Frequently Asked Questions
Typically it costs about $25,000 to train a service dog, depending upon the number and complexity of the commands they must learn. This effort involves the raising and selection of the puppies, teaching them general commands, training them to perform a variety of specific functions to provide for their future partner's particular needs, and finally pairing them with their recipient so they can become compatible as a team. It can take 18 months or more, and the involvement of several professional trainers to accomplish this training.
We review the credentials of many service dog training facilities to identify the ones that are best able to provide the right dogs for wounded veterans. One requirement is that the training meets standards set by Assistance Dogs International (ADI), the national accrediting organization that certifies dog trainers for this process. Additionally, we make sure that a training facility has a steady stream of capable, well-trained animals and that the facility works closely with veterans to understand their unique needs. When we identify a veteran who would benefit from a service dog, we begin a search process among our approved facilities to find the best available dog to meet that veteran's particular needs.
As of today, there are nearly 40,000 wounded veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Of these, it is estimated that 1,600 are amputees. Others suffer from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, and there are many with multiple injuries and trauma, including deafness, blindness, spinal injuries and paralysis, or severe leg, arm and body trauma that restricts movement. All of these brave men and women can benefit from the assistance and companionship of a service dog.
An 18-year old soldier who suffers a serious injury may need five or six service dogs over the course of his or her life. This continuing need over time keeps us dedicated to this great effort.
Of course there are alternatives, but time after time it has been proven that a service dog provides the kind of help that is most beneficial to a wounded veteran who wants to live an independent life. A service dog can do most of the things a human aide can do, and veterans are more likely to have higher self-esteem if they are paired with a service dog than if they must rely constantly on another human. The independence offered by a service dog is a great psychological as well as physical boost.
The Tower of Hope makes every effort to ensure that retired service dogs are placed in a home or facility where they can live out their remaining days in dignity and comfort. We feel it is imperative that every service dog has a home after such an important career and we are establishing an endowment to be used for ongoing care by any person owning a service dog that we have sponsored. When we have raised sufficient funds, we will be able to guarantee that The Tower of Hope will pay for the veterinary costs of the service dog for the remainder of its life.
It is our goal that any service dog sponsored by The Tower of Hope will receive free veterinary care for the duration of its life, and we are currently creating affiliations with veterinarians in the regions where our current TTOH service dogs reside. At present, routine veterinary care is provided at no charge to any service dog sponsored by TTOH in the Northeast by Dr. Brian Green, DVM, at the Sleepy Hollow Animal Hospital in the Tarrytowns. We anticipate other regions will follow shortly.
These dogs are truly miraculous. They provide their owner with balance, stability and confidence in walking. They pick up objects, open doors, turn lights on and off, retrieve items, bring prosthetics to those who have them, and otherwise help their owner to live a normal, independent life. In addition, they provide a calming influence, especially for those with PTSD, and offer their owners companionship that can make a big difference in times of mental discomfort and anxiety. They provide help with seizures and companionship to those with severe brain injuries, and even alert those with impaired hearing to respond to important sounds.
Importantly, veterans and others we speak with talk about their dogs as their best friends. It's truly a partnership of love and support, one that can mean the world to someone who has gone through illness or severe trauma.
Service dogs can learn between 60 to 150 commands – they have been taught such complicated tasks as folding laundry and untying shoelaces. Every dog is trained to perform the specific functions needed by his or her owner. Trainers are excited and motivated to find new things dogs can do for their owners.
What's the most unique thing a service dog does for a veteran? We have seen situations where service dogs can sense an oncoming seizure, ease their way onto the owner's lap to alert the owner that a seizure is coming, and provide comfort during the seizure. The results are amazing—the owners report that their seizures are milder and that they feel better when the seizure ends.
The Tower of Hope distributes funds to a number of ADI-recognized training facilities that it has approved, who then use that money to train service dogs for wounded combat veterans and others in need. We also provide funds to ensure that all dogs we have sponsored have the necessary veterinary care for the dog's entire service life. In addition, we are undertaking programs to educate wounded veterans of the availability and benefit of service dogs for their specific needs. And finally, we are creating an endowment to guarantee that a retired service dog is cared for after it has served its "assignment", with full medical and residential care.
The Tower of Hope works with local veterans associations (such as the VFW) and hospitals treating wounded veterans (such as Walter Reed) to determine when a wounded soldier will be released from the facility, and thus would be ready to benefit from having a service dog. We often get calls directly from veterans who are in need, and from trainers who get requests directly from veterans. It is our goal to contact the wounded veteran immediately to facilitate the process of teaming them with service dog as quickly as possible.
Service dog training is done in stages lasting up to 24 months. Puppies are often raised by families who have long-term relationships with training facilities, and it is here that the dog is weaned and house-broken. Dogs then go to a training facility for six to eight months of intensive training to learn specific commands and actions that would be required for the intended recipient. At that point the dog is ready to be partnered with its future owner so they can learn how to best work together. Refresher training courses and regular feedback are required so that the pairing meets both the dog's and the owner's needs.
The Tower of Hope provides service dogs to many types of people that can benefit from having them at their sides. While it's primary focus today is on wounded veterans, we will provide dogs to people who have lost their hearing, autistic children, people with chronic diseases that make ambulation difficult, people with spinal problems, and those with a host of other health issues.
The Tower of Hope is not a training facility, so we do not need volunteers to work with dogs. However, when we interact with people who are partnered with dogs, there is often the opportunity for volunteers to help in various aspects of the human-animal relationship. Also, we often recommend volunteer candidates to help in many of the approved training facilities, so if there's a desire to help, we'll do our best to involve volunteers in the process. Of course, we are always grateful for anyone willing to volunteer their time or effort to The Tower of Hope.