One of the most identifiable but ironically less understood mental health issues plaguing the United States is called ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ (PTSD). Contrary to popular misconception, PTSD is a condition not exclusively experienced by military personnel or civilians surviving the physical and psychological horrors of armed conflict.
In fact, experts discovered that up to 7 or 8 percent of all people living in America are likely to experience PTSD in their lifetime – comprising a fraction of approximately 70 percent of the population going through any very traumatic event (e.g. violent crime, prolonged bullying or natural disaster).
Among the basic known symptoms of PTSD includes the following:
- Re-experiencing traumatic events uncontrollably
- Avoidance of anything/anyone associated with traumatic events
- Hyper-arousal (e.g. radical mood swings, insomnia, and/or paranoia)
- Persistent negative thoughts, beliefs, and habits
All of these clinical signs cause a general dysfunction in an individual’s everyday life. People with PTSD require help. Curiously, they can receive that invaluable assistance from a creature that earned the famous moniker ‘man’s best friend’.
Average Cost of a PTSD Service Dog
Acquiring a PTSD service dog is not only very expensive. The process itself entails a number of steps to complete.
For instance, a North Dakota-based organization called Service Dogs for America (SDA) implements a multi-level series of initial applications prior to undergoing the entire process of having a PTSD service dog.
The preliminary application is free while the full application costs $50. If the candidate qualifies and has committed himself/herself in the full application, the SDA charges a $20,000 fee for all necessities included in the acquisition.
So what does this kind of service dog cost entail? Here are some of the itemized aspects you are paying for:
- At least 3 weeks of team training at SDA campus
- Accommodations during training days
- Training kit (e.g. vest and ID card)
- Home visits
- Follow up consultations
- Annual and two-year updates (e.g. re-certification)
- Annual life assessments for the dog
As mentioned earlier, there are specific guidelines you must comply before successfully going through the training process. Training organizations are keen on verifying both your identity and your capability to work with the service dog for long-term or permanent duration.
In most cases, organizations would only qualify applicants who are at least 21 years old. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) has defined six major criteria for accepting a suitable partner to highly-trained PTSD service dog.
Eligible individuals must be able to…
- Confirm an official PTSD diagnosis.
- Establish a history of dealing with PTSD (e.g. 1-year therapy).
- Secure witness testimony of PTSD-related incidents.
- Participate in the service dog’s training.
- Financially support the basic needs of the service dog.
- Independently issue commands to the service dog.
To expound on financial support, it goes without saying that there is basically very little difference between owning a regular (untrained) pet dog and living with a service dog. Their basic needs have not changed and service dogs are still dependent on you as a benefactor.
Certain organizations have full control over the specific canine assistant assigned to you. This means you will be partnered with an adult dog that has completely acquired basic health requirements as a puppy (e.g. vaccination, neutering/spaying, and microchip).
With the exception of initial fees spent on young canines, you are expected to cover the following expenses hereafter:
- Food and treats
- Equipment (e.g toys)
- Hygiene supplies (e.g. shampoo)
- Annual checkup
- Preventions (e.g. flea or heartworm)
- Emergency vet bills
All About the Team
Based on the previously mentioned ADA guidelines, prospective service dog benefactors must participate in the training. The end goal is for PTSD-afflicted individuals to be able to issue commands to their partner and benefit from the extra hand (or paw) in times of anxiety.
The duration entailed to complete this team training is roughly around three weeks to a full month.
Every decent organization emphasizes the importance of building a strong bond between the client and the service dog. This is why they usually have a competent staff of volunteer trainers who will help bridge that communication gap.
But why does the training only take a relatively short time?
It is important to understand that most organizations that exclusively commission their own kennel of service dogs have already guaranteed a year of training since they were brought as a puppy. This means the fully grown service dogs have completely learned a number of commands relevant to their special function (e.g. PTSD assistance).
In some organizations, teams may also have a ‘sponsor.’ Not to be mistaken as a financial benefactor of sorts, a team sponsor will inequitably represent and carry out functions serving the interest of the service dog.
