Referring a Patient / Client to Receive a Service Dog

The FSDS receives inquiries from individuals seeking service dogs on an ongoing basis, and several trends have emerged.  This month we would like to address some common questions we receive and provide answers to medical professionals, case workers and other professionals who are hoping to assist their patients or clients in obtaining a service dog.

Q. My physician has written a prescription for a service dog, can you give me a dog?

A.  A prescription is a written order from a physician, and as such there are legal requirements that go hand-in-hand with writing a prescription.  A physician who writes a prescription, by definition, must assume legal responsibility for the clinical care of the patient as it pertains to the prescription.  A written prescription for a service dog is not advised. Furthermore, service dog programs reserve the right to determine which patients they accept and are not bound by a prescription. A written referral is more appropriate.

Q.  I am a physician who is trying to get a service dog for my patient, what do I need to do?

A.  If you are seeking to assist your patient in obtaining a service dog from our program, please feel free to download a copy of our application packet from our site at: SD-Application-Packet-2013 .  Locate the Physician Statement of Disability, check the box indicating that the patient has a qualifying disability and sign the bottom.  If you are seeking to assist your patient in obtaining a service dog from another program, we recommend that you simply provide the patient with a more generic written statement indicating that s/he has a qualifying disability under ADA, and would benefit from the task assistance of a service dog.

Q.  What types of disabilities can a service dog be trained to assist with?

A.  A service dog is a dog that is trained to provide task assistance, and these must be concrete and discernible tasks.  The Department of Justice specifies that dogs providing only emotional comfort and support do not qualify.  Examples of qualifying tasks include, but are not limited to, retrieving dropped objects, fetching medications, phones or other objects, providing balance and support when ambulating, turning on and off lamps and alerting to medical conditions.  The FSDS requires that all dogs tested and certified be able to demonstrate mastery of a minimum of three observable tasks on the certification test.  For the purposes of our exam, this means that the dog must be able to perform each task on first command at least 90% of the time.

Q.  My patient / client states that they have a dog that they say can help them and wants me to write a letter stating that they can take their dog with them in public as a service dog.  What should I do?

A.  This is is a frequent occurrence, and we remind all professionals that unless they have separate credentials in service dog training and assessment they should avoid providing written statements to this effect.  Concern exists regarding the possible legal ramifications of this in the event of an incident in public such as a dog bite.  We recommend that all professionals issue a written statement such as the one recommended above.  Rather than to suggest in writing that the patients own dog is appropriate, it may be safer to indicate that the patient meets ADA criteria and will benefit from the aide of a service dog that has been trained to provide task assistance.  It is appropriate to note the types of tasks your patient or client requires assistance with, however revealing the diagnosis is not required.  If you still wish to provide a letter stating that your patient may bring their own dog into public with them, we recommend that you consult your attorney before doing so.

Q.  My patient recently moved to the United States from another country and has a service monkey.  I have been asked to write a letter stating that they can take their monkey with them in public as a service animal, what is the protocol for this?

A.  In March of 2011 the Department of Justice amended the definition of service animal to exclude non-canines ,with a notable rare exception of miniature horses that meet criteria.  In the United States, all other non-canines are not permitted to have public access.  Thus, monkeys do not qualify.

Q.  There are many different types of service dog programs in our community, how do I know which one is best for my patient or client?

A.  The two most common service dog programs are those programs that allow individuals to bring their own dog and receive “team training”, and those that train the dogs and then place them with recipients, .  Team training programs may work well for individuals who are not frail or unsteady on their feet, and will be able to safely manage an energetic young dog during the training process.  For those who seek team training programs because want an “instant dog” however, this may not be appropriate.  There is no such thing as an instant service dog.  Many dogs wash out of team training programs, leaving the patient with veterinary and daily care bills, and no assistance.  For those patients who are frail and/or unsteady on their feet, a team training program may be a dangerous option.  For example, a patient with severe arthritis who is unsteady on their feet may be knocked over by an energetic dog as they grow. These patients will be at a greater risk for head injuries, hip fractures and a host of other serious injuries caused by inability to manage a young dog.  Patients with severe panic attacks or with PTSD and frequent flashbacks may also not be the best candidates for team training, as during times of crisis they would not be able to manage a dog that has not yet been trained.  For these patients, it may be safer to recommend a program that provides the patient with a dog that has already been trained and certified.

