The use of service animals has been growing over the last several years, but when it comes to properly qualified, ADA-sanctioned assistance dogs for people with disabilities, not all dogs make the grade.
If you notice a lot of tail wagging these days, chalk it up to canine pride as the efforts of elite pack members working in the assistance field are officially recognized from Aug. 7-13. International Assistance Dog Week is the brainchild of Marcie Davis, CEO of Davis Innovations in Santa Fe, N.M. Davis, 45, started the event to recognize and honor assistance dogs — from eye dogs to service dogs — and to raise awareness and educate the public on tasks they perform and their rights and responsibilities. In addition, the week honors the puppy raisers and trainers of assistance dogs.
To say that Davis is a passionate authority and advocate of assistance dogs is an understatement. In 2007 she wrote Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebook and started Working Like Dogs (www.workinglikedogs.com), an international resource for people who own or are interested in getting an assistance dog. She and her current service dog, Whistle — a golden retriever — also host Working Like Dogs, a weekly radio show on PetLifeRadio (www.petliferadio.com). Davis, who became a paraplegic in 1972, got her first service dog, Ramona, a lab/golden retriever mix, in 1993. As with many wheelers, her service dog changed her life in more ways than she could have imagined, and she has had one ever since.
Davis also hopes that International Assistance Dog Week will help assistance dog agencies raise funding. She estimates that costs to train each service dog — from puppyhood through graduation with their wheeling partner — exceed $50,000. A service dog organization spends 24 to 30 months of training before a dog is ready for its wheeling partner, Davis says. The first 15 months is with a puppy raiser, followed by six to nine months with a professional trainer.
Making the Grade
Many people don’t realize that not all dogs have the calm attentive temperament it takes to become a service dog. “If the dog doesn’t have the basic personality and hardwiring, it just won’t work,” says Jeanine Konopelski, director of marketing for Canine Companions for Independence in Santa Rosa, Calif. “To increase our success rate here at CCI we have our own breeding program of golden and Labrador retrievers.”
Even with CCI’s selective breeding and training, only about