About Service Animals

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When a service animal is being considered, several questions are arise. What kinds of tasks does a service animal perform? How is veterinary care provided? And, what type of animal is best for my situation?

All of those questions are answered as part of a process that begins once a person decides they may benefit from having a service animal. Organizations that match animals and humans based on a person’s needs also provide training, tips, and follow-up services to make sure the relationship is both functional and rewarding.

Service animals are trained to assist

A service animal uses his or her physical and intuitive powers to assist a human with everyday feats. Typically, but not always a dog, service animals are trained to complete tasks as critical as detecting medical anomalies to as mundane as retrieving a television remote control.

Not all service animals are trained to serve a master’s needs; the sheer number of types of animals and the work they do are diverse. Choosing the right animal — the one that can best compensate for a human’s lost function – can be complex. Historically, service animals have helped people who are blind or have low vision. Today, animals do much more than most people expect, or will ever need.

Beyond fetching shoes and making sure people safely cross a street, however, is the loyalty of an service animal. When not on the job, the animal offers other benefits to humans, especially those that are children: Friendship and companionship.

What is an service animal?

An assistant animal is one that trained to help people perform tasks that they cannot execute on their own. These tasks involve functions affected by Cerebral Palsy, including:

  • Physical
  • Cognitive/intellectual
  • Sensory
  • Mental/emotional

The most common type of assistant animal is a service dog; this canine is trained to help people with a variety of physical or mental conditions, including:

  • Physical impairments
  • Blindness or low vision
  • Hearing impairments
  • Chronic seizures
  • Mental illness

If a person uses a wheelchair, the dog must be trained to pull the chair and make sure they navigate busy areas safely. If a person takes regular medications, a dog can be trained to alert a human to the fact that it’s time to take his or her medicine. The list of tasks is a long one; people considering how a dog could fit into a family have more options than ever before.

There is something worth noting: Animals whose sole role is to provide comfort and companionship to a person is not considered a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is helpful to know that, when a dog is not working, he or she can be a loving force in the life of a child. The first priority for a service dog, however, is to help a child perform tasks.

What animals most often fill the assistant role?

Most often, but not always, service animals will be dogs. Canines are intelligent animals that – when trained for tasks appropriate for their physical capabilities – have the acumen to provide invaluable assistance to humans.

Generally, many breeds of dogs are trained and placed into service. Which breed of dog is trained for a specific task is based on several factors, including:

  • Size and strength
  • Physical agility
  • Temperament
  • General health

Although most dogs, including mixed breeds, are capable of performing some tasks, some dogs simply don’t have the characteristics of consistency or trainability that are required of service dogs. The most common breeds trained as service dogs include:

  • German shepherds
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Golden retrievers

Often, organizations will breed dogs for the purpose of training; this allows trainers to properly socialize and assess a dog to ensure he or she can be placed into service. Other times, dogs are adopted from shelters and trained. Rarely, dogs that are already owned by an individual are trained, but that has been known to occur.

What tasks do service animals perform?

There are many tasks that service animals perform. These range from everyday tasks, such as retrieving items such as a prescription bottle to alerting humans to the possibility of a seizure or other medical emergency. Dogs can be trained to complete several different tasks; some of the most important of these include, but are not limited to:

  • Navigating spaces for people with visually impairments
  • Alerting people with hearing loss to the presence of sound or activity
  • Pulling wheelchairs inside and outside in a way that maximizes safety
  • Alerting people to the presence of toxins or allergens
  • Retrieving items needed to function within the home
  • Providing assistance with physical stability
  • Interrupting potentially destructive or unexpected behaviors
  • Alerting people to a pending, or potential, medical emergency
  • Offering personal companionship
  • Providing personal protections

Of course, people that need the assistance of a dog have conditions that don’t fit neatly into a box. During the process of matching a dog to a human and during training, more specific tasks are addressed. To that end, most dogs will to some extent be individually trained to meet the needs of his or her master.

Beyond performing tasks, what benefits does having a service dog provide?

The biggest benefit of having a service animal, apart from the tasks they perform on an owner’s behalf, is the security offered by the animal.

If a person has disabilities that are more severe, it’s easy for him or her to feel isolated or vulnerable. A service animal, especially a large dog, can provide security both inside the home, as well as in public.

There is a benefit in the relationship that develops between a service animal as his or her master. Although not considered a pet, a service animal can provide companionship. It’s not uncommon for individuals, especially children, to form a deep bond with the animal. That bond can give a child or an adult a much-needed psychological lift.

