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For years I have wanted a service dog for Livia. But, every time I would sit down to start the process I would become overwhelmed. There is so much information out there and all of it conflicts. The wait times, the requirements, the costs, all beyond the means of my family. So, we took a different route, a shelter dog. If you are considering getting an Autism Service Dog for your family here is what I have learned and how you can make it work for your family, no matter your budget.
When we were looking at service dogs about the only option we had was a scholarship. At the time when we were looking into getting a trained dog, grants run through the Health and Human Service Department for our state were out of funds. Due to the demand for Autism service dogs we were looking at a cost of over $20,000 for dog that was specifically bred and trained to Livia’s needs. This cost did not include the multiple cross country trips it would take for us to travel as a family with the dog for training.
There is no way my family would ever be able to afford that for a dog. So, we took a different path. We decided to find a shelter dog and have it trained. While there are some programs out there that will work with shelter dogs to become certified service dogs, we have not yet sent Elsa to such a program. Instead we have had her trained by places that our shelter recommended for individual tasks, such as alerting us when Livia wanders at home. This is what has worked for my families needs.
The downside of this approach is that since our dog is not a certified service dog we cannot take her into certain buildings. But, for us that was not a very big issue as in the other areas she meets what Livia needed for a companion.
Why a Shelter Dog?
Besides the cost of getting a dog specifically bred to be a service dog, shelters are filled with loving dogs that need loving homes. Training a dog from a shelter does take considerably more effort. But, when you take into consideration that approximately 5,500 dogs are killed every day and the majority of these dogs are under two years old and adoptable that extra effort is well worth it!
Some programs that will train rescue dogs to become service dogs are:
We found an organization locally by typing in “ZIP CODE autism service dog” into google. It is well worth it!
Elsa has definitely become my daughter’s best friend and a member of our family!
How to Support Your Kids, Your Dog, and the Local Shelter
If you are not in a place where you can afford a dog or that you have a room for a dog volunteering up at your shelter’s monthly can do wonders for your kids and those animals. For years we lived in an apartment. Even if our budget would have allowed a pet, our living space didn’t. Instead of getting a pet, we would visit our shelter a couple of times a month to play with the animals up there. It was an excellent opportunity to bond as a family, give love to animals that desperately need it, and help Livia center. There really is a healing power in animals.
Every time we would visit we would bring items that the shelter had on their need list. You know what item was most often listed? Dog food.
While stocking up on essentials at Sam’s Club this month we noticed that the PEDIGREE® 55lb. Dog Food was not only an incredibly price, but also that PEDIGREE® is donating a bowl of dog food to a dog in need for every PEDIGREE® product sold at Sam’s Club over the month of October. Score!
This is such an incredibly easy way to support both your dog and your local shelter. In our home happy dog=happy kids and PEDIGREE®= happy healthy dog. The equation is quite simple 😉
How do Dogs Help Kids with Autism?
While owning a pet is extremely beneficial for children with Autism it is not a one size fits all solution. When considering a dog for your child it is more important to match personality than it is to match skills. This is another reason I fully back choosing a shelter animal for your child. You are able to go in and play with this animal a couple of times before making your decision and if your dog and child do not bond within a certain amount of time typically you are allowed to exchange dogs until you find the perfect match.
Bringing a dog into a family is a huge step and it is extremely important to make sure that the dog your family chooses is not only a good choice for your family, but is a good choice for your child’s sensitivities. Remember you are picking out your child’s best friend. It is amazing just how your child can grow socially from interaction with this friend.
What better best friend could there possibly be than one that offers unconditional, non-judgemental love and companionship?
Be sure to check out more heartfelt stories on the PEDIGREE® social hub. I’d love to hear about your favorite pet!
Additional Autism Resources