There are definite pros and cons to having a service dog. First, I will point out a few differences between service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs. Service dogs (SD) are a dog or miniature
The Benefits Of Having A Service Dog
I will be keeping this part mostly serious, with possibly a few sarcastic remarks that I will point out as sarcasm. A benefit of a service dog/mini horse is that it will help provide a little bit more independence in your life, that is if you have a debilitating disability and the dog helps mitigate that disability (as per the ADA law and not your doctor). The dog/mini horse is trained, either by the owner themselves, a dog trainer that is knowledgeable on service dogs, or a facility.
They are trained to perform specific tasks to help their handler with things the handler cannot do. A very common service dog/mini horse task is guiding the blind. This is where the dog/mini horse will help the handler avoid obstacles and lead them up to a counter, etc… the animal does not know directions like google maps does, let me restate that, the dog/mini horse cannot just take their handler to Starbucks on a single command like “go to Starbucks”. The handler has to know the way, through memorization or google maps, to get there and the animal just keeps them from harm or gets them to crosswalks and helps them cross them safely. This is a common misconception that I have heard plenty of times.
Another main misconception that I hear is that there are only a couple types of service dogs/mini horses like guiding the blind and helping people in wheelchairs with retrieving items and opening doors. There is
Pros of Service Dogs
They help the person be able to be independent with everyday tasks and help the handler to get out of the house for simple errands. For this part, I’m going to list the pros for me with my service dog since this can be a specific thing. I get to go out of the house with the help of my service dog because she helps me walk, no I’m not blind…. My first service dog was trained for mobility, balance, retrieval of items, alerting for vertigo, allergy detection, and protection (I’ll explain this in a moment). My current service dog, 2.0 (sarcasm), is trained for mobility, balance, bracing, retrieval of items, alerting for vertigo and medical alerts, allergy detection, overheating, anxiety/panic attacks, and PTSD (this is where the “protection” came in with my first dog, but did not have the diagnosis until a few years later).
This benefits me because I feel comfortable going out into public because I know I am safe and my dog will help me be completely independent. I got to feel normal for a bit there and did not have to wonder if I had energy to get my wheelchair out of my car or not (I no longer use a wheelchair at this point in time). I know other pros are that I am able to avoid allergens without feeling the need to avoid going out in public places with the fear of coming across it. I have had a significant drop in anxiety/panic attacks and debilitating vertigo attacks. My SD helps with avoiding triggers for my PTSD and vertigo. For me, the pros outweighed the cons with a service dog.
Cons of Service Dogs
This one is a bit easier to write for me only because I found out about the cons after I had gotten my SD and experienced them out firsthand. I honestly think that if I had known the cons before I got my SD, I would have chosen to stay in the wheelchair and not relearned to walk. The main one is that you will feel like a freak show/circus act and many people will treat you as such.
The first thing that comes to mind with this is that people will take pictures of you and your SD without asking and even post it on social media. The captions to this can be “look at the pretty puppy! I’m going to sneak a pet when they aren’t looking!” or “this is a fake one because the person isn’t blind!”. You will get unsolicited advice on what breed you should be using, whether you truly need one or not, what you can use instead of the SD, or they will try to educate you on the laws….incorrectly…. I have had people be downright rude and mean towards me. I have had death threats because I’m “torturing” my SD for “forcing” her to work.
I have had people scream at me for lying and saying that I am disabled when I look “perfectly normal”. People will think that they are entitled to pet your SD without asking and that they can do it because they said “hi” to the SD first. People will assume that you are blind and try to sneak a pet when they think you can’t see and then get mad when you stop them because they were caught. These are the people who then go straight into “so your faking being disabled! I’m going to report you!” You will be told you are not allowed in restaurants or other establishments because they don’t’ allow pets, but if you try to educate them that the animal with you is indeed an SD they will not back down. Some will even say that you need papers or a license for it. In a couple of provinces in Canada, this is true, in the US it is not; as per ADA law, there is no registry or license.
All in All
Even with all the cons, I chose to keep my Service Dog and even continue with SD 2.0, because I get my freedom (to an extent). My SDs have saved my life a couple of times and I have been very grateful for them and all the hard work that they put into helping me. They are both spoiled rotten and well taken care of.
My first SD Kaiya (German shepherd, border collie, husky) is retired now and living the life! She gets to sleep on the couch when she wants, plays, eats and sleeps. My SD 2.0 Naomi (gladiator
If you come across a team and want to say hi, please talk to the handler and not the SD. If we choose to not say high back or seem like we are ignoring you, please do not be offended as some days we are out even though it could be our worst day yet with energy. Some of us are willing to answer questions and hear about your pets (yes that happens more often than you think).
About The Author
Katie McCabe is a wife and mother of two beautiful girls. She has rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lupus, along with a few other disabilities. She works full time at a school district in the city where she lives and will be going back to school to get her Masters. She has a service dog that helps her with being independent and able to function day to day. Follow Katie on Instagram