While these miraculous animals can provide an amazing level of help and joy for your child, you must remember: they are work. Adopting any pet, trained or not, creates more work for you as a caregiver. They need to be fed, groomed, taken to the veterinarian, trained, etc. And while many of these animals are highly trained, they aren’t human and are not to be used in place of a human caregiver.
There are several things to think about when considering a service animal, and it pays to do the research. Ask around for referrals from people in your community. Visit a child with their animal so you can see them in action.
Call or email service animal organizations and ask questions. These organizations are happy to give you all the needed information to make the right decision. They have a very thorough process when a service animal is requested—you and your child will have to be approved.
And the biggest question: does my child like dogs? If your child hates or is afraid of dogs for some reason, a service dog may not be a good choice. If your child is non-verbal or unable to communicate this, show them movies or read stories about dogs and see how they react. Take them to visit the gentle dog of a friend. Or better yet, if you have a service animal training facility in your community, make an appointment to take your child. The best service animal facilities often require the presence of a parent and preferably the child during the training process anyway.
Dogs are not a cure-all, of course. But there are many parents who report an almost magical transformation in their child after introducing a dog into their home. I personally have a friend whose daughter has Down syndrome. While their dog is not a service animal, he is a great companion dog. The two of them have an amazing bond. The dog lies with her and will not leave her side when she is sick, is her constant play partner and her best friend. Here are a few articles and one program that I hope are helpful in your decision to look into a service animal for your child or loved one:
A Complete Guide to Service, Therapy, and Emotional Support Dogs gives you information on what each type of dog can do for different disabilities and where to find each kind of dog.
Considering a Therapy or Service Assistance Dog for Your Special Needs Child? Pros and Cons gives you additional information, tips, and ideas on the pros and cons of getting a service dog.
4 Paws for Ability trains and places task-trained service dogs with children with disabilities across the world. There are many programs for getting a service dog, but this one is unique in that they try to place animals with children who were turned down for a service dog because their disability was too severe or not severe enough. You can learn more on the 4 Paws for Ability.
You can also find additional resources at Find Services, Groups, and Events on this website.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.