There are many who balk at the amount of money it takes to breed/acquire, raise, train and back up a service dog through their working life. It makes sense, given that we do not generally see dogs as expensive to obtain and that their training is not a tangible object like a car or a computer.
It took us six months of fundraising to meet the $13,000 we’d committed to fundraise in J’s name for 4 Paws for Ability. That’s a little under half the full cost of what it took for them to give Brooklyn all she needed and then for them to back her up during her service life. When I say “back her up”, I mean that anything that happens that we struggle with we can call the trainers and get assistance. If there is an emergency with her, they will assist us where they can. If she needs refresher training or something happens that means J needs a new skill from her, she can go back to their facility, learn the skill then rejoin our family. Brooklyn is expected to have a career that lasts around eight to ten years, ten being a longshot. Realizing that what we fundraises goes into 4 Paws for Ability being by our side in her working life for that long suddenly puts the amount raised into sharp perspective.
There are organizations that can, and will, prey upon the desperation of parents. The moment you hear your child is disabled, you become painfully familiar with the word “no” or worse, being told “yes” but price, distance or other factors making the resource you’d been approved for next to impossible to obtain. When you are willing to do anything for your child and are acting out of haste rather than carefully planning your next step and choice, you’re susceptible to snake oil salesmen. They prey on our community hard selling anything from supplements that range from useless to harmful to even offering “free” service dogs that turn out to be ill-matched, ill trained and potentially even a hazard for the household in which they are placed.
Please, if you feel the service dog road is one you’d like to explore for your child, I urge you to do your homework. Contact several organizations. Learn their credentials and see if you can talk to families who have worked with them. You can check out Canines for Disabled Kids (http://www.caninesforkids.org) for information as well. They work to support teams of service dogs with children, be they in a 3 party team like Brooklyn and J or be the child old enough to handle the dog on their own. They can offer some perspective on various agencies, though they may not know every agency as some of the more shifty ones pop up as fast as dandelions in summer. Check out the organizations non-profit status and explore their ratings online. There’s information out there that will help you make the best choice for your child.
It’s tempted to go the easiest road, but that road in this case might be the worst thing for your child in family. I know it’s hard to face the idea of fundraising so much money, then to wait a year to a year and a half until the dog is actually in your home. That process can be painful at times, yet the moment your child and dog meet there will be little sweeter in your life. The process also enables you to get a taste of what the work load will be like once you bring your child’s service dog home. It is not easy, or free, but it is worth every single moment put into it.