How to Get a Service Dog for Free

Published October 16, 2022
Service dog giving assistance to person on wheelchair

A service dog is a wonderful thing. They can help with various disabilities and make life easier for their owner. However, it's important to know that getting a service dog isn't easy. You'll need to be patient while waiting for your dog, and you'll also have to jump through some hoops along the way, but it's all worth it in the end when you're able to walk freely down the street with your best friend at your side!

Understand Your Needs

Before you begin the process of finding a free service dog, it's important to understand what your needs are. You'll also need to know what type of dog will best meet those needs and how long it takes to train a service dog.

The first step in this process is making sure that you're aware of all the ways in which a service animal can help someone with physical disabilities or mental health issues. These may include:

  • Assistance with balance and mobility
  • Alerting people when something is happening that might harm them (e.g., if smoke or carbon monoxide detectors go off)
  • Providing emotional support
  • Providing comfort in times of anxiety or stress
  • Assisting with tasks such as opening doors and retrieving items

The next step is to decide what type of service dog will best meet those needs. This can be a difficult decision, but it's important to understand that there are many types of service dogs and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. The organizations you contact will be looking for a relatively concise description of what you need help with.

Research Providers and Organizations

Search for organizations that provide assistance dogs to people with disabilities and injuries. These organizations often list their dogs on their websites, so you can find out what types of service dogs they offer and how long the wait time is. Also check out local pet supply stores, as some may donate or sell used service dogs for a small fee.

Some organizations, like those that bring in service dogs for therapy or even service organizations themselves, have dogs that are trained to help people with disabilities, but they aren't able to keep them due to space or budget constraints. You can also reach out to animal shelters and ask if any retired service dogs have been surrendered for adoption. If you're willing to drive, contacting the larger shelters may be your best bet here.

If you want to buy a service dog, it's best to do your research first. Talk with organizations that provide service dogs, and ask if they sell puppies or have adult dogs for sale. If so, find out how much they charge and how long the wait time is for an animal from that organization.

Contacting Service Dog Organizations

A good place to start on your search for a free or low-cost service dog are the following organizations:

If you contact these organizations and receive no response, you can try contacting other service dog providers in your area using Google or Facebook's search function. If you find one that states they have a long waiting list or don't have any dogs available, it may still be worth reaching out to them to see if they have any ideas on how else you could get a free service dog or if they can refer someone else who might be able to help out with this issue. If they aren't sure themselves, they may have an idea of where you can look.

How Large Organizations Offer Free Service Dogs

You may wonder how some organizations can offer service dogs for free. The truth is they aren't exactly free, even though they may be free to you. There are many ways to fund this type of program.

For example, the organization may receive money from donations or grants from other organizations, such as government offices or local businesses. They may also receive some funding from their own members as well as private donors who want to give back to the community by donating money towards this cause.

Complete the Application Process

To apply for a service dog, you must complete a few steps. First, you'll need to apply online, which will take about five minutes and includes basic demographic information (age and sex), as well as some of your medical history. You'll also need to provide documents proving that you have a disability that qualifies for the Americans With Disabilities Act's definition of "service animal," such as a letter from your doctor or social worker.

Woman visits The Guide Dogs Hub

Once these documents are submitted, you can expect an evaluation from a licensed doctor who will confirm the severity of your disability and determine whether or not it qualifies for an assistance animal under federal law. In addition to this evaluation process, there may be additional requirements related to waiting periods and other eligibility criteria dependent on the organization you are working with.

Ask for a Letter of Support from an Organization

The next step is to contact a service dog organization and ask for a letter of support. Some organizations may be willing to write a letter outlining your need for a service dog. Combined with the information from your doctor, a service dog organization would be more likely to offer a free service dog.

Unfortunately, there are many claims for the need for a service dog, and service dog organizations must make sure the service dog is going to a home where they are fully needed. This protects you, the one in need of the service dog, and them, the organization that has cared for and trained the service dog. They want to make sure the service dog is going to the right place and the most suitable home.

Don't Get Discouraged by the Waiting Period

While service dogs are of tremendous benefit to their owners, the process of getting one is often long and arduous. If you're ready for a long-term commitment like this, it's important that you understand the process will take more than just a few weeks or months.

It will likely be several years before your new pup becomes fully trained and ready for use as an assistance animal if the service dog organization has a pup-in-training for you. Even if you find one that's already trained and the organization is willing to part with them for free or a small fee, there could be a large amount of paperwork involved.

Black labrador retriever puppy that will be trained as a dog guide

It's all part of the process, but you'll have a service dog before you know it. What can be better than a best friend that helps you with your everyday tasks? Keep the end goal in mind while you're waiting and look forward to what the future holds.

Start Contacting Organizations

There are many organizations that provide service dogs to people who need them, and they do so for free. The best way to find these organizations is by doing a Google search with keywords like "free service dog" or "service dogs for veterans." If you have a particular disability that requires a service dog, you can also search using those keywords, as well. Begin contacting organizations and ask what they offer. If they don't offer free service dogs, they may know an organization that does.

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How to Get a Service Dog for Free