Do You Qualify for a Service Dog?

When considering getting a service dog, the first thing you need to consider is if you qualify for one. To get a service dog you need to be disabled and the dog needs to be trained in tasks and/or work that helps to mitigate your disability.

If your disability is invisible or not a disability commonly associated with service dogs, it’s helpful to reference the Americans with Disabilities Act and their definition of disability. “The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability.”

The next question you might have is what is a major life function? Per the ADA National Network , “Major life activities are those functions that are important to most people’s daily lives. Examples of major life activities are breathing, walking, talking, hearing, seeing, sleeping, caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, and working. Major life activities also include major bodily functions such as immune system functions, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.”

If after reading the above information you still feel uncertain about if you would be considered disabled it might be worth talking with your doctor or mental health care professional. It’s important to remember that many disabled people struggle with imposter syndrome and feel like they aren’t disabled “enough”. I’ve found that many people would in fact meet the ADA criteria of being disabled even though they don’t identify as being disabled. 

Here are some questions that might also be helpful to ask yourself about your mental or physical health condition:

  1. Does my health condition cause me to routinely change or alter plans? Examples:
    • I can’t visit the zoo because the heat and standing would be too much for my body and I’d have to spend the next day in bed.
    • If I go on this trip I’ll need to take vacation days when we get back to recover. 
    • We need to go to the store on week nights after 6 pm so it’s not too busy and overwhelming. 
  2. Do I worry about making plans because I fear I might have to cancel at the last minute if I’m not feeling well enough to go?
  3. Do I consider how much energy an activity will require and if I’ll have enough energy left to do other things? Examples:
    • If I work all day I won’t be able to do anything that evening.
    • If I go to the store I’ll have to wait to go to the laundromat because I’ll be too tired to do both.
    • I need to shower before bed because it wears me out too much to do in the morning.  
  4. Have I considered my mental or physical health condition when looking at jobs because I’m worried it might be too much for me to handle mentally or physically? Examples:
    • I couldn’t do that job because it requires too much standing, sitting, or lifting. 
    • I can’t apply for that job because it doesn’t offer the insurance I’d need to cover visits to the specialist and help with the cost of my prescriptions. 
    • That job won’t work because it doesn’t offer a flexible schedule or sick days which I know all need. 
    • I couldn’t do that job because working in an office is overwhelming and being around that many people would cause me way too much stress.
  5. Has my health condition affected my relationships? Examples:
    • I struggle to maintain friendships because I have to cancel plans a lot or I don’t have the energy to make plans in the first place.
    • I’ve given up on dating because people don’t understand that I have limitations even though I “look” young and healthy.
    • New relationships are hard because I have to explain my health condition or conditions and that just feels really overwhelming. 
  6. Does my health condition make me feel isolated or alone?
  7. Do I worry about my health condition progressing to a point where I’ll need help from other people or is my health such that I currently need help from other people? Examples:
    • My spouse takes care of the bills because I get overwhelmed and anxious trying to keep track of everything, I forget things and/or I have a hard time making phone calls.  
    • I wait for my spouse to run errands with me because I worry about having an episode, needing medical help, or that I might get tired and need to wait in the car while they finish.
    • My parents help me meal plan for the week because I’m often too worn out or in too much pain to figure out meals for myself. 
    • I live with a family member because I don’t feel comfortable living on my own. 
  8. Do I use a mobility device or have I thought about using a mobility aid but worry what other people will think?
  9. Am I on prescription medications to help manage my mental or physical health condition or conditions?
  10. Do I worry about losing my independence? 

Assuming you do fit the criteria to be considered disabled you would then qualify for a service dog. Once you’ve determined you qualify for a service dog the next step is considering if a dog could be trained in a way that would help mitigate your disability. The last step is asking yourself if a service dog is a good fit for you and your lifestyle.

It’s important to remember that getting a service dog is not a quick fix. Waitlists for program dogs are typically 2-5 years long and dogs may coast anywhere from $10,000-$50,000. If you choose to owner train, it typically takes 2-3 years for a dog to be fully trained. You’ll also have the expense of obtaining a dog, the cost of training classes, as well as the hundreds of hours of time you’ll need to invest in training your dog. For reference, in the first 16 months I had Theo we spent over 400 hours training.

Service dogs should only be one part of a person’s treatment plan. Even a fully trained dog can’t be with you all the time. Most dogs need a day off here and there and dogs get sick sometimes. Even guide dog users typically know how to use a cane in case they are ever between dogs or their dog can’t work for some reason.

While I don’t think a service dog should necessarily be a last resort I do think there are often easier treatment options. If your anxiety is easily managed with therapy and medication a service dog may not provide much benefit. If you have bad reactions to prescriptions and you have extensive experience with dogs then a service dog might be a great option. It really depends on the person and their unique situation more than a blanket assessment that a particular disability always or never merits the use of a service dog.

Featured image by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash

4 Comments on “Do You Qualify for a Service Dog?

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