Q. My patient / client needs a service dog but can not afford the cost.  Is financial assistance available?

A. Each program differs.  The FSDS has several options that range from low cost to no cost.  Those individuals who have provided public service qualify immediately for full funding.  Individuals who have not performed public service, but are willing to donate 250 hours of community service may qualify for full funding under our Pawsitive Community Program.  You can locate additional information about this program on our website.  Individuals who do not fall into either category above may qualify for limited financial assistance, based upon availability of funding and must complete the financial affidavit that is included in the SD Application Packet.  All others will be charged a fee of $6,500 to cover the portion of expenses that the FSDS is not able to cover through grants.  The total cost of training a service dog in our program is currently over $15,000.

Q. What type of training program does the FSDS provide, and what types of dogs do you train?

A. The FSDS runs a unique youth-based training program.  High school students receive credit for training the dogs under close professional guidance.  Once trained and certified, these dogs are awarded to Arizona residents in need.   You can learn more about our comprehensive package of educational services by visiting the Service Dogs Page on our website.

Remember- though you can’t reverse the damage that has already occurred to patients, you can restore their independence and improve their quality of life. 

Classroom News

Greeting a child

Youth volunteer Parker Cebulski assists in the “greeting a child” station for the Public Access Test

Congratulations to our hard working students and teachers on their successful completion of year one of the youth-based service dog training program.  We are pleased to report that all student-dog teams have passed their Canine Good Citizen Test as well as their Public Access Test, and have graduated to year two.  Thanks to the hard work of all, our dogs-in-training have developed impeccable manners in public and are now ready to accompany their teen handlers in public everywhere they go.  So- if you are out in public and encounter one of our teams, please let them know how much their hard work is appreciated.

Early this month, the class was visited by Ron Coslett and Stan Van Peursen, members of the Sun City Grand Armed Forces photo - CopySupport Group (AFSG).  The FSDS was presented with a generous donation check for $5,000 to hep support our mission of providing service dogs at no cost to wounded military veterans.  Members took time to visit and bond with our students and dogs, providing them with a positive role model as well as support and encouragement.  Our sincere thanks to AFSG members for their ongoing support of our program and their commitment to make a difference to those in need in our community.

Congratulations to all teams who passed their Public Access Test on Friday, June 28th.  The students are:  Meagan Carr, Tatyana Gonzalez, Brianna Sanchez, Dominique Sollazzo, Lisette Borja and Nia Dean.  The remaining two students were away on summer vacation, and will test when they return. Those teams who have already passed have now earned permission to take their dogs with them in public everywhere.  So, if you see a team with a yellow vest marked “in-training”, please take a moment to let the students know how much their hard work is appreciated.  Together, they are working to help changes the lives of those in our community for the better.  Each day these students prove that you are never too young to make a difference in the world.

Wellness Tip

Summer is here and we remind our readers to avoid excess sun exposure for your dog.  Dogs are prone to sunburn, and skin cancers.  Short-haired and lighter colored dogs are particularly vulnerable, and may be protected by using sunscreen.  Consult your veterinarian for information regarding the product that is best for your dog.

Evacuation Tips

Summer is here, and that means it is hurricane, monsoon and fire season.  If you live in an evacuation prone area, remember to place all of your dogs pertinent records in a file that may be easily packed in an emergency.  Information should include medical records, emergency contact information, microchip # and County license tag, and a record of all preventive medications.  We recommend that each handler keep a packing list of necessary items, so that in an emergency important items will not be forgotten.  It is also recommended that you store a copy of all pertinent records online, or send a copy to a relative for safe-keeping in the event that your original records are destroyed.