If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), you may qualify for a service dog if you meet the requirements of one of the many organizations that train and provide service dogs. Dogs may help with tasks including opening doors and getting help during an emergency.
Service dogs are trained to assist people living with physical or emotional disabilities. They may be able to provide help with everyday tasks for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS).
You’ll often see Labradors and golden retrievers in this role. These breeds are well-suited to the job because they’re smart, friendly, and adept at picking things up. Hunters and fishers have long relied on these retrievers to retrieve items, hence the name. Other breeds may also be used as service dogs. For instance, poodles and German shepherds.
With proper training, service dogs can follow dozens of commands. They can do many tasks people with MS need help with, such as:
- picking up items from the floor
- grabbing things out of cabinets and drawers
- pulling a wheelchair
- opening doors
- removing clothing
- turning light switches on and off
- acting as a brace to prevent you from falling when you stand up, walk, or use stairs
- summoning help during an emergency
- reminding you to take medications
These dogs can also provide emotional support.
A service dog can help out at home and outside of the home. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows people to take their service dogs into public places like supermarkets, restaurants, buses, and subways.
You can get a service dog in one of three ways. You can:
- Connect with an organization that trains dogs for people living with MS. Some of these dogs come from breeders or families, while others are rescued from shelters.
- Purchase a dog from an ethical breeder and hire a professional trainer to teach it commands.
- Adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue and train it yourself. This may be hard if you don’t have experience training an animal or depending on your level of disability.
To find an accredited service dog organization in your area, visit Assistance Dogs International.
How to qualify for a service dog
To qualify for a dog, you’ll need to meet certain requirements. The requirements may vary by organization and may include being over a certain age or living in a stable home environment.
Always check with the organization to understand their specific requirements. If you don’t qualify through one organization, you may be able to find a different one with other requirements you satisfy.
The service dog application process is similar to applying for disability. The organization will have you fill out a detailed application that includes questions about your health and living situation. They may ask for personal recommendations from your doctor, friends, and co-workers. You’ll then be interviewed.
If you’re approved, you’ll likely be put on a waiting list. Service dog organizations have many more applications than available animals. You may need to wait up to 4 years until a dog becomes available.
Finding and training your own dog can expedite the process.
Raising and training a service dog is expensive. Some private organizations charge anywhere from $20,000–$50,000 for a dog.
Other agencies will say their dogs are “free” or “no-cost” to the recipient, which means donations fund the cost. Though you won’t have to pay anything, you may be asked to raise a portion of the cost of your dog.
Your financial responsibility doesn’t end once you pay for the dog. You’ll also have to pay for food, bedding and grooming supplies, and veterinarian bills, among other expenses. Service dogs require more care than pets because they have additional responsibilities.
The service dog organization you choose will carefully match you with a dog that best fits your needs, personality, and lifestyle. Once you’ve been matched with a dog, it will need to be trained to assist with your specific needs.
First, a trainer will spend a few months teaching the dog all the skills you’ve requested. Then, you’ll join the training process. You may need to visit the organization’s facility for a few days to train with your dog. During this time, you may need to miss work. You may also need to pay for travel expenses.
The dog will eventually come home with you for more training. You’ll learn how to handle and care for it. Once you feel comfortable giving commands and your service dog responds to them appropriately, the dog will be yours.
But the training won’t end there. You’ll continue to teach your dog new skills on an almost daily basis. Some organizations require meetings for additional training sessions.
Does having MS qualify you for a service dog?
Having MS may help you qualify for a service dog, depending on the level of assistance you need, and other factors, such as age, home environment, and your ability to financially provide for the dog.
How do I get a service dog in MS?
You can find an accredited service dog organization in your area through Assistance Dogs International. In some cases, they may require you to live within a certain radius of the organization.
How much does a service dog cost for MS?
Some private organizations charge anywhere from $20,000–$50,000 for a dog, with the expectation that the person engages in fundraising to cover the cost. Other organizations may provide service dogs free of cost.
What does a service dog do for someone with MS?
Service dogs for people with MS may perform tasks such as retrieving items including medications, opening doors, providing stability when walking, and helping you transfer to and from a wheelchair, among other tasks.
While many organizations train their service dogs on a wide variety of tasks, they may also teach you to train your service dog to perform additional tasks that you need.
A service dog can be an invaluable companion and a big help with everyday tasks. The cost and time involved can be obstacles to getting a service dog, but many organizations will help you navigate through the process and cover some of the costs.