The sponsor plays a crucial role in determining the eligibility of the client as they will assess how the service dog will fare in its prospective new residence during home visits.
Scope of PTSD Assistance
When you’re looking for a PTSD service dog, you need to keep in mind that these canine companions are only able to assist you in areas where life struggles are caused almost exclusively by extreme anxiety. Some service dogs have trained for other specific limitations such as mobility problems, diabetes, autism, and hearing loss – to mention a few.
It is important to understand that their training is not normally designed to be versatile. A PTSD service dog may not be able to respond effectively to the needs of a person who requires assistance from severe allergy.
The former is trained to deal with symptoms like hyper-arousal and persistent gloom and may not fully comprehend the urgency of allergy attacks (e.g. asphyxiation). Furthermore, how these dogs perform these duties may completely vary as well.
PTSD service dogs are conditioned to act and react calmly to situations. They are not suitable for urgent tasks that demand physical confrontations such as those performed by military and guard dogs.
So, what are these service dogs trained to do? Here are some of the feats they are capable of carrying out when PTSD-related anxieties are triggered:
- Interrupt distress via physical contact (e.g. nudging or leaning).
- Distract a person from a triggering event or stimuli (e.g. behavior).
- Bring medication to a person when commanded (by voice or timer alert).
- Clear people away from the person to create personal space.
- Lead the person away from areas/situations that cause panic attacks.
- Get help from another individual (e.g. a relative) in case of emergency.
The Ideal Service Dog Breeds
As mentioned earlier, there are various types of service dogs. Each specialty qualifies specific traits that are either acquired through training or naturally inherent – with the latter gaining a relative advantage in terms of faster learning curve.
For PTSD service dogs, the ideal candidate must acquire a modicum of psychiatric stability. Apart from being sizable enough to herd its subject person and being alert enough to detect tell-tale signs of anxiety, a PTSD service dog must also exude serenity. This means it should not be quick to react in aggression.
The canine breed that will fit the ideal PTSD service dog has to be big, intelligent, disciplined, and calm. Here are the top three dog breeds that will fit those qualities:
- Labrador Retriever
- Golden Retriever
- Great Dane
Other Funding Alternatives
Several thousand dollars in cash for the acquisition of a service dog hardly defines itself as a cheap or affordable investment, particularly among the working class individuals. It is important to emphasize the fact that this estimated figure only covers the process of acquisition.
Inevitably, pet owners would look for other ways to make ends meet apart from paying in cash straight up.
One of the most straightforward ways of acquiring sizeable funds is to apply for a personal loan. Most lenders would allow clients to borrow as much as $50,000 for whatever legal purpose.
However, there are standards you need to comply before the lender grants you that confidence. These standards include the following:
- Good credit score
- Strong credit history
- Low debt-to-income ratio
- High annual income
Another way to acquire a service dog despite the financial pressure is to approach charitable organizations that help provide assistance. With the same set of principles that drive animal welfare groups to answer their calling, organizations like Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society) managed to build up to 13,000 registered teams that offer training services to small organizations and the clients they represent nationwide.
Other important organizations worth mentioning include the Assistance Dog United Campaign and Planet Dog Foundation. The latter, in particular, offers up to $7,500 worth of grant to qualified petitioners.
Unlike the previous alternative, the conditions of approval are determined by how well the letter conveys the intent. Concerned parties (e.g. sponsor) would also need to vouch for the request sender.
“If you want to get something done, do it yourself”. This quote from the famous 19th Century French generalissimo Napoleon Bonaparte conveys the advantage of making things happen through your own initiative and effort.
In line with this wisdom, people with a strong sense of independence are likely to raise their own funds than rely on loans and third-party charity.
Fortunately, in our inter-connected world, online platforms like GoFundMe and Kickstarter enable individuals to raise money for the purpose of acquiring a service dog. In a sense, this path can be considered as the purest and most direct form of charity campaign – not tainted by bureaucratic complexities.
With full control over the fund-raising effort, the success in terms of advertising your cause rests solely in your ability to attract online supporters (donors).