In this section I will highlight the things that were important to me as I did my research. As I mentioned in my previous blog, you are interviewing organizations to train YOU a life saving employee! You need to consider all of the qualities and characteristics that are important to you in a potential organization. (Side note: Before you make your phone calls, have a notebook with all of your questions ready and a place to take notes, as there will be a lot of information to keep track of).
I started by asking about the organizations breeding program or how they acquire their dogs, what breeds did the organization train, (for some people the specific breed may be very important, to others the specific breed may not be an issue). You need to ask about the dogs medical background, their veterinary care, if ANY dogs have ever been returned and why. What type of housing are the dogs kept in while they are in training? How many dogs are in training at one time? How many trainers does your organization have? Do volunteers raise the dogs, or are they only handled by the organizations trainers? What happens when I have questions or a problem AFTER my DAD is delivered? Would the organization give out references from past/current clients? Does the organization have a contract and if yes, would they allow you to review it. If there is no contract, ask why?! I asked questions about the training process and how long it would take to train our DAD. This was VERY different for a lot of the organizations. Depending on how the dogs were trained, you could be placed with a puppy with minimal training that you have to finish with help via email/phone calls or video training ( I personally can’t imagine this being a good/effective way to train any DAD), some organizations used rescued dogs that were then trained to be a DAD’s, (this method was worrisome to me personally as I wasn’t comfortable not knowing the medical history of the dog or the breeding of the animal and whether or not it would be predisposed to genetic disorders or other medical issues). Some organizations fully trained the DAD’s before placement but required trips back to their organization every six months to a year for follow up or for additional training services in order for you to keep the DAD. This method could prove to be very costly, on top of the cost of the dog, having to arrange travel plans and accommodations if you do not live near the training facilities. This was also a red flag to me, if I was getting a fully trained DAD, then why would I need to return for “further training”…? Once you are placed with a fully trained DAD, you will most definitely be “maintaining” the dogs training and nurturing the behaviors that they have been given, but with a properly trained DAD, this is a very simple and FUN task! I also asked if the organization screened for hip and eye issues because maintaining a healthy DAD is crucial to the life expectancy of the dog. (OFA- Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, or CERF testing- Canine Eye Registration Foundation) I asked if the organization guaranteed their animals and if they would return/replace the DAD if a situation presented itself. There were other “small talk” questions about the dogs obedience, personalities and social skills of the dogs, time table for delivery of our DAD, fundraising, making payments, etc and I will cover more of these topics in future posts. I have added the links to the specific testing that I mentioned above if you would like more information on why these are so important to maintaining a healthy working service animal.
As you talk to different organizations you will come up with more questions, that is OK, use that to your advantage for your research! If the organization is not willing to answer certain questions or seems to redirect your questions you need to ask yourself why!? They should be an open book, willing to explain and help you through every part of the process of getting your DAD, no topic should be off limits. I hope that this information has been helpful but ultimately you need to decide what is most important to you when you are on your journey to find the right organization to train your Diabetic Alert Dog and don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions.
Another big concern for many families after they choose the organization to train their DAD is how in the world will they raise the money!? Stay tuned, in my next two blogs I will walk you through our personal fundraising journey and will also give you some ideas to get you started on your own fundraising adventure!