How to afford a service dog

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Service dogs can provide a tremendous amount of assistance and relief to people with disabilities. However, the many expenses can quickly add up. Here are four financing options that can help you afford a service dog:

  1. Grants.
  2. Fundraising.
  3. FSA accounts.
  4. Personal loans.

4 ways to afford a service dog

The initial costs and subsequent upkeep of a service dog can be overwhelming, but there are financing options available.

1. Grants

Several organizations provide grant assistance for individuals who need a service dog, including the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which provides service dog benefits and matches vets with accredited organizations. Nonprofit organizations also train and match service dogs with people in need. For a full list of resources, see the list below.

2. Fundraising

Some organizations provide partial financial assistance for the cost of service dogs and encourage families to fundraise the remaining amount in their community.

3. FSA accounts

You can use a flexible spending account (FSA) attached to your insurance policy to buy a service dog if you get a letter of medical necessity (LMN) from your doctor.

4. Personal loans

If you don’t meet specific requirements for financial assistance from an organization and are unable to fundraise, personal loans can be another option for financing your service dog. Unlike grants or fundraisers, personal loans must be repaid, but you may be able to find loan amounts high enough to cover the costs of adoption, training and vet visits.

Factors to consider before getting a service dog

If you’re contemplating getting a service dog, here are a few factors to be aware of before finalizing your decision.

Extensive training

Naturally, service dogs require extensive training. That training, in addition to veterinary costs, dog trainers, registration and more, runs the average cost of a service dog between $20,000 and $60,000. For many individuals who need a service dog, these costs can be way out of their budget. However, there are several options to make a service dog more affordable, and many organizations provide service dogs free of charge to qualified veterans.

Additional costs

Every situation is different, but it is important to keep in mind additional costs to upkeep your dog. These costs can include the following:

  • Food.
  • Vet care.
  • Heartworm prevention.
  • Flea/tick prevention.
  • Toys and treats.
  • Health insurance.
  • License.

There are several organizations that provide free or partial financial assistance to veterans, people who are visually impaired and people who are physically disabled. They also provide alternative methods of financing a service dog, even if you don’t meet the specific requirements to receive full financial assistance.

Programs that provide complete or partial financial assistance

It’s important to find the best organization for your specific area and needs. Below is a list of fully accredited organizations, programs and grants that can help. For a geographical search of all accredited service dog organizations, visit Assistance Dogs International and enter your exact geographical location.

Programs for veterans

The VA provides service dog benefits and refers people to accredited agencies. Many of these organizations do not charge for the dog or the dog’s training.

Programs for people with autism

Service dogs may employ any number of strategies to work with autistic individuals, including behavior disruption to distract and disrupt repetitive behaviors or meltdowns, tethering to prevent and protect a child from wandering and search and rescue tracking if a child does wander.

Programs for people with physical disabilities

Physical disabilities could include mobility issues, including MS, muscular dystrophy, spinal injury, amputation, arthritis or cerebral palsy, or visual and hearing impairment.

Mobility issues

Visual impairment

General health

Programs for children

Service dogs can provide companionship and physical assistance to children with disabilities or other needs.

Other financial considerations

If you don’t qualify for full financial assistance, it’s possible to adopt your own dog and utilize a certified independent trainer to offset some of the larger costs associated with using one organization for adopting, training and caring for a dog. Here are a few things to consider:

  • If you need to travel with your dog, service dogs are protected by the ACA Act and can travel with you on any airline, free of charge.
  • If you need pet financial aid, there are several organizations and resources for pet owners who need help with vet bills and other expenses. Check out the Humane Society website for more information.
  • The IRS allows you to claim service dog expenses on your taxes, including dog purchase, maintenance (food, veterinary care and grooming) and training costs.
  • Pet insurance covers dental, illness, accidents and more.
  • Certain dog food companies, such as Darwin’s Natural Pet Products, offer discounted rates for service dogs.
  • Veterinarians often offer discounts to individuals with service dogs. Ask your veterinarian for more information.
  • Landlords are required as part of the Fair Housing Act to make reasonable accommodations to service dogs, so don’t assume that only expensive apartment complexes will allow service dogs.

Final considerations

Getting a service dog is an incredibly personal decision. Beyond financial considerations, there are a few things to think about if you’re on the fence.

Accreditation is important

Before selecting an organization for your service dog, make sure to do your research. “ADI Standards are the benchmarks for excellence in the assistance dog industry,” says Sarah Mathers, development assistant at Patriot PAWS Service Dogs.

Mathers says that she strongly encourages any individual to look at service dog organizations that are accredited by ADI, which set industry and worldwide standards for individuals who train dogs.

Service dogs have transformative power

While service dogs can be an investment, they have the power to change lives. Patriot PAWS’ own veteran coordinator, Aaron Mixell, is an Army veteran who was seriously injured by an IED blast that left him with traumatic brain injury and debilitating post-traumatic stress. “As a result of his PTSD, Aaron was literally living in his closet,” Mathers says.

“Mixell and his service dog, Chief, have been a team for about four years now, and Aaron is a completely different person,” says Mathers. “He would tell you that Chief saved his life.”

Next steps

If you’re interested in getting a service dog, you can go through a service dog agency, like Freedom Service Dogs of America or Paws With A Cause. With agencies, you typically have the option to apply online, and they provide the training for your dog.

Since the ADA doesn’t require service dogs to be professionally trained, you also have the option to personally train your dog. If you do decide to go this route, the American Kennel Club has a program called the Canine Good Citizen program that can help you with the training process.

Featured image by David Osberg of Getty Images.

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