It’s difficult to know where to begin when making the decision about getting a service dog or not. As a handler myself, I was overwhelmed by the decisions I had to make before even meeting Caroline. This was the round-about process that I went through to determine if a service dog was right for me. While I’m writing it out in a way that makes it sound fairly simple and streamlined, I can guarantee it wasn’t so simple at the time. I hope that this simplifies the journey a bit for you.
I do recommend visiting the website for your province in order to find out what laws and regulations involve service dogs in order to help the decision making process. You will find Alberta’s service dog guidelines on the Government of Alberta website.
Step One: Do I need a service dog?
My health crashed. There had been subtle hints that there was something going on for years, but people adjust and adapt to their situations, and I did just that. Things hurt, so I avoided doing the things that hurt. Foods caused issues, so I avoided those, too. And then all hell broke loose and I just couldn’t anymore. Couldn’t anything – couldn’t think, couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t EAT – I won’t go into my medical details, but it was a full body meltdown. After fighting with my issues for a couple of years and trying different tools and such, I started to wonder if there was a better way to deal with what I was finally accepting was a long term disability. I read articles, I spoke with service dog handlers and I asked questions. One suggestion was to make a list of my struggles, and how a service dog could help with that struggle.
In speaking with people and looking at other journals from service dog handlers, I was able to create a list of things that a dog might do to help. This list changed, which is ok – this was just my starting point. I made changes as needed.
It was a pretty easy answer: a service dog could be helpful in my day-to day. This list was only part of the decision making process, though. I am and always have been a huge animal lover, and having the companionship has always been important to me. I would likely have a dog in my life regardless of illness, as long as I had the ability to care for it.
That brought me to another question that needed to be asked.
Step Two: Can I care for a service dog?
Dealing with a new chronic illness or other disability is hard. There’s so much to process, and I was relearning how to function. Everything was different and I was still undiagnosed at this point. My doctors admitted at the time that they didn’t know what was wrong. They thought there was a chance it could go into remission, but also a chance for it to progress. It was a lot to chew on.
A service dog needs to be well groomed and maintained in order to have the right for public access. They also need regular vet visits for various reasons, which can get costly. Could I keep up with it all?
Needs vary with different dogs. While some dogs are happy snoozing for the majority of the day, other dogs need more interaction. Grooming needs also vary between breeds. This question goes hand in hand with breed selection.
What care needs does a service dog have?
We already had a senior dog at home, and I was always the primary carer for the pets we had. Since Desi was elderly, her needs were pretty minimal. She slept most of the day and her playtime and exercise was short before she’d get tired again. Dealing with animals was already part of my day, so I wasn’t concerned about the care. Between my husband and I, the dog would be well taken care of. On days I couldn’t provide exercise, my husband agreed to step up.
Step Three: Can I afford a service dog?
Pets can be expensive, which is already well known. Service dogs have extra needs that can increase those costs, which can very well make the entire endeavor prohibitive for some people.
As with everything else, costs can range. Small dogs will obviously be cheaper to feed, and the types of food will also very in price. The following is a list of very basic costs, using Tzila’s food as a starting point.
Basic needs are going to look different to each person. Some dogs may have sensitivities, some people prefer raw diet over kibble, so on. The decisions to make are unending!
I personally switch her food regularly, avoiding only salmon due to a known sensitivity to it. Everything else, however, is changed frequently in order to provide her with a varied diet and to keep her meals interesting. For dinner, I make her a mini, healthier version of our own meals, without sauces and spices. If we have stir fry, she gets a plate of raw beef or chicken and vegetables. These costs are lumped into our regular household costs and not part of her specific costs.
Keep in mind that this is based on my journey, and someone else’s is going to look much different. It always done. Every service dog team has different needs and preferences, and that’s ok! The journey is change as you go through the process until you find that sweet spot when things fall into place. It was worth it for me, and many others I know.
I hope it is for you, too.
Part two is coming soon!
Fun fact: Krystal is made out of more coffee than blood and is better at remembering everyone else’s reminders than her own. She’s got a near unmatched addiction to plants and her indoor jungle has become her pride and joy. She claims it’s to recreate the natural habitat for the Sasquatch she lives with, but that’s just a cover for growing a jungle in the house. (Said sasquatch allows it.)