CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WRIC) – In Charlottesville, Virginia, dozens of service dogs are in training, learning how to provide comfort and assistance to people in need. According to the U.S. Department of State, the number of people who rely on service dogs is now more than half a million and that’s just in the United States.
The non-profit organization Service Dogs of Virginia (SDV) raises, trains and places services dogs with those who need them most.
The whole process of training a puppy to become a service dog can cost up to $40,000. SDV provides the service free of charge through grants, sponsorships and donations.
Director of Development Sally Day said it takes a team of volunteers to raise the puppies that are then placed with their new owners when they are 18 months old.
To manage their care, SDV relies on volunteers.
“We need raisers, night siders and weekend volunteers to house the dogs,” explained Day.
While the dogs are in training, the animals learn about retrieval, pressure therapy and medial alerts, among other tasks. They also learn the importance of taking cues from their owners.
For those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the services dogs learn how to interrupt the handler if they notice signs of emotional distress. “We train the dogs for behaviors to recognize anxiety, to recognize discomfort in certain situations and to provide support for their person,” Day said.
Daily activities that most of us take for granted are a major hardship for a person with physical limitations. A service dog can help create greater freedom and independence.
Part of the process also includes socializing the dogs. During the 18 months of training, the animals visit different locations so they can become familiar with how to behave in those surroundings. Locations includes grocery stores, restaurants, public transportation and even airplanes.