When most people think of service dogs, they picture a guide dog helping someone who’s visually impaired. In reality, there are thousands of service dogs at work right now, helping people with all kinds of disabilities with a variety of tasks.
If you could use a helping hand (or paw), but are not sure if a service dog is right for you, read on.
Who Qualifies for a Service Dog?
Anyone with a disability recognized by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is eligible for a service dog. The ADA defines an individual with a disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”
Why Get a Service Dog?
Service dogs help people dealing with a wide range of impairments, including mobility issues, hearing loss, diabetes, autism, epilepsy, and PTSD. They can be specifically trained to perform tasks that may be difficult for you, such as remembering to take your medication or walking up steps.
The first question to ask yourself is: will a service dog make your life better? If the answer is yes, then consider if you’re ready for the commitment of caring for your service dog. You’ll have to invest a lot of time in training and bonding with your service dog, and they’ll be your constant companion in life.
Ok, I’m Interested in Getting a Service Dog. What Should I Do?
First, you’ll need to decide whether you want to get a professionally trained dog, or train a dog yourself that you’ve adopted or gotten from a breeder. Both are legal under the ADA.
Training a dog yourself is time-consuming, difficult, but also extremely rewarding. There are no defined regulations on how much training you need to do, but in order for you and your service dog to be protected by the ADA, your dog needs to be able to perform work for you that’s directly related to your disability.
If you choose to get a service dog from a professional trainer, search online for a reputable organization near you. There are quite a few organizations devoted solely to training service dogs, and many also offer financial assistance. The application process can be lengthy, so it’s important to get started as soon as you make your decision.
Benefits of Registering Your Service Dog
After you’ve found your service dog and new partner, there’s one more step you should take: registering your service dog with a reputable organization. Service dog registration, although not required by law, will make your life a lot easier.
Proper service dog registration allows you to have documentation that states that your dog is a legitimate service dog who helps you daily, and not just a pet. It serves as proof to the public that your dog has been trained as a service animal and is working.
If you’re thinking that it’s illegal for anyone to demand “proof” that your dog is a service dog – you’re absolutely right. But that doesn’t change the fact that unfortunately, a lot of people do so anyway.
A lot of people are unfamiliar with or unaware of the American with Disabilities Act, and may try to keep you from bringing your dog inside to public spaces. Registering your service dog with a national service dog registry can help by providing you with an ID card, certificate, and service dog vest that clearly indicate your dog’s special status.
Why You Should Always Carry Your Service Dog Registration
Per the ADA, you can take your service dog to any public space, including airplanes. A business owner or employee can only legally ask you two questions:
- Is your dog a service dog?
- What service does it perform?
Yet, it is often the case that restaurants, hotels, and airports try to prevent service dogs from entering, or for example, demand that you separate from your service dog while going through airport security. If this ever happens to you, providing documentation to whoever is barring you access can help you avoid further hassle. Getting your service dog a vest and tags can help prevent these uncomfortable and unjust interactions from happening in the first place.
Registering your service dog also helps when dealing with landlords. By law, service dogs are exempt from “No Pet Policies.” Being able to send documented registration of your service dog’s status along with your application helps get you into the property you’d like sooner. You can learn more about registering your service dog here.
Starting Your Search For a Service Dog?
The process of finding and training a service dog can be a long one, but it doesn’t have to be daunting. There’s a large community of service dog handlers and trainers out there. Most importantly, it’ll be incredibly rewarding to have a companion that not only makes your life easier, but richer. And don’t forget to register your service dog so you can maximize your rights and avoid unnecessary hassle!