Am I Ready for a Service Dog?

Krystal Greco, 22, was only 14 years old when a ruptured disc left her paralyzed from the waist down. She had just started high school and had to face this life-changing injury on top of all the typical challenges and drama that come with being a teenager in a new town. Over time she began to withdraw from activities. She avoided going out in public. Always requiring help from other people magnified her lack of independence, so Krystal would ask people to go do errands for her rather than venture out herself. She remembers "pitiful stares and questions about my wheelchair that were hard to answer."

However, everything changed in the summer of 2013 when Krystal received her service dog, a yellow Labrador Retriever named Teddie. "I began going out in public more because I felt more confidence in my independence and I started attending more social events. Teddie has not only given me my sense of independence but she has altered the way the public views me. Instead of being pitied for being in a wheelchair, they are excited and curious to see Teddie out and about." Like Krystal, many people dealing with mobility impairment have enjoyed greater independence by forging a relationship with a professionally trained service dog. Because a person partnered with a service dog has full public access rights as granted by federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act, these amazing dogs can dramatically increase quality of life and open up many opportunities!

Krystal was paired with Teddie through Canine Partners for Life (CPL), an organization that trains service dogs and places them with people who have a variety of physical, developmental, and cognitive disabilities. The training process is comprehensive. Suitable puppies spend their first year learning basic obedience, manners, and socialization in the homes of volunteers. In the second year, the dogs are trained in advanced obedience and service skills. They are then taught the specific skills necessary to serve their specific human partner. Teddie assists Krystal with many things including calming muscle spasms and alerting her to blood pressure drops or oncoming migraines.

Service dog

Is a Service Dog Right for Me?

You may be wondering if one of these remarkable animals is right for your life. Tonya Guy, Associate Director of Marketing for CPL, advises asking yourself two important questions when considering this decision. The first is "What does independence mean to me; what am I hoping a service dog can help me with?" While the goal of completely replacing a respite caregiver may not be realistic, the tasks a service dog can perform for its owner are impressive. According to Guy, all of their dogs are trained to retrieve wallets, keys, items of clothing, and even something as small as a coin from the floor. The dogs can open doors, drawers and refrigerators, carry items like a lunchbox or a grocery bag, flip light switches, and press handicap accessible door buttons and elevator buttons. They can pay cashiers by taking a wallet in their mouth, putting their two front paws on the counter to give the wallet to the cashier, and returning the wallet to the owner's bag or lap. The dogs can even assist with transfers from a wheelchair to a bed using a mobility harness. Imagine what a companion like this could mean to your daily life!

The second major question to ask yourself is "Am I, and others in my household, willing to make the necessary commitment to a service dog?" Guy likens the commitment to that of getting married or having a child. You are committing to take care of the animal's needs for the duration of its life. While a service dog can give an abundant amount to their human partner, they require a great deal of care: food, veterinary services, medication, exercise, grooming, etc. Krystal Greco explains the responsibility this way: "Service dogs are with their partners all day, every day, 365 days a year, no matter what. They become a part of your daily lifestyle, whether you are going to work, school. shopping, etc., they are with you through all of it, and they do not stay behind. If your dog is sick or injured one day, then you are staying home with it." Patience is necessary as well. While most service dogs are Golden and Labrador Retrievers, selected for their good-natured temperament, they are living beings and will occasionally become ill or have bad days...just like us!

How Can I Get a Service Dog?

If you've answered these questions for yourself and decided it's the right time to move forward, make sure to research a program through Assistance Dogs International, a coalition of accredited service and guide dog organizations from all across the country. Each organization is unique with different types of dogs, application requirements, associated costs, and locations. Investigate to find the best fit, and then submit an application.

Tonya Guy explains when CPL first receives an application, it is circulated among their training staff. As long as the applicant meets their requirements, they will be contacted for an in-person interview which informs the trainers about their lifestyle and specific needs. If trainers feel they can meet these needs, the applicant is placed on the waiting list. The wait for a dog can be from one to three years and is not necessarily on a first-come-first-served basis. Guy says, "When we have dogs ready to be matched we look at all applicants on file to make the best matches possible based on needs, personality, etc."

While it costs about $30,000 to train a service dog, including the lifetime of follow-up support, CPL does not charge the recipient. Rather, they request a $1,000 to $3,000 donation. No one is denied a dog, however, because of their inability to make a donation, as long as their are able to financially provide for the dog throughout its life.

Once a person is paired with their dog, they are trained to work as a team to get the most out of the partnership. This process varies with the organization, but generally includes education on dog care and legal issues, obedience training, and field trips to public places. Krystal Greco recalls that her team training with Teddie was "a highly emotional process and can be very draining. Throughout the process, Teddie and I were challenged by a variety of obstacles and challenges. However, we were able to come out on top and are very solid in our partnership now."

Service dogs are so much more than "man's best friend." If you're ready to commit it may be time to explore how a dog can support you in living without limits!

Most of the stories here on Live Quickie were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.

Date: 10/3/2017 12:00:00 AM

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