Many service dog organizations have moved to selective dog-breeding programs, reducing the opportunities for dog lovers to donate a canine pal for service. But opportunities are still out there. You just need to open your mind to the many causes that could use dog helpers--and make sure you have the "right" dog for the program. Even if she is not it, you'll have a dedicated companion by your side.
How to Donate a Dog for Service
Be honest. Many organizations have preference for specific dog breeds. For example, CHAMP Assistance Dog's ideal candidate is a golden lab retriever, standard poodle or cross. But it's importantt that the pooch isn't aggressive, is housebroken (if an older dog) and enjoys the company of human and furry playmates.
Understand the time commitment. Though policies differ from organization to organization, be aware that there are some pretty typical policies. A candidate must pass a temperament exam, where he's watched to see how he reacts to people and other forms of stimulation. There are also health screenings, where vision and orthopedic conditions are assessed. Even the initial phase--the temperament stage--can take one to two months as people analyze and critique the dog's behavior and schedule follow-up screenings.
Know your costs. Depending on the program, you may have to pay for health screening expenses as well as ongoing medical costs and shots as the dog goes through training. This could include hip and elbow X-rays, emergency treatment, yearly heartworm and flea prevention and annual vet checkups. Don't let this be a deterrent. This is all part of the process of contributing to an incredibly enriching program.
Be aware of the observation period. Just because the dog passes both the temperament and health exams doesn't mean he is "in." Some organizations like to enter the dog on a trial basis. The dog can still be cut from the program at this point. Either way, you'll have the option of taking your canine friend back--if you do, the dog will provide a very well-trained companion for its new adopted family.
Prevail over discouragement. When someone hears "service dog," they often envision guide dogs for the visually impaired. But that is a very narrow definition. Dogs have been known to assist neglected children, those with autism, the elderly and even our nation's local and national heroes. One place to look is the Military Working Dog Foundation, which can suggest local law enforcement agencies or organizations that accept dog donations.
Since 2000 reporting and writing has taken Michelle Leach to Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, D.C., Chicago, London and Sydney, Australia. Her stories have appeared in various media outlets including NBC's "The Today Show," Reuters, Chicagoland dailies and network affiliates across the United States. Leach has a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor's degree in journalism/politics from Lake Forest College.