Have you ever thought about providing a temporary foster home for a future service dog? Dozens of organizations across the country train service dogs to help assist people with various disabilities. There is a list here showing most of the service dog schools in the United States. Many states have more than one school. This sounds like a great opportunity for a dog lover to make a difference in someone's life.
The fostering programs vary from school to school, but most are in need of people to foster a future service dog for the first year of the puppy's life. The majority of service dogs are labs, golden retrievers or German shepherds. The foster family shares their home with the dog, teaching it to be a good citizen. This involves house-training the pup, teaching it basic obedience and most importantly, socializing the pup and exposing it to everyday activities such as shopping, riding a bus, going to church, soccer games, getting used to all types of people and animals, etc. The formal service dog training begins after the pup leaves its foster home.
If you are like me, you have probably fostered a pet at some point already. Why not consider fostering a future service dog? Here are some things to consider as you are thinking about it:
1. You won't be paid for your service fostering a service dog.
I have not come across any program that pays people to foster future service dogs. Some organizations will pay for the pup's food and basic vet bills, others will not even pay for that. Either way, realize some costs will come from your own pocket such as providing toys, repairing any damage and puppy proofing your house.
2. You have to pass an application process to obtain the puppy.
Many programs require puppy raisers to have previous guide dog raising experience. You will likely be interviewed after you get through the application stage. Some will require at least one adult in the household to work from home. Others are more lenient. After you receive a puppy, a trainer will likely make monthly visits to check on the pup's progress. Each guide dog is worth about $40, 000, so the school will be monitoring the puppies closely.
3. Sixty percent of the puppies graduate to become service dogs.
Forty percent of the pups do not graduate from the program, according to bcguidedogs.com. There is a chance your pup will not make it through the program and you will never get to see him go on to be a service dog. Dogs that don't make it through the program are adopted out as pets.
4. Get ready to part with the dog after a year.
It can't be easy to live with a pup as though it's your own and then return it. It doesn't take long to create a bond with an animal you are caring for. In this case, all your training and hard work will finally be paying off and then you have to let the dog go live somewhere else just when it's finally starting to become a well-behaved dog.
5. Most of the pups come from breeders.
It depends on which program you go with, but many of the service dogs come from breeders where the dogs are selected based on bloodlines, health and personality in order to find the most successful service dogs. Other programs find dogs perfectly capable from shelters. If you have a strong feeling against breeding dogs when there are so many homeless dogs, then do more research on the specific organization in your area.
6. Get ready to take your dog everywhere.
A future service dog will require much more attention than a typical puppy. The pup needs to get used to any situation, which means you have to take the puppy almost everywhere you go. It wears a future service dog vest, so the pup is allowed almost anywhere. Planning a family vacation? Well, can the pup go along too?
7. You and your future service dog will change a life.
You will get to meet the person who your dog is placed with. Imagine how rewarding it would be to know you raised a puppy that went on to be a service dog to a person who really needed one. Many people in need of a service dog are currently on a waiting list waiting for that perfect companion.
8. A lot of attention will be on you and your service dog in training.
People will ask questions when they see your dog with a service vest. You can use this opportunity to teach others about the importance of training. It will also get old explaining about your dog over and over again and dealing with people who want to pet your puppy while he is “working.”
9. You will work with experienced dog trainers.
You will get to learn about advanced dog training from experienced trainers and handlers. Many programs require or offer monthly meetings where all the volunteer puppy raisers meet to learn about training strategies.
10. It's an excuse to have a puppy for a year.
I hate to say it, but that's what's so appealing about this kind of volunteering. You get to have a dog at its cutest stage and all for a good cause. What could be better than that?
Have you ever fostered a future service dog? Will you? I know I am considering it.