First of all, what are service animals? Service animals are trained animals that aim to perform tasks for persons with disabilities. Some common examples are animals who guide blind people, pull wheelchairs, protect people having seizures, and assist in other everyday tasks around the home, such as turning light switches on and off. These animals are not pets but are working animals.
How does one get a service animal?
Carry out a research. Research what type of animal you would like to have based on your needs and your personal preference, and the animals’ availability at your local area. For example, dogs are commonly used as walking/guide dogs for the blind, but realize that you have the option of using other animals for this purpose, such as a miniature horse. Small guide horses may be better as they can live and work for more than 30 years, much more than the average guide dog can. It’s best to get to know your options and the possible advantages and disadvantages so that you can make the best decision possible.
Make sure that you consult your medical specialist on what to look for in choosing a service animal. He may even give you a prescription to guide you with your choice.
Contact an organization that trains service animals. Acquire a list of government-recognized organizations that specialize in training service animals. Some of these organizations include (for service dogs) International Federation of Guide Dog Schools, Assistance Dogs International, and the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. Shop around and look for the best deals that these organizations can offer. Also, make sure that the service animal you choose is one with which you easily establish rapport; remember, you and your service animal will have a long-time relationship and it’s best to start it off on a good note. Typically, it’s best to look for an animal that has a good temperament, responds speedily to commands and is not overly protective or aggressive.
By the way, in countries such as the United States, it is imperative that you establish yourself to be a disabled person before you are able to acquire a service animal. These disabilities may include physical and sensory conditions such as blindness, deafness, paralysis, or mental or neurological conditions such as epilepsy or psychosis.
Know your rights. Service animals and their owners have some special rights. In the United States for example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that all businesses, including those that sell and prepare food, that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to enter their establishment with their service animal. Also, people with disabilities may not be charged extra fees or be treated less favorably just by having service animals. Businesses should not ask for an ID or inquire about your particular disability. Those who violate the ADA may be required to pay for damages and penalties. You could opt to suit up your service animal with a vest to let businesses know that it is a service animal.
Know how to take care of service animals. Service animals, as they work hard and perform responsibilities everyday, also require special care and attention. Inquire from the organization where you acquire the service animal how to properly feed, bathe, and look after it.
Remember, choosing a service animal could entail a long-term partnership and commitment, so be careful and choose wisely.