Frequently Asked Questions:
What makes Exceptional Sidekicks Service Dogs different from other service dog groups?
Although there are a myriad of groups offering psychiatric service dogs to veterans, there are very few organizations that cater to civilians/non-veterans. People who suffer from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, severe depression, and anxiety are all ages and come from all walks of life. In addition, we provide our dogs to their handler at no cost, and cover all of the dogs’ training and medical expenses for the first two years of their lives. Finally, our organization was founded by a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and behavior expert, which is another difference from many agencies that offer service dogs.
How does someone qualify to receive a psychiatric service dog from Exceptional Sidekicks?
People can apply on our website, or be recommended by a therapist, a school counselor, or other healthcare provider. When we first meet potential clients we will assess if a service dog is really what they need. Many people, particularly with psychiatric disabilities, are unclear about what a service dog can provide for them. Once discussing their needs and hopes for an assistance animal, we can better guide them to the type of assistance animal that would best suit their needs – which may or may not be a Psychiatric Service Dog. They may, for example, need an Emotional Support Dog instead. We will also work closely with their therapists and health team to make sure that an assistance animal is in the best interest of their patient and if so, which tasks would be the most beneficial to improve their quality of life.
What psychiatric disabilities can a service dog help with?
Our dogs are placed with children or adults in Newtown or surrounding towns who struggle with severe anxiety, depression, PTSD, brain injuries, panic attacks or other psychiatric disabilities holding them back from living life to the fullest. Having a trained service dog could give them the confidence they need to start living their life to the fullest again. Trained to help with each person’s specific disability, our dogs’ services can include applying Deep Touch Pressure during a nightmare, retrieving medication and water, blocking strangers from invading the handler’s personal space, finding the nearest exit during a panic attack, and much more. These tasks can make all the difference to someone struggling with their everyday life.
After the dog is matched and lives with their companion, do you still stay involved?
One of our most important services is long term support. We will provide continued training for the life of the dog if the handler’s needs change. When they first get their dog, we provide several weeks of training, including educating them on Access Laws and proper handling in public. We require annual check-ins to make sure the dog is working properly for them and doing their job. We will be their biggest advocates and supporters.
What happens if one of your dogs is not well suited to being a psychiatric service dog after the two-year process?
Our dogs are well-bred, reliable, even-tempered, suitable companions, and trained properly for mental illness support. However, not every dog will turn out to be a perfect Psychiatric Service Dog. After our two-year training process, if one of our dogs does not ultimately show that they can meet the needs to support a person with a psychiatric disability, the dog will become a Facility Dog, placed with a counselor in a school or private office to contribute to the mental health and wellness of the entire community. Facility Dogs are similar to Therapy Dogs (which are not the same as Service Dogs) but are able to withstand the stress of working an entire work day.
Are these dogs exclusive to those impacted by the Sandy Hook School tragedy?
Here in Newtown, CT, there are many people still recovering from the tragedy at Sandy Hook School (12/14/12) who would benefit from the skills of a trained service dog. But we also consider others who are struggling with mental illness for other reasons.
How and where do you get the puppies?Why not adopt a rescue dog?
We do extensive research to find our puppies. They come from well-sourced, highly established service dog breeders who breed meticulously for temperament, workability, structural soundness, and health. While rescues and mixed breeds are very capable of becoming therapy dogs and exceptional comforting family pets, Exceptional Sidekick Service Dogs leaves no room for error when it comes to training and placing a psychiatric service dog. Our dogs are put under a tremendous amount of stress helping their handlers and it takes a very special dog that can handle that pressure. We believe rescue dogs that have already had a stressful life deserve to live a pet life where they will be able to relax by the pool with their favorite toys.
Why does it take two years to turn a puppy into a service dog?
The puppies are ready to leave their birth mom and come to us at eight weeks old and then are raised and socialized by our volunteer puppy raiser families. At four to six months of age, they can then go to one of our volunteer teachers and their family to begin real-life field training – in the community, in classrooms, and in real situations for a year and a half. At 15 to 18 months of age, we begin to pair dogs with an applicant and then train the dog further for that person’s specific disability. We then train the dog with their new handler for two to four weeks.
Where do donations go? How are they used?
Each of our dogs costs approximately $25,000 to raise and train during the two-year process. This is in addition to our basic operating business costs.
The breakdown is as follows PER DOG:
Puppy Well Visits:$500
Yearly Well Visits:$300
Heartworm Meds for 2 yrs:$200
Flea and Tick Meds for 2 yrs: $400
Food for 2 yrs: $1,440
Health Testing: $2,000
Training for new Owner: $1,000
Puppy Raiser Training: $1,200
Group classes at The Exceptional Pet: $ 2880
Task Training for new Owner: $10,000
Crates for home and school: $300
Beds, Toys, Tugs: $200
Harnesses and Gentle Leaders: $20
What if I can’t wait for two years to get a dog and need one much sooner?
We can try to help you identify another organization who will provide a dog at no charge like we do, but we are not aware at the current time of any groups that do so in this area. We can, however, connect you immediately with The Exceptional Pet, Abby’s company that offers obedience, agility, and other group classes as well as private lessons, including training someone’s dog to become a service dog and help their owner live a better life. Email Abby for more information on our private training programs and fees.
The mission of your group is to involve the community. How do you do that?
There are many levels of community involvement, all with an eye on giving comfort to our community by the very presence of the dogs in their schools and town, as well as enabling them to be part of the training, and learning about people with psychological disabilities. We provide many opportunities for people locally to get involved in raising and training the dogs. First, we have the puppy raisers – families who have the puppies in their homes for up to six months. Then we have the teachers and their families who take the dogs from six months to one and a half years, to take them through training in the real world including regularly in our schools. And we have our Teen Trainers Program, which gets our high schoolers involved more personally and directly. All along the way we are teaching the community about mental health and working together to erase the stigma of mental illness.
The Exceptional Sidekick is a non-profit organization that transform lives by identifying, raising, and training exceptional Psychiatric Service Dogs to match -- at no cost -- with children and adults suffering from psychiatric disabilities, while engaging and educating the community in the process.
Copyright 2017 The Exceptional Sidekick Service Dogs