There are many excellent reasons to get a service dog (SD) if you deal with disabilities. But, having a service dog isn’t a walk in the park, and comes with many challenges. It’s important to be aware of the challenges before you and your health care professional decide that pursuing a service dog is the right fit for you.
So, to help you make your decision, here are the top 7 reasons that you should NOT get a service dog.
1. You can’t afford a service dog.
Dogs are expensive, Service Dogs are even more expensive, and most people with disabilities make less money than their able bodied peers.
How much does the average dog owner people spend?
The average dog owner spends $140.00 per month . Dog expenses include food, treats, vet expenses (vaccinations, neuter/spay, office visits, flea/tick treatment etc.), toys and grooming.
How much do people spend on their service dogs?
While there haven’t been any formal surveys, I would estimate that service dog owner’s typically spend above and beyond the $140 a month their neighbor is spending.
Service dogs often need additional speciality items like vests or harnesses, extra training, and x-rays and health check ups that may drastically increase the budget. Additionally, many SD owners choose to purchase health insurance, and higher quality dog food since their dog needs to be in top shape and condition.
So while there may be some service dog handlers that are spending the same amount that the average dog owner is, it is highly likely that more than half are spending more than the national average.
Adding in the extra costs listed above, the average monthly costs of owning a service dog are bumped up to $200-$250 a month. It is also possible that some are spending upwards of $500, depending on what type of health insurance, food and gear they are purchasing.
You lose out on income potential when you’re disabled.
Being disabled also limits opportunities to earn money, and many disabled individuals are often paid less than their healthy peers. According to an American Institutes for Research Analysis (AIR)
Sadly, more education for someone with disabilities, doesn’t necessarily mean their income will go up either. The graph from THIS American Institutes for Research article shows the income gap between able bodied and disabled persons.
2. You’ll get so much attention, that you might wish you were invisible.
Owning a service dog means you go literally everywhere with a dog. While your service dog is your medical lifeline, the general public doesn’t necessarily see it like that.
Most people seem to think that your service dog is actually a magical beast that must be pet, documented, called to, stared at, and stalked.
Gone are the days when you can run into the store to grab something as basic a gallon of milk in 2 minutes. As soon as you enter any building, people will laser focus on your dog, and potentially proceed to swarm you.
You’ll be asked questions about your dog’s age, breed, what shampoo you use on them, and about advice on how to make their dog a “therapy dog too.”
In crowded places, you may become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people staring, taking pictures, calling to your dog and generally acting like they saw a unicorn.
There is no reprieve. It will never end. This is your life now.
Not only will people hyper focus on your dog, but any attention that you do receive will likely be inappropriate.
You will likely be asked intrusive questions about your personal life and medical history, be criticized for training methods, be called a jerk for not letting someone pet your service dog, be told that your dog is sad, that you don’t look disabled enough, and on and on and on.
If you think you’ll be safe with your family or friends, you’re sadly mistaken. Although many service dog handlers have understanding and supportive families, there are even more who find that their own family or friends are the most likely to disregard your requests to ignore or not pet your service dog, and they are the people that you will have the most difficult saying no to.
3. You will get burnt out on dealing with the lack of public education about service dogs
Every service dog handler can tell a “horror story” of a time they were out in public and were on the receiving end of a lack of education, understanding or respect from the general public.
As a result, many legitimate SD teams are often denied access, called fake, asked whether or not their dog is “registered”, and asked to divulge private health information. Sadly, these issues are extremely common.
One thing is for sure; service dogs thoroughly confuse the world. Lets explore the main ways people just don’t get it.
1. People think all service dogs are seeing eye dogs.
It’s true. I’ve even seen signs in the United States Postal Service stating “only seeing eye dogs allowed.”
The general public isn’t usually aware that service dogs can have a huge range of jobs including (but not limited to) Psychiatric, Mobility, Guide, Medical Alert, and Diabetic Alert. If you have a dog that doesn’t fit the narrow description of how a service dog is perceived (typically seeing eye dog), you will face scrutiny from businesses and individuals.
