What are the costs associated with a service dog?
- The cost of the dog: The dog may cost from nothing to thousands of dollars. Some breeders will donate a dog to be trained, some people find an appropriate dog at their local shelter, some people, as I did, pay full price from a high-quality breeder: close to $2,000 dollars. NOTE: Do NOT buy a dog at a store; they are notorious for health and temperament problems and you'll get a lower quality dog that ends up costing more than one from an excellent breeder.
- The cost of a service dog trainer’s time or service dog organization fee: It is not unusual for a non-profit service dog organization to charge a fee of as much as $25,000 for a fully trained dog and for training of the person to handle the dog. On the other end of the spectrum, one can train one’s own service dog. The chance of success goes up, however, if you have an experienced service dog trainer training and consulting with you. There are also trainers who will take the dog and do the basic training for you and then train you to train the dog the rest of the way. This service falls between the other two in cost. One program that did this charged approximately $10,000. In my case I chose to learn to train the dog on my own with help from a pro. I ended up way under budget because I got lucky in my choice of dogs and because the trainer was very generous in donating her time to act as a consultant in choosing the dog and pointing me towards training resources I could use to educate myself. I ended up only using a few hours of paid training time: under $200. This is unusually low.
- Travel costs if the trainer or organization is not nearby. Most organizations will require you make at least one trip to the organization for training.
- Vet/insurance costs: Having a service dog go into heat or having a male service dog reacting to females in heat is not a good thing. You will need to have your dog neutered. There are low-priced clinics available in many communities for people with limited incomes, your town hall or animal control officer will know about them. Call a local vet to find out what the full price is. Your dog should be microchipped, it’s a small price, and it increases the chances you’ll get your very valuable animal back if you get separated. In addition one needs to budget for on-going vet expenses. Your service dog will need regular checkups, rabies shots, etc., and, like most dogs, will experience an illness or two and some injuries in the course of his/her life. Note: pet insurance does not cover 100% of expenses; you'll need a budget in addition to the premium.
- Food: Service dogs need to be in great health to work properly and to have a long working life. You are not going to want to feed your dog poorly when so much depends on him/her and when you’ve invested so much money and/or time in training.
- Toys and gear: You’re going to want a vest or harness for the dog to wear when working, leashes, a collar, and who knows what else. Dogs also need toys.
- Dog license: another small necessity. Usually modest cost especially for neutered dogs.
How to Pay for Your Service Dog and His/Her Upkeep
- Your own income: at the very least you need to ensure that you can take care of basic upkeep costs (vet, food, toys) from your own income. It’s not fair to take on a dog when you don’t have the money to feed it and provide basic care.
- Family: You may be able to get some help from relatives if you can explain how the dog will enable you to live a healthier life.
- Churches and other local organizations have been known to help raise funds for the acquisition of a service dog.
- On-line fundraising sites: friends of my friends have successfully used http://www.giveforward.com// and gofundme.com to raise a portion of the costs of their service dogs (I can’t recommend either personally because I haven’t used them).
- Have a yard sale or sell things you make and let people know the proceeds will help you with your service dog expenses. My favorite leash is handmade by another service dog handler. I bought it when she ran a special promotion to raise money for a winter coat for her service dog. (note: if you’d like to support a person with a psychiatric service dog, consider buying your leash from her too: https://www.facebook.com/ActionLeashes?ref=hl).