Service dogs are highly trained, well-behaved animals that assist people in need. A service dog is an invaluable resource, but it can be difficult to get one because of the cost. However, many people can offset the cost of a service dog via grants and fundraising efforts.
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How to Qualify for a Service Dog
Wondering how to qualify for a service dog? Consider the following information from the National Service Animal Registry:
- You must be diagnosed with a disability that limits your ability to perform a major life task.
- To get a psychiatric service dog (PSD), a licensed mental health professional has to prescribe one for you and write a properly formatted letter stating your need for such an animal.
- To get an emotional support animal (ESA), a licensed mental health professional must first ascertain whether you need one, prescribe one to you, and write a properly formatted letter stating that the dog is necessary for your mental health.
While you would need a letter from a therapist to get a PSD or ESA, you don’t need a letter from a doctor to get a service dog. Individuals with a physical or developmental impairment simply need to apply for a service dog through an organization that specializes in training service dogs and providing them to applicants. In the highly unlikely event that someone legally challenges your need for a service dog, all you need to do is tell them which task(s) the dog helps you perform as a result of your impairment.
How Much Does a Service Dog Cost?
The cost of a service dog varies depending on the organization that provides the dog and trains it. Your location is a factor because many people who need a service dog can’t travel too far to get one, meaning you’re often at the mercy of the organizations in your area.
The average cost of a service dog is around $25,000 or more, including the cost of the dog, training, medical bills, and other fees. However, this number is a broad estimate based on the cost of training a dog to do specialized tasks, which is factored in with other expenses. According to 4 Paws For Ability, a nonprofit service dog breeder and provider, the total cost to place a service dog through the agency is $40,000 to $60,000. However, 4 Paws has a fundraising model that lessens the cost to the applicant, which lowers the price to $17,000.
There’s a caveat: when it comes to 4 Paws For Ability, the agency specializes in service dogs for children, and requires the child to travel to Xenia, Ohio to participate in a training course with the dog. This is not uncommon to agencies that breed and train service dogs; in order to ensure the right match and adequately screen applicants, many organizations will require applicants to travel or even stay on site when pairing with a service dog.
Some service dog agencies do their own fundraising in an effort to provide free or low-cost service dogs to highly qualified applicants. 4 Paws For Ability also notes that many families do fundraising to the extent that the dog ends up costing little to nothing out-of-pocket. Different organizations will have a different policy/funding available to help you pay for veterinary care or take advantage of pet insurance to care for your service dog.
Apply for Service Dog Grants
A grant is a fund earmarked by the government for nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit organizations regularly apply for and receive grants to help people with disabilities. Here are some of the organizations that can help you in your search for a service dog:
- My Assistance Dog: This nonprofit has a page dedicated to financial aid for acquiring a service dog.
- The Seeing Eye: A nonprofit dedicated to helping visually impaired people access service dogs at a minimum cost. According to the site’s frequently asked questions page, a guide dog costs $150 for those who are visually impaired and $1 for military veterans.
- Foundation for Service Dog Support (FSDS): If you’re an Arizona resident, FSDS offers financial assistance in the form of either full funding for people with a history of community service, including military veterans, or a half-scholarship for people willing to do 350 hours of service dog training.
- Duo: Places all assistance dogs at no cost to you. You have to pay the $100 application fee, pay for equipment, and be able to train with the dog at Duo’s facility in St. Louis.
- Paws 4 People: Places assistance dogs for people with physical, psychiatric, or behavioral disabilities at no cost to the recipient.
- Freedom Service Dogs: Serves a wide variety of clients and pairs them with service dogs at no cost to the client.
There are a many organizations across the country that rely on donations and grants to provide individuals with service dogs at minimal or no cost. Search for nonprofits in your area or region and be sure to search for “help with service dog” and “cost.”
Additionally, if you’re under 18, look into charities and grants for children with disabilities. Additional funds from charitable organizations and nonprofits can help you defray your existing expenses so you can save money for a service dog.
Try Crowdfunding and Fundraising
There are many ways to raise funds for a service dog online and in your community. Here are some options to consider:
- YouHelp: Allows you set up a crowdfunding campaign for a service animal free of charge. View the how it works page to find out more.
- FreeFunder: A free platform on which you can crowdfund your service dog goal. View an example of a FreeFunder service dog support campaign.
- GoFundMe: Service dog fundraising is one of this free crowdfunding platform’s focuses. View an example of a service dog training campaign.
- Fundly: Another free crowdfunding platform with a specific focus on service dog fundraising.
- FundRazr: You can start off for free on FundRazr, which allows you to raise funds for your cause.
- Chuffed: Charges no fees for you to crowdfund your #dog campaign.
Additionally, it will pay off to do traditional fundraising campaigns in your community. Check out Anything Pawsable’s list of 100 ideas of service dog fundraising.
Apply for Loans and Look for Unclaimed Money
First, a caveat: you should only get loans if you can find a way to make regular payments and avoid paying too much interest.
A bank or credit union is the first place to start looking for a loan. You’ll need decent credit and your income level must be high enough to justify the loan. If you don’t have good credit, look into building your credit through a secured credit card. If you have regular income and some form of collateral, you could apply for a secured line of credit.
You might as well try looking for unclaimed money. To do so, go to the government’s unclaimed money page and follow the portal to look for unclaimed money that an entity, government or otherwise, might owe to you, or that you qualify to claim in your state. Through the government page you can also look for unclaimed money from bank and credit union failures, as well as undelivered tax refunds.
Look into Financial Assistance and Grants for People with Disabilities
Finding financial assistance and grants can help you save money to afford a service dog. Here are some options in this regard:
- Social Security Disability Benefits: If you have a medical condition that prohibits you from working for at least 12 months, you can receive social security funds; you may qualify for Supplemental Security Income as well as Social Security Disability Insurance.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Also known as food stamps, you qualify for SNAP if your income is below a certain level.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: If you have a child under 19, or you’re pregnant, and have a low income due to unemployment or underemployment, you may qualify for financial assistance.
- Designated Housing Vouchers: The Department of Housing and Urban Development offers vouchers to public housing authorities so that they can offer inexpensive housing to people with disabilities.
- Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program: You can get assistance for your energy bills as long as your income level isn’t above 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
- Arts and Accessibility Program: If you’re an artist with a disability, you could get up to $3,000 ($5,000 in California) to go towards advancing your work and career.
Look into other kinds of financial assistance. If you’re a military veteran, you may qualify for emergency assistance.
If you’re truly invested in getting a service dog, make your best — effort nonprofit organizations and donor will help you find the helper that’s best for you.