Finding the right treatment plan for a chronic illness or disability takes a lot of time, countless doctor’s visits, and endless rounds of trial and error. Medications, mobility aids, diets, therapists, hospital stays—the plethora of options is overwhelming. So how is one to know whether or not a service dog is the right choice for them?
Working a service dog is not a walk in the park (pun intended). Unlike any other treatment option, having a service dog also means being responsible for a living, breathing creature that needs the same love and care as any other dog. Having a service dog also means dealing with people staring at, grabbing, and petting your medical equipment on a daily basis. So, when pondering whether or not to get a service dog, ask yourself…
Are you prepared to be a dog owner?
The general concept of dog ownership isn’t one that raises flags in most people, but being a good dog owner isn’t as uncomplicated as it may seem. A service dog needs to be kept in the best possible condition, and that’s no easy feat.
Most—but not all—service dogs are breeds with high work drives and high energy, which means plenty of exercise. A Golden Retriever needs upwards of an hour of exercise a day; a Standard Poodle may need more than an hour and a half; a German Shepherd, more than two hours; and a Border Collie could keep you busy for hours upon end.
There’s grooming, which can range from a once-a-month bath for a Great Dane to daily brushing and detangling for “Doodle” breeds. For dogs going into mobility work owners will need to schedule OFA radiographs for hips, knees, and elbows to be sure the dog is fit for work.
Training classes, toys, treats, food, regular vet visits, gear—such as leashes, collars, harnesses, mobility equipment, treat pouches, clickers, and so on—and all other supplies all cost a pretty penny, too. Being a stellar dog owner is a commitment of time, money, and unconditional love.
Are you prepared to be the center of attention everywhere you go?
Dogs are already attention-grabbers even in spaces they normally frequent. A dog in a space that isn’t dog-friendly is an absolute spectacle to most able-bodied people. The rare few who understand the rules and know not to make a big deal out of a service dog are a saving grace, but most people are not as low-key.
People will stare, point, and tell their children and friends to look. People will wave to the dog, greet it, and make kissing noises at it. People will ask to pet, pet without asking, and give a great effort to interact with your dog even after being told to stop. A few will bark, whine, or whistle at the dog. Some will offer or throw food at the dog.
Some will not want the dog to occupy the same space as them—not everyone is dog-friendly. Some will gasp, shriek, or squeal. Some will run, make a scene, or demand that the dog be removed. Some will complain of allergies, fears, or a past experience of being attacked by a dog.
Yes, every scenario described above is ludicrous and shouldn’t happen. But every single one has, and will again.
Are you prepared to be frustrated 99 percent of the time?
Having a service dog attached to you 24/7 has its benefits and its downfalls. Benefits include: having minimal medical emergencies in public spaces, and being taken care of when you do have one of those medical emergencies.
Downfalls include: people ignoring you in favor of your dog, complete strangers telling you stories about their dead dogs apropos of nothing, business owners trying to stop you from going where you’re legally allowed to go, having to enter a public bathroom stall with your dog, having strangers take pictures of you without your permission, having strangers verbally abuse you after you tell them not to touch your service dog, dealing with your dog inevitably doing something incredibly embarrassing in front of a group of strangers, having unattended dogs run up to or attack your service dog, having to deal with people and their untrained emotional support animals in public spaces, and a myriad of other problems.
However, the most important question to ask before delving into the process of getting a service dog is this: can a dog perform tasks to help you handle your disability?
If, after learning of all this, your answer is a resounding “yes,” then you might be ready. A service dog could be right for you.