How can I obtain a service animal?

The process of getting approved for a service animal can be a long one. It’s designed to determine what a person’s needs are, and what animal would be most appropriate for his or her situation. There’s research that needs to be completed on the part of an applicant; and questions that need to be answered before a person takes ownership of an animal.

For instance, a person might feel their life would be enhanced by a guide dog, but in actuality a miniature guide horse might be a better option. The answer is dependent on the nature of a person’s ability level, and his or her lifestyle.

Questions that a person should ask their physicians – and themselves – about service animals include:

  • How does a disability limit physical functioning?
  • How does a disability affect mobility?
  • How would an animal address those specific physical issues?
  • Will I be able to care for a service animal appropriately?
  • Can I make a commitment to a service animal?

Persons may also consider their disability as it relates to having a service animal. Dogs, and their owners, must meet several requirements to meet the ADA-specified service dog guidelines, including:

  • Persons must have an ADA-defined disability
  • Animals must be specifically trained to perform tasks on behalf of its owner

After the advantages and disadvantages are weighed, and a person’s medical team is consulted, it’s time to choose an animal.

The first place a person should go is a non-profit service dog organization. These organizations train the dogs to perform tasks at their own expense, and typically do not charge people for a dog. As non-profits, the organizations pay for training by fundraising; this takes the heat off of people that need a dog to enhance their functionality.

Some organizations that provide animals directly, or can make a referral to a local organization, are:

  • International Federation of Guide Dog Schools
  • Assistance Dogs International
  • International Association of Dog Partners
  • Dogs for the Deaf and Disabled Americans
  • 4 Paws for Ability
  • Paws for a Cause

Once a person has identified a service dog organization; he or she will undergo an assessment and fill out paperwork to help trainers determine the applicant’s compatibility with a dog. Questions that representatives from the non-profit will likely ask will include information about a person’s disability – these facts will need to be verified by medical documentation. Afterwards, the applicant will be placed on a waiting list; sometime the wait can be measured in months, or years.

There is another way to obtain a service dog. If a person wishes to hire and pay a trainer, he or she may adopt a rescue animal to train. This is a more expedient option, but it’s also expensive. And, it’s essential to work with a qualified and professional trainer. A person may train a dog themselves, but in most cases, that’s not the best way to proceed with an animal assistant.

By obtaining a dog through a non-profit, a person will most likely enjoy the support that trainers, and other professionals, provide during and after the process of working with an animal. By taking this route, it is possible to ask questions after a dog is living in your home, and obtain support if unexpected consequences arise.

What laws govern the use of service animals?

There are several laws passed to bring parity to people with disabilities in a society that addresses the use of service animals. Chief among these is the ADA.

The ADA requires public establishments to allow service animals enter facilities even if animals would not otherwise be allowed on premises. This is to ensure that people can use facilities with the assistance of their animals under as many circumstances as possible.

Other laws that make it possible for service animals to accompany people in public include the Air Carrier Access Act, which specifies that service animals may accompany people on flights, and the Fair Housing Amendments Act, which indicates that landlords must not refuse to rent to an individual with a service animal, even in situations where animals are prohibited.

A business or public entity is permitted to deny access to service dogs that are not behaving properly. Representatives for a business or a public entity may also inquire about the nature of the tasks a service animal performs, but should not probe further.

To prevent confusion as to whether a dog is actually a service animal, it’s best to have him or her wear his official vest and harness, and his ID tag, in the event the dog’s status is in question. Also, establishments may not ask for special fees or surcharges related to a service animal; if this occurs, an individual should immediately contact the manager of the facility, or file a complaint against the business.

Outside of allowing service animals in public places, there are other laws that benefit people that use the assistance of an animal. Persons are permitted to deduct expenditures related to owning a service animal; expenses for the animal’s food, upkeep, and medical care are considered essential to a person’s ability to function inside, and outside, of the home.

Service Animals

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Finding a child care program or facility that meets the needs of a child with Cerebral Palsy is an expensive undertaking. Luckily, families that meet a certain set of criteria can take advantage of government funding and supports.

Child Care

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Child Care


Finding a child care program or facility that meets the needs of a child with Cerebral Palsy is an expensive undertaking. Luckily, families that meet a certain set of criteria can take advantage of government funding and supports.
Child Care
Government-Assisted Child Care

Child Tax Credits

Ask your tax consultant if you are eligible for:

Ask your employer if they offer pre-tax accounts for child and dependent care.