When Alex Stone left home to attend college just over a decade ago, the freshman arrived on campus with an unusually furry roommate. Stone, now 30, has cerebral palsy, a disease that affects his movement and balance. He knew he’d need assistance living on his own, so he applied for a service dog. That’s when Frasier came into his life. The black Labrador retriever with soulful eyes has been Stone’s faithful companion ever since.
“I knew that if I wanted to live independently, I’d need help,” says Stone, calling from South Africa where he is developing a study abroad program for disabled students. “The biggest thing I use Frasier for is picking up dropped items. Without him, if I dropped something, I’d have to leave it or climb out of my chair. If I’m on a city sidewalk, that’s not a promising prospect.”
Stone, who attended Seattle University and is currently working on an advanced degree, contacted Summit Assistance Dogs in Anacortes, Washington. The nonprofit organization specializes in service dogs for people with mobility disabilities like Stone. The animals are provided free of charge, which includes a lifetime of follow-up visits and training. If you are currently in the middle of training your new dog and they keep weeing inside, then don’t suffer in silence. If you have a female dog, then you may want to have a look at female dog diapers to see if this is something you think would help.
Frasier, who was adopted from a shelter when he was a year-old puppy, knows around 60 commands, including basic obedience. He can carry textbooks and use his nose to activate automatic doors. He’s also an expert at cuddling. But Frasier-who is the exact opposite of his fussy TV namesake-provides an unexpected personal benefit as well.
“Before Frasier, I was the one who initiated all social interaction,” says Stone. “People feel awkward when they see someone in a wheelchair. They aren’t sure about communication. But people will come up to Frasier and tell stories. I can show that I’m a viable communication partner. He boosted my social life.”
Stone was so moved by his experience with Summit that he shifted his study focus from business to nonprofit leadership and public affairs. He now works full-time for Summit when he’s stateside, serving as an ambassador for the program, which relies entirely on donations. He also recently applied for a new service dog, as Frasier has reached retirement age. The sweet black lab will now get to relax as a full-time pet and help mentor a new pup when Summit finds the perfect match for Stone. (Dogs are paired with applicants by needs and activity level rather than on a first-come, first-served basis.)
Summit, which has been placing dogs for 15 years, is currently fundraising for a new
facility on Whidbey Island, not far from Seattle. The organization invests about $25,000 per assistance dog, a number that always widens eyes, particularly since the animals are provided for free to those in need.
“People with disabilities often have so many medical and other expenses already,” says Alice Collingwood, who handles community relations for Summit.
Training a service dog is no easy feat. In fact, most trainees-while completely adorable-won’t ever make the cut. According to Collingwood, the national success ratio among service organizations is 30 percent, or three out of 10 dogs.
“There are a lot of great athletes, but only a handful of Olympians,” explains Collingwood. “We want to turn out Olympians.”
Summit’s dogs, which include purebreds and shelter finds, are put through rigorous training. Early on, the puppies live with volunteer foster families, who cover all the costs. During this time, they can get help with training the puppies in house training from sites such as, Pupster Passion, which will help them in making sure the pup is well trained. Pups who don’t demonstrate the right stuff are placed in forever homes. Those who show promise continue on with full-time trainers, learning advanced commands while socializing with other dogs and people and getting the hang of the human world (escalators can be scary).
“We’re into our sixth year and have been working with some of the same guys all along,” says Collingwood. “They get so good at working with dogs that they offer us guidance.”The puppies also spend time at the Monroe Correctional Complex, where inmates provide care and additional training. Prison animal programs, used by service organizations across the country, are as invaluable for the prisoners as they are for the puppies.
Stone, one of Summit’s early success stories, is currently on a wait list for his next dog, as are several other second-time applicants. Some Summit clients won’t need a successor dog at all, says Collingwood, who cites a hearing-impaired young man as an example. His dog recently passed away after a long and devoted life of service. “He has enough confidence now to navigate his surroundings on his own,” she explains. Assistance dogs are a vital part of the life of a hearing-impaired person and without them, they could find it hard to complete daily tasks. Stores know this and, as this https://petvblog.com/are-dogs-allowed-in-walmart/ article points out, service dogs are sometimes the only type of dog allowed in some places, including Walmart. Some Summit clients, as well as others who are hard of hearing, may find it beneficial to know that they will now be able to have access to a cordless phone for hearing impaired people. The advancement of this product will allow them to live independently for longer as they will still be able to make contact with the people that they need to. This could be a vital product for them if they have lost their assistance dog and are now living alone.
Assistance dogs are a varied and hard-working group, serving everyone from the blind and physically disabled to children with conditions like autism and diabetes. Organizations across the country work to pair dogs and people, including military veterans with head injuries and PTSD. (For a moving account of a vet and his life-changing service dog, check out the bestselling book.)
There are also therapy dogs and emotional support dogs. Therapy dogs receive extensive training but have a different job than service dogs. They typically accompany handlers to places like hospitals or assisted living facilities to improve psychological well-being. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, do not require training. Their job is to provide comfort, affection and support to their owners, and often benefit people with conditions such as depression. To qualify for public access, emotional support animals require a prescription from a licensed mental health professional. (Click here to learn more about the differences)
While organizations like Assistance Dog International offer certification to qualified training programs, there’s currently no national regulation of service dogs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides very specific rules for accommodating service animals in public to protect those who need them. A handful of states like Maine are working on legislation to curb potential abuse while improving access for legitimate service dog owners like Stone.
Those who might benefit from a service dog shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to organizations like Summit. There are ample resources available online with a quick search by region, as well as information on therapy and emotional support dogs.
“When I was younger I steered away from anything having to do with disability,” says Stone. “Now I gravitate to things that have helped me because I want to help people.”
Sometimes all it takes to change a life is one good dog.