Service Dogs: How do you find the right match?
January 14, 2014 3:20 PM Subscribe
Several months ago, after thorough discussions with my doctor, I was given a "prescription" for a psychiatric service dog. I'm excited. I love animals and have been wanting a dog for most of my adult life. I've read the books. Watched the documentaries. Questioned dog-owning friends to death. And even did a 4 year stint as a Pet Nutritionist for a large, holistic pet food manufacturer. I like to think I'm dog-savvy. Nonetheless, I'm overwhelmed with information and can't seem to make any progress.
posted by stubbehtail to Pets & Animals (26 answers total)
I'll include some relevant details to help better understand the situation--I apologize if I leave anything out. I'm a male in my early-mid 30s, employed full-time (Update on my last AskM question: I did not get laid off, I moved teams and received a promotion), live alone (1 bd. apartment) and have a wonderful partner (of 3+ years; stays over on weekends; cat person but dog friendly). A few years ago I was diagnosed with a mood disorder on top of the Petit Mal seizures I have dealt with since childhood. Rather than continue to pile prescriptions onto my plate, my doctor and I both felt that a service dog could help mitigate some of the symptoms that interfere with my work. This was a decision I did not come to lightly but is a change in my life that I'm looking forward to.
After receiving the Service Dog letter from my doctor, I did not begin to search right away due to some planned holiday travel and instability surrounding my job. Now the traveling is done and my job is stable for the foreseeable future. "On paper" everything looks in order - my employer and apartment have both been given copies of the Service Dog letter, I have steady income, no travel is planned and I've saved for any medical emergencies that might pop up. I already walk/jog a few miles every day (though I wouldn't say I'm necessarily an 'active' household) and have the free time/attention for a dog.
The problem is finding the right match. My preferences are so fluid that I'm having trouble narrowing down what to look for, and where to do it. Ideally, I'd like an adult dog, and would prefer to adopt from a rescue/shelter. However, that seems increasingly unrealistic; I've spent countless hours/dollars traveling to shelters only to find cage-after-cage of Pitbulls/Pitbull Xs (wonderful dogs but unfortunately, not one I'm ready to own) or dogs that were not good candidates for service work due to behavior. The few times I have found dogs that might've been a good match, it's always first-come-first-served (I'm too late - even if I take off work early) and/or the rescue/shelter has requirements I do not meet (ie: fenced yard). I've tried Craigslist a few times but I've been met with flakeyness (backing out last minute), lying (dog is clearly a Pit in-person) and absurd requirements (weekend visitations, ect.).
I'm sort of at an impasse as to how to continue. If someone were to ask me what my 'perfect' dog would be, I would answer: Sweet, Friendly, Adult (1-5 yrs old or so), (Spayed) Female, 40-50ish lbs, Lab (or Golden Retr.). But on the other hand, I can see myself with a male dog, or one slightly larger (or smaller), or of a different breed (I'm also a fan of Blue Heeler, Dachshund...Mixes)... and, well you see where this is going again. I do have dog experience - my family always had dogs growing up (Scotties and Shelties) but otherwise this will be my first dog (hence why I'm avoiding 'intense' breeds like G. Sheps, Dobermans, Rotties, ect.) I want to do it right and I know part of that is choosing the right match.
So... I know you're not my vet/breeder/rescue worker but for those with Service Dogs (not obtained through a Service Dog org.), how did you decide? If you started with a puppy... why? If you opted for a large breed (or small)... why? And why -that- breed (or mix)? Did you specifically choose a male or female? Have I overlooked anything that might help push my decisions in one direction or another?