"We'