Service dogs for Multiple Sclerosis?
I love my subscribers and they have been keeping me busy after I asked them to submit their burning questions.
Lin has progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and respiratory problems and asked whether or not I thought it would be possible to manage a service dog and care for it.
Service dogs are dogs that receive special training to assist people with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) dictates that service dogs can be anywhere the person with disabilities goes.
For Multiple Sclerosis, these specialty trained canines are known as balance dogs.
Balance dogs help those who have MS in a number of ways.
MS service dogs can help brace people when they get up and down (beds, seats), help with movement from room to room, and sense when their charge is tired and so will nudge a fatigued person towards a chair (or someplace where he or she can lean).
In addition, they provide a variety of other services and require a special balance harness and sometimes a backpack with supplies.
When out in public, these animals are well behaved and will calmly position themselves out of the way when in a restaurant or in public.
But the service dogs are more than just working animals, they are also loyal companions.
When it comes to balance dogs, another important consideration is the size of the animal since the canine must be large enough to support the weight.
When choosing the prospect it needs to be healthy, well trained and able to perform the tasks needed for the owner.
The normal breeds selected for balance dogs are generally larger breeds such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and sometimes great danes.
Since you have respiratory problems I’d be concerned about allergies and it would be important to determine if you might face additional challenges if you did get a service dog.
I wrote about some aids for dog allergies because there really isn’t a true hypo-allergenic pet and those tips might help you.
There are some breeds that are better for allergy sufferers but it is best to make sure you are not allergic to the particular animal you are considering.
Then you need to make sure that a balance dog could be of assistance based on your personal level of disability.
In addition, you might need help caring for the dog and training the dog and that might make it difficult to own and manage the pet.
So, how do you get a balance dog?
You could train the MS service dog yourself but I believe that you would best benefit from a professionally trained animal and working with a trainer.
Ideally, I would prefer that you obtain a MS balance dog that has already been trained to be a service dog.
Unfortunately there is a lot of service dog fraud and little regulation of the quality of the animals–so training may vary greatly.
Check out any organization you are considering and also talk to those who have received animals from them.
In some cases, you may be able to find financial assistance for a balance dog purchase–and perhaps financial support for the training and upkeep as well.
Don’t hesitate to inquire through your care provider, MS Society (try your local group first) or other organizations that help people with disabilities.
You might also try the following service dog groups for information or referrals:
- International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP)
- Assistance Dogs International (Membership organization for those who train assistance dogs.)
- Balance Dog Harness
Thanks for submitting your question Lin and let me know how you fare on this quest.
Last updated 12/29/2016: Since I do not provide referrals or service dogs please contact the agencies listed as resources.