Sunday, July 1, 2012

Exploring the options

With the whole CA situation up in the air, I'm staring to look at several different options regarding a service dog for Mika. I have only recently started exploring options, so my list is very incomplete, but here's what I have so far:

1. Try a different agency.  I am starting to look all over again. There are several pros and cons for getting a dog from a group. Some charge a huge amount of money, like $20,000+, which is way beyond what I can afford. There are some non-profits that will place a dog for free, but then we have to go back through the whole application process and the 3-4 year wait. The big plus about an agency is that you will get a dog that is trained (for the most part) so you will hopefully just need to keep up the training, not start from scratch.
Pros: an already trained dog                        Cons: lots of money or a long, long wait

2. Train our own. This is something I never would have considered a year ago. At this point, it's something I am very seriously considering. We would literally get a dog and train it ourselves to be a service dog. My first instinct is to get an adult dog from the pound and work with it, but all the service dog trainers and books I've read say it's actually very hard to make that work. The ideal time to start working with a dog is as a young puppy, and a lot of the dogs in the shelters come with issues of their own that they need to work through.

While I don't like the puppy stage as a general rule, there are big benefits from getting a puppy from a breeder and working upwards. When you get it from a breeder, you know the health history of both parents. It's very important to know if there is a family history of common diseases like hip dysplasia or cataracts, etc. And you can get a very general idea of the potential size of the dog and temperament. If both of the parents are large 70+ lb dogs, the odds of you getting a 30 lb dog aren't good. And it would allow for a strong bond to form between M and the dog, because they would be together as soon as the puppy is 8 weeks old.

There are significant downsides to this, of course. Number 1 is the cost. A purebred puppy may cost $1000, not including all the costs of shots, spay/neutering, and meds. And it's really expensive if the puppy gets sick or hurt and requires more vet care. Hey, it cost $130 to get Fern's two x-rays and emergency vet visit and that's WITH a 25% discount! There are classes and training we can take with certified service dog trainers, but those cost around  $1000/each level. I know there are people who can pay that without batting an eye, but that's a huge amount of money for me.

A service dog in training doesn't have the same access rights as a full fledged service dog. I would have to pay a pet deposit and pet rent per month while the dog was training because it wouldn't qualify as a service dog yet. And I still can't figure out the rules for access to public buildings with a dog in training.
Pros: early bonding and training opportunities        Cons: cost, lack of legal protection, the puppy stage

I don't know what to do. I guess I have more research to do while I wait to hear from CA.

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