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Winter 99 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Man's Best Friend on the Job

By Kate Moss, Family Support Specialist, Texas Deafblind Outreach

A major focus in my life is a beagle, specifically my beagle, Byrd. She consumes a great deal of my time, energy, and cash, but in exchange provides me with a great deal of service. For example, she is a first rate burglar alarm, floor cleaner, alarm clock, and foot warmer. She is a personal trainer insisting that I walk everyday no matter the weather conditions. Everyone in the neighborhood speaks to me because I am connected by a leash to her and ignoring me would seem rude. She is often my comforter, and frequently my entertainment. As you can tell, I love her. In fact, I like dogs in general. That's why I was eager to learn more about Assistance Dogs and to share that information with you.

I started out on my quest thinking about dog guides and hearing dogs because I have had some experiences with both through the years. After looking on the Internet just briefly, I was reminded that the scope of support provided by dogs is much bigger than just these two jobs. If you want to do your own search, I have listed some of the websites and organizations you may want to check out at the end of this article. There are too many to adequately profile in this newsletter.

Types of Assistance Dogs

Dogs have been trained to provide many different types of support. Though they may be referred to by different titles, they seem to fall into roughly five general categories. These include:

Tasks Performed

Some of the services these dogs provide include assisting with safe travel, responding to fire alarms, telephones, and alarm clocks, picking up dropped objects, pulling wheelchairs, predicting seizures, helping with stability for walking, and relieving anxiety and depression. The range of things dogs have been trained to do is truly amazing.

Breeds and Types of Dogs Used

Most of these dogs come from pedigree stock and are bred for these jobs by the programs that offer them. However, some of the dogs, a small percent, come from animal shelters or other sources. Most begin their training while still puppies, although a few grown animals are picked up for these programs. A variety of breeds are used, including such breeds as Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Shelties and Pembroke Welsh Corgis.

Who provides these dogs?

Many nonprofit and for-profit organizations that provide these dogs are located throughout the United States and in other parts of the world. Organizations like: Assistance Dogs International, International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, and Delta Society National Service Dog Center are only a few of the groups that provide information on the many different organizations that are training and providing these dogs. The entire list is much too long for me to share with you in this article. But most of these organizations have their own rigorous training program for the dog before it is deemed ready for service, and also for the individual receiving the dog before it is actually placed.

Training

These dogs are so amazing, you may wonder how they are trained. Early training typically takes place for most dogs from the time they are puppies. They are placed with a "foster" family (raisers) until they are grown. One example of how that is done comes from Canine Companions for Independence. They place carefully selected pedigree pups with volunteers until they are 13 to 18 months old. (< www.caninecompanions.org >, 1998) Both puppies and raisers participate in training classes where they learn basic canine skills. Raisers must spend time playing with the puppy, exercising it, and, in general, teaching it to be social. Living in the home of the raisers, the puppies learn how to be quiet and still. Some puppies also travel to work with their human so they will learn how to ride in vehicles or to wait patiently and quietly under a desk.

After this training period is complete, the raiser turns the puppy over to Canine Companions where the dog goes through six months of advanced training before being matched with a prospective recipient for Team Training. The team (dog and human) participate in another two-to-three weeks of training before they actually "graduate" and the dog is placed permanently.

Cost of dog

As you might guess, all of this training can be expensive. So how much does it cost to get one of these dogs? Most of the training expenses for these programs come from charitable donations, grants, and corporate support. There may be some cost to the individual receiving the dog, but that cost is nominal. For example, Canine Companions charge a $25 application fee and $100 for supplies. Other organizations such as Guiding Eyes for the Blind do not charge the blind recipient for his or her dog. "Anyone age and over who is legally blind is eligible to apply for a guide dog. Donations cover the $25,000 it costs to graduate a guide dog team." (< www.guiding-eyes.org >, 1998) It's probably a good idea to check on the costs with the agency providing the dog to learn about their particular requirements.

Who is Eligible to Receive a Dog?

Each program has its own eligibility requirements based on the type of assistance dog you want. It is important to find out what each organization requires. For example, organizations providing dog guides typically require you to be at least 16 and to have good orientation and mobility skills. Other types of dogs and other programs have different requirements. Canine Companions' eligibility requirements vary according to the type of dog you are requesting. Their eligibility requirements are listed below:

Where to go to find out more

Assistance Dogs International (ADI)

Nonprofit programs in the assistance dog field which train guide, hearing and/or service dogs have come together in the last decade to develop Standards & Ethics designed to safeguard the welfare of assistance dogs, disabled students and graduates, as well as the community.

c/o Canine Partners For Life
230 Whitehorse Rd.
Cochranville, PA 19330
(610) 869-4902, (610) 869-9785
< http://www.assistance-dogs-intl.org/ >

Canine Companions for Independence

A nonprofit organization that provides highly trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities and to professional caregivers providing pet assisted therapy.

National Headquarters
P.O. Box 446
Santa Rosa, CA 95402-0446
(800) 572-2275 V/TDD
< http://www.caninecompanions.org/index.htm >

Delta Society

An organization which promotes animals helping people improve their health, independence and quality of life.

289 Perimeter Rd. East
Renton, WA 98055-1329
Phone: (800) 869-6898
Fax: (206) 808-7601
deltasociety@cis.compuserve.com
< http://www.deltasociety.org/ >

Guiding Eyes for the Blind

A provider of dog guides for individuals with blindness.

611 Granite Springs Rd.
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598
Phone: (800) 942-0149 or (914) 245-4024
Fax: (914) 245-1609
< http://www.guidingeyes.org/index.html

International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP)

A nonprofit, cross-disability organization representing people partnered with guide, hearing and service dogs.

P. O. Box 1326
Sterling Heights, MI 48311
(810) 826-3938
< http://www.ismi.net/iaadp/ >

US Council of Dog Guide Schools

Ten dog guide schools in the USA formed this organization to work on projects of mutual interest and concern, such as safety and access issues.

c/o Leader Dogs for the Blind
1036 S. Rochester Rd.
Rochester, MI 48307
(248) 651- 9011

WOLF PACKS, LLC

A dog-gear company with a great website providing information and a directory on service dog schools.

755 Tyler Creek Rd., # I
Ashland, OR 97520-9408
< http://www.wolfpacks.com/index.html >


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