2. People don’t understand the differences between a Service Dog, a Therapy dog and an Emotional Service Animal.
Even worse, people often assume a Psychiatric Service Dog and an Emotional Support Animal are the same thing. Many people also assume that an Emotional Support Animal is the same thing as a Psychiatric Service dog.
3. Small service dogs and bully breeds face discrimination.
Individuals with small breed service dogs face the stigma that only large breeds can be legitimate service dogs. Sadly, many fake service dogs are often small dogs, which creates a vicious cycle.
Bully breeds also often face breed stigma as they face accusation of being vicious, aggressive and dangerous. Many places even impose breed restrictions, which may apply to a pets, but are not legally applicable to service dogs.
4. There is so much pressure and judgement you might crumble.
When you have a service dog you will experience a huge mount of judgement and pressure from the outside world. Here are just a few examples of the pressures and judgement you might experience.
Common outside pressures and judgements:
- Service dog not viewed as a legitimate treatment option
- Unsupportive family (emotionally, financially)
- Others doubt whether you actually need the medical support
- Accused of wanting to take your dog everywhere
- Judged as being lazy
- Judged as being too young to have chronic, disabling heath issues
- Accused of not trying “other treatments” long enough
- Accused of lying or exaggerating symptoms
- Judged as being attention seeking
- Judged as being “fine” before obtaining an SD
- Struggling to get workspace, and school accommodation
- Others being embarrassed to be seen with someone with a SD
- Pressured to leave your SD at home because they are seen as a hassle or inconvenience
5. Facing your inner and outer demons might break you.
start with the inner demons, a.k.a the self doubts and judgement about having an Service Dog that might plague your waking hours.
- Feeling like a “fraud” (up to 90% of handlers feel this) *
- Wondering if you’re disabled enough to have an SD (up to 80% struggle with this)*
- Doubting that your SD “does enough” if they don’t do medical alerts (up to 75% struggle with this)*
- Fear your SD will wash
- Feeling shame when seeing people who knew you before becoming disabled or having an SD
- Fear that your SD will mess up in public (pull on leash, bark, have an accident, etc.)
*This information is taken from the highly scientific realms of Instagram polls (insert sarcasm). The polls consisted of 300 people, with simple yes or no responses. I’m not claiming hard science, I’m just providing a rough percentage based on the answers I received to support the general idea that Service Dog handlers share similar internal struggles.
Next we have your outer demons, a.k.a the things you have little control over, but that you’ll still have to deal with when you have a service dog.
- Lack of knowledgable trainers to help with the training process
- Lack of time and energy to focus on training
- The amount of extra time and planning it takes to go anywhere with your service dog
- Public access issues
- The financial burden of owning a service dog
- Harassment, bullying and drama over training methods
- Service dog community judgement about whether “you’re disabled enough”
- Service dog community judgement over the behavior and tasks of your dog
- Comparing yourself and your dog to other service dog teams
- Social media pressure to portray your dog as perfect
6. Even if you have a service dog, you will still have health issues.
Unfortunately, having a service dog will not miraculously take away your disabilities and health issues. The goal is that your service dog will help lessen their affects and the severity of your disabilities.
However, because of this, there may come a time when you will need to pursue more advanced treatment, even with your service dog.
7. Your service dog will still shed, sh*t and slobber.
Excuse my language….I did it for the alliteration. But seriously, at the end of the day, a service dog is still a dog, even if they’re a really smart and sensitive dog.
If you don’t like dogs, then you won’t like a service dog. If you can’t stand stinky breath, smelly poops and slobber, it won’t matter if the dog is a service dog or not.
Also, because service dogs are living, breathing animals they will have off days. They might still have days where they act out behaviorally, or shock you with their antics. They also may have an accident in a store, or get sick over night, and you will have to deal with these things.
I’m not trying to dissuade you from pursuing a service dog in your treatment. A service dog is a legitimate option for many people. BUT, it’s important to at least be aware of the challenges that owning a service dog brings.
What do you think?
If you have a service dog, do you feel like there is anything else that is particularly challenging that people considering a service dog should be aware of? If so, let them know below!