Military service can weigh heavy on the mind and the heart. Depending on what role they served, our veterans may come home or retire with mental scars that are difficult to heal.
That’s why many have turned to therapy dogs as a positive resource and a positive outlet for their emotions. Over the last decade, therapy dogs and emotional support animals have become extremely popular for individuals dealing with a variety of mental health conditions and our veterans are no exception.
This article will detail the cost and investment of adopting a veteran therapy dog and help explain why getting one could be a great addition to your or a loved one’s life.
What is a Therapy Dog?
Therapy dogs are a type of assistance animal that addresses some form of need for the individual. When we think of therapy dogs, two types of dogs come to mind, each with its own specific mission.
Service dogs: Service dogs are animals that are highly trained to work or perform tasks for their handler with disabilities. They are trained to help individuals with disabilities that are unable to perform certain functions live independently.
Service dogs provide many benefits such as:
- Independence: The feeling of being a burden is common among people with disabilities. Service dogs that are trained to perform tasks such as carrying items or opening doors can increase an individual’s quality of life by lessening their reliance on other people.
- Protection: For many, service dogs provide a first line of defense for medical conditions or physical disabilities. Seeing eye dogs are a great example of this as they allow people with vision impairment to go about their daily life without having to worry as much about the potential dangers of their surroundings. Dogs trained to help with mental health disorders like PTSD or panic disorder, may help when their handler is in crisis.
- Motivation: Disabilities can severely hamper the mental state of those affected. Service dogs still require care from their owners and that dependence can help get and keep individuals out of mental ruts.
- Increased confidence in social situations: Having a companion by their side can make individuals feel more comfortable when in social circles. Not only that but having a companion at their side opens the window to social interactions. Even if the dog is on duty and strangers cannot interact with them, it will still afford human contact.
Emotional support dogs: Emotional support dogs are companions prescribed by mental health experts to provide comfort for an individual with a mental disability.
While not as thorough as service dogs, emotional support animals also provide a host of benefits such as:
- Providing mental support: One's mental disposition can be significantly changed by mental diseases. Emotional support animals can offer a healthy outlet for strong emotions, whether they are caused by instability or a downtrodden temperament.
- Complimenting other forms of treatment: Animals used as emotional support don't have to work alone. In fact, adding emotional support animals to mental health therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy is strongly advised by mental health professionals (CBT). Emotional support animals have the potential to enhance outcomes when used in combination with other therapies.
- Providing unconditional companionship: Love is a fantastic gift that animals may give and receive. They may be a ray of hope for those suffering from mental illnesses like depression. This company can help someone's mental health in general.
- Providing social support: People who have emotional support animals are more likely to interact with others and form deep connections with their loved ones because of their elevated emotional state and capacity to manage symptoms.
- Help ground individuals: Reliving horrific events can cause PTSD sufferers to spiral out of control and face other mental health problems. But having an emotional support animal around can act as a safety net, serving as a constant reminder that they are no longer in a horrific position.
As you can see, the distinguishing factor between the two is that service dogs are trained to assist people with disabilities to perform basic functions that they may otherwise be unable to. For example, a service dog may be trained to help people with epilepsy by detecting the onset of a seizure and helping the individual remain safe.
Emotional support animals, on the other hand, aren’t trained or specialized and simply serve as a therapeutic outlet for individuals with mental concerns. For instance, if the individual has severe anxiety, the tactile sensation of stroking the dog’s fur may help alleviate the intensity of symptoms.
What is the Cost and Investment of Adopting a Therapy Dog?
If you or a loved one are a veteran that is considering getting a therapy dog, you will need to know which one you or they qualify for as well as the costs and time investment required to obtain and care for one.
First of all, service dogs require a specific medical need and can be obtained from a service dog organization or be trained by the individual. Training your own dog is extremely difficult and more challenging than training a regular dog as service dogs require a much more in-depth training process to help their handler perform tasks.
Dogs obtained through service dog organizations go through:
- Obedience training
- Service training
- Socialization training
Typically, only certain breeds of dogs are allowed to be service dogs and when going through an organization, must meet specific requirements that will vary based on the organization. Service dogs are also protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and must be allowed into premises that would normally not allow pets, airlines, apartments, or rental properties that do not typically allow pets.
But what about the cost? The upfront cost of service dogs ranges from $20-30k. While this may seem expensive, the cost reflects the time and resources that go into training the dog. Service dogs are custom-trained to fit the lifestyle of the handler and this can take more than 600 hours of training. You can also expect to spend around $500-1000 a year on care for the service dog.
It should also be noted that Medicare and health insurance do not cover service dogs. Luckily, many non-profits will cover the costs of service dogs for people that need them. However, these can often have long waitlists.
Emotional Support Dogs
While emotional support dogs aren’t trained to assist with daily tasks, they can enrich the lives of their owners by providing unconditional love and something to ground them and protect them from the negative emotions that can come from dealing with mental health conditions.
Because they do not have to run through a gauntlet of customized training programs, emotional support animals are much cheaper and more accessible than service dogs.
While emotional support animals do not receive many of the protections that service dogs do such as being required access to places of business and airlines, landlords are required to make accommodations for them if they normally do not allow pets. They are also forbidden from charging pet fees and deposits for emotional support animals as they are protected under the Fair Housing Act.
When it comes to emotional support animals, far as costs are concerned, you can expect to only pay for the same resources needed to care for a regular pet.
While you may find many websites online that sell certification for emotional support animals, these are usually scams as all that you need to register an emotional support animal is what is called an ESA letter from a medical practitioner.
ESA letters are official documents from physicians or licensed medical professionals that are valid for one year and require annual renewal.Regardless of which type of therapy dog is needed, they can provide enrichment to our veterans’ lives and significantly improve their quality of life. For more information, you can check out the Veterans Affairs website.