hartford to Nursing home. They got concerned as he had blood in his stool and swiftly took him to local hospital CHH. THAt night I realize they never read his chart it they’d have out at minimum a bed alarm on. He’s developmentally disabled but I think he forgotten he couldn’t walk. So he went to get up and w no railings /or alarm he FELl out of bed. This could if killed him. The next day they had not changed anything until I advocated and advised I would call Protection and advice – as well as an attorney if they had no plan if safety for him within 40 min. They begged me biy to and had him a CNA as a 1-1 to watch him Thru the night. I can tell yiu there aren’t COUNTLESS INDIVIDUALS LIKE DACUD WHO ARENT LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE SN ADVOCATE. THAT NEXT DAY I WENT THERE ABD SAW ANOTHER INDIVIDUAL WHO WAS OBVIOUSLY UNSBKE TO WALK SLNISTVFSLLING IFF HIS BED SND NO IBE NOTICED DUE TO UNDERSTAFFING AND I HAD TO GET A NURSE MYSELF TO ASSUST THIS OTHER MAN. IT WAS HORRIFIC TO SEE THAT SOME FOOLISH POLICY A ORNCIL OUSHER CAME UP WITH TRUMPS SAFETY ESP W UNDERSTAFFING IN HOSP. SHAME IN THEM. ONCE DACIDS SETTLED AT HOME I HOPE GE SND I TOGETHER CAN GET THIS POLICY CHANGED WHEN IT IS A SAFETY HAZARD WHICH I KNOW CAUSED DAVIDS RIGHT EYE TO HAVE UNLESS STROKES GRADUALLY AFFECT HIS EYESITE. B/C fir 3 weeks I noted a slight issue but immediately after his fall I saw a HUGE DECREASE IN HIS PER EFIAL VISION. ITS USELESS TO SUE TO GET ATTENTION TO THIS MATTER UNLESS THEY HELP PAY FOR SERVICE DOG AS STATE Of Ct would take it I’m sure. When I was 23 yrs old I made a commitment to adopt him as my own and I plan to stick to this as my word is my bond. Please I implore you to help us in any way you can. Thank you for your time , effort and any consideration . If anyone deserves good in his life it’s David Solgovic. P. s. I am not great at emails but I’ll check. Otherwise please call me z( Nora. ) @ 860 -733-3738 or his coo gaurdian who is MY mother – Barbara Zimmerman as she has begun to help me in any paperwork matters but I’m the one who asked all medical desicion and physically has cared for his treatments the last 25-26 yrs even prior to adoption. Her # is 860-459-8029
    I truly appreciate anything you can do. I do have a small dog here who is afraid if it’s own shadow and rarely leaves my side and would be no problem w a trained dog as long as the service dig shows no aggression. We have a fenced in back yard in a suburban neighborhood with wonderful neighbors. We live in Torrington Conn. just so you know. I’m willing to drive him to train with dig when needed if he’s blessed enough to obtain. Thank you.

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