Being paired with a service dog is a life-changing experience and can be freeing and empowering. But it comes with myriad responsibilities and challenges. It involves ongoing hard work and commitment and can involve considerable frustration. Before you apply for a Dog Tags® service dog, we ask you to reflect carefully on the ways a dog will impact your life as you read through the following considerations.
How public are you about your disability? While some disabilities are apparent, others are not visible to the general public. The presence of a service dog will signal immediately that you have a disability. Some strangers will ask you about it, and others will look or stare. How will you react?
Americans, by and large, love dogs. This is a great thing and will mean that you and your service dog will be welcomed by many—even treated as a celebrity by some. But on the downside, you can count on being stopped in the street, in the office, in the lobby of apartment buildings—everywhere—with comments and questions about your dog. If you are comfortable with a lot of social interaction, this may be a plus. But if not, you should consider seriously how you would respond to this level of attention.
What, specifically, do you imagine a service dog doing for you? How can the dog really help in terms of the way your disability affects your life? Think carefully about how realistic these goals are.
Exercising Your Dog Every Day
PBB requires that you provide at least one hour of off-leash outdoor exercise for your dog each day, regardless of inclement weather. How physically active are you? Do you have access to a dog park or another area where you can allow the dog to play? What are your thoughts about having to go outside on days you feel tired or depressed? PBB will take back a dog that is not well-exercised. We feel very strongly that our dogs must have time to run and play off-leash and that you must provide it. We are very serious about the emotional and physical health of our dogs. How do you feel that PBB will take back a dog that is not getting enough exercise?
Responsibilities to PBB
PBB staff will come to your home four months after you graduate with your dog, or sooner if we feel there is a need. How do you feel about having someone come to your home and watch you interact with your dog? For several years thereafter, you will be expected to meet with an instructor in order to re-certify you and your dog. This may mean you have to drive to the nearest big-city airport to meet an instructor so the instructor, after the first follow-up visit, does not have to rent a car and stay overnight in a hotel. How will you be able to accommodate this? Can you drive, or be driven, to your nearest big-city airport once a year to meet us?
We also require that you maintain routine contact with PBB. We will call you twice a year for routine check-ins. We may email you periodically. If we do not hear from you, we will call and call you until we do. PBB retains ownership of our service dogs for the life of the dog. How do you feel about the fact that PBB is going to be watching how you and the dog live and work together for the life of the dog?
First of all, you'll start with an intensive fourteen-day training period as you learn to work effectively with the dog. This period can be nerve-racking and certainly fatiguing. You'll attend lectures, work one-on-one with prison inmates, take written exams, and you'll need to practice every day as you learn. In addition, every single day during "team training" we take all the dogs and clients to the woods and to a lake so, after hours of working and training each day, our dogs can be dogs. We figure that after working for you all day, it is their time to have you provide them with fun and play. But, we do this regardless of weather—snow, rain, disgustingly hot and humid—we're out there! How do you feel about this mandatory outdoors time?
Working Dog/Working Human
Our service dogs have received thousands of hours of training from dedicated professionals and puppy raisers. The dogs are very capable and have a wide range of skills—but these skills must be maintained with diligent practice. Are you willing to work every day with your dog during “team training”?
Once you and your dog are home, you must continue to work—every day for the rest of the dog's life. You'll spend 24 hours a day with the dog and devote much of that time to fine-tuning and building the working relationship. Do you have the time? Do you have the patience? You may want to consider putting off the decision to pursue a service dog if you plan to start a new job, get married, start college soon, or if you've recently taken on any overriding commitments.
Home Environment/ Community
A service dog will not only enter your life, but also the lives of your family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. Think about those you live with or come in contact with on a daily basis. Are they “dog people?” Will they welcome your greater independence or be threatened by it? Will it affect your relationship with them? Will they help the process of adapting to, and living with a service dog, or will they be a hindrance? After you've thought about this, talk to those in your home, family, and workplace to get their feedback. Then talk with them some more.
Now look at logistics. What kind of space do you live in? How and where will you provide exercise for a dog that will likely weigh between 60 and 75 pounds? What public places do you visit frequently? Do you ride public transportation? A service dog can help you in these environments, and you have a legal right to have a service animal with you at all times, but you can expect to be challenged about that right from time to time. How will you react? Are you willing to defend and demand that right?
Shedding, Drooling, Licking, Chewing
While dogs are not a significant disease vector to humans, they are indeed prone to drool, shed copiously, and to occasionally vomit or “have an accident” in the house. With proper grooming, diet, and exercise these problems can be kept to a minimum. But these are basic facts of dog companionship. The best-groomed dog will still leave traces of their hair on a favorite dress or suit. A valuable shoe or household object could be torn up or eaten. Use of “poop-bags” on city streets will need to become second nature. If you are particularly fastidious and uncomfortable with mess, a dog may not be the best partner for you.
Weigh carefully the advantages provided by a service dog against the challenges, time commitment and potential problems a dog might bring into your life. Keep in mind that there are financial responsibilities connected with the dog as well. You will be responsible for your dog's food and veterinary care. PBB demands that you use the high-quality dog food we use, which can cost approximately $100 for a 25-pound bag. Even the healthiest dog can become sick or injured and you will be responsible for paying for its care. We estimate that normal vet visits for inoculations, toys, and food will cost you around $2,000.00 per year. You'll want to think carefully about whether or not you are able to take on that level of financial responsibility. The benefits from a service dog partnership can be spectacular—but only if you're the right person to maximize them.