by Kameron Kopecky–
If you have been on the Virginia Tech campus recently you have more than likely seen a handful of students accompanied by dogs with colored vests on. These dogs are part of the SDWR and the Saint Francis Service Dogs training program and the students are their trainers.
The trainers are with the dogs throughout the duration of the 12 to 18 month program where the dogs are required to learn over 50 commands in order to one day aid a child or other individual in need. Once their training is complete, the dogs graduate to service dog school where they are further trained for specific disorders, which include autism, epilepsy, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and diabetes, also known as invisible disabilities.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, “an individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.”
After the dogs complete service dog school, they are assigned to an individual with an invisible disability. Most of the time, this individual is a child, but under no circumstances is there an age restriction to qualify for a service dog.
Unfortunately, qualifying and obtaining a service dog is not as easy as signing a few papers and bringing the dog home like it is for adopting a regular pet. A trained service dog can cost upwards of $25,000. Many recipients start GoFundMe pages and other similar forms of funding to help pay for the cost of the service dog. If a recipient does have the money to pay for the service dog, they still have some time to go before the entirety of the training process is complete.
“The training continues with the family until the dog is three years of age and can test for their official title of a service dog,” said Carey Johnson, an SDWR trainer at Virginia Tech who has been training her service dog, Dakota, for the past two months.
When the service dog has completed all of its training it officially belongs to the recipient and remains with them throughout the remainder of the dog’s lifetime.
If for any reason the service dog is unable to complete its training, the service dog trainer is first-in-line to adopt the dog.