Disabled individuals can obtain a service dog through organizations that train and place these dogs. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as "any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability..." Service dogs can guide blind individuals, alert hearing impaired people, pull wheelchairs, protect a person who experiences a seizure and perform other specialized tasks.
Guide Dogs for the Blind
Guide Dogs for the Blind (guidedogs.com) assists sight-impaired individuals as they navigate the steps needed to get a guide dog. After the organization approves an application, they will assign a dog and create a training course that fits the individual's needs. Training includes formal training and caring for the dog. Students may undertake the training sessions at either of Guide Dogs for the Blind's two campuses, one in San Rafael, Calif. and one in Boring, Ore. The organization may also facilitate training in an individual's home, when necessary. The organization provides the dog and its equipment, transportation and room and board at no cost to the student. In addition, regional field staff, including veterinarians, are available for post-program assistance.
The New England Assistance Dog Services
The New England Assistance Dog Services (neads.org) trains and places dogs for disabled people. New England Assistance Dog Services (NEADS) provides training to dogs who assist physically disabled individuals by retrieving things that drop, bringing the disabled person small items that the he can't reach on his own, opening doors, turning on light switches, pulling wheelchairs and carrying items in their mouths. Dogs for hearing impaired people learn to respond to sounds in the environment and alert their owners. Social dogs accompany developmentally disabled individuals who benefit from the therapeutic value of a dog. After the dogs receives initial training for the type of service that they will provide, NEADS trainers match the dogs with qualified applicants. The applicant must then spend two weeks at the NEADS campus in Princeton, Mass., to learn how to work as a team with the dog.
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4 Paws for Ability
4 Paws for Ability (4pawsforability.org) expects applicants to fund raise to cover the cost of their service dog, which 4 Paws raises, provides initial training and places. Dogs include hearing ear dogs, autism assistance dogs, mobility assistance dogs, seizure assistance dogs and multipurpose assistance dogs. 4 Paws selects a service dog that best meets the disposition of the disabled client and completes the dog's training together with the client. 4 Paws specializes in placing service dogs with hard-to-place individuals, including children, families with animals, severely disabled individuals and individuals whom other organizations label "not disabled enough." 4 Paws will place a dog with any person who has a physician's statement which affirms that the person who requests a service dog has a disability as identified by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Guide Dogs of America
Guide Dogs of America (guidedogsofamerica.org) provides guide dogs to legally blind individuals in the United States and Canada. Guide Dogs of America's licensed instructors train the guide dog and match the dogs with their blind or visually impaired owner. After an individual receives her guide dog she goes to the Guide Dogs of America campus in Sylmar, Calif., for 28 days of training together with the dog. Guide Dogs of America also provides follow-up consultation to owners after they leave the training program.
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