September 29, 2009

Diabetes Alert Dogs - Part 2

Getting Prepared

Think you want a diabetes alert dog?  Are you prepared and do you know where to find one?  Chances are you are pretty much in the dark.  You are looking for information - any scrap of information that may lead you to where you can obtain more.

The information is out there in the internet, the difficulty is finding reliable information and knowing what you need.  Learning is the most important part.  This is the step you do not want to rush.

There are two terms that you should know.  Service dogs is a common term and diabetes alert dogs is one of several types of medical service dogs.  Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the law that makes it possible to take the service dogs into places they would not otherwise be allowed.

The following is from "Clickin' Canines" website of Rita Martinez, used with her permission.


So you want a service dog!!!
Service dogs can be a wonderful asset for someone with a disability, but it is always good to go into anything with your eyes open from the beginning.  Many factors come into play with the use of a service dog.  These dogs can be a life saving partner, but they come with needs and can change every aspect of your life.  Below are some things to think about:

  1. Do you like dogs?  Enough to share your life with them 24/7?  These dogs are not simply a tool, they are individual intelligent creatures with their own set of needs.  They become a part of your everyday life.  Are you ready for this kind of sharing?
  2. Are there other animals in the home?  Do you have family support for a dog?  Keep in mind that bringing in a working partner while there are other animals in the house will change the dynamics.  Are the current animals likely to adapt easily?  Does the rest of the family want an addition to the household?
  3. Having a service dog is like growing an appendage.  You are no longer just you - you are a 'we'.  That means there are frequent times that it will be inconvenient.  You have to make sure the dog has a place to be comfortable with you yet safe from heat or cold or tight quarters etc.  Yes, that means even in public restrooms...
  4. Are you ready and able to care for your dog's physical requirements?  Dogs need proper exercise, grooming, bathing, feeding and off-duty outlets.  There also needs to be a provision for the financial responsibility of regular healthcare and preventative medicine.
  5. Are you ready and able to participate in continued training to keep the skills from degrading?  Training is never finished - Maintenance is forever.
  6. Are you aware that there are licenses, equipment, and miscellaneous costs associated with having a working dog?
  7. A service dog is on call 24/7 for you.  Are you ready to be equally dedicated to your dog?  They aren't machines with a off switch, they are living partners.
  8. Are you aware of the public issues you will come across?  You will forever be answering the same questions, educating the general public about service dogs, never be simply un-noticed, and will have to deal with the individual fears that people have of dogs!  You will have to consider where you can walk, sit or stand and be safely out of harms way.  You will have to seek appropriate places for your dog to relieve itself.  You will be responsible for all your dogs needs at all times.
  9. And lastly, are you comfortable with the liability of having your dog with you in all situations in the public?
These questions are not meant to discourage you from having a service dog.  But, it is wise to approach  something this important with real thought.  Having a dog as a working partner is a commitment that lasts many years.  It is a decision that needs to be well thought out.  End of quote.

I would like to expand on Rita's number 2 above.  If there is family support and there are other pets in the house, will the family members be willing to give up those animals for your service dog if it becomes necessary?  If there are cats in the household, how difficult will this be for the service dog?  While some pets do get along well together, is the family willing to part with those pets that do not get along with the service dog?

And I would include some specifics not mentioned -
  • Do you have the patience required to have a service dog?  They cannot be mistreated or neglected.
  • Under financial and miscellaneous fees, there will be vet bills and the need to have emergency vet care available.  Have you located or know where to locate this service?  To keep a service dog requires weekly expenses for dog food.
  • And, as the service dog ages, will you be ready to take on a replacement dog and retire the current service dog?  Most people writing about service dogs do not bring up this issue, but it needs to be thought about.  All dogs age and lose their usefulness in 10 to 14 years and need to be retired.
All are questions that need to be answered before the search begins.

If you have answered all of the above questions and are comfortable with the answers, what is next?  There are several ways to proceed.  You will have to decide what is best for you and your own circumstances.
  1. It is my belief that you need to locate a trainer before thinking about getting a dog.  Both the trainer and the dog will require much research, but having the trainer first gives you an advantage because the trainer will while assessing your needs, be able to make recommendations for a possible dog and have suggestions on finding a good fit for you.  You still will have to make the final decision.  The links provide a place to start in locating a trainer.  Rita Martinez lays out some excellent frequently asked questions (the first three are very important), how to choose a trainer, and choosing the trained dog.  Please read this carefully.
  2. For those persons who know they desire a certain breed of dog, check with the American Kennel Club for locations of breeders.  You will need to then follow the same steps under choosing a dog, but apply this to the breeder and you will need to check out their trainers as well.  Do not bypass any of the steps as this could cost you many dollars being misspent.  How do I get this point across - Do not make decisions based on emotions!!!  There are breeders out there that are counting on your emotions taking over once you see the dogs.  Never make a visit until you have completed your homework.  Yes, visiting the breeder's facilities is the next to last step, but be prepared to leave if you don't like your first impression.  Make them show you the entire facility before they show you the dogs.
  3. Then there are those of you who will want to go to the local SPCA or animal shelter.  Now I would strongly urge you to have a trainer first.  You will want to have discussed this with them and they will have prepared you for the questions to ask.  You will want to make sure that the recent history of potential dogs is known.  I may cost more to retrain out bad habits and past abuses that the animal may have suffered.
For both the trainer and the breeder, check the Office of the State Attorney General in the state where they are located for complaints or actions on file against them.  Once you have the references, do not put them in a drawer and think you have completed you due diligence.  Call or correspond and get the information!  It just may prevent future disappointment.

There are dog breeders, trainers, and others that are reputable.  The above is to help make your experience a pleasant and positive one - not one of regret.  Always remember, they should put your needs first and fully answer your questions.

Now comes the big decision - getting the dog!

Note:  I have used Rita Martinez as a resource person for much of this because her philosophy is close to my own and while we may differ sometimes, she offers many pointers that I might have missed otherwise.  Both of us want to make the experience of getting and having a service dog a pleasant and satisfying experience.  Rita has and is working with about 40 dogs for diabetes alert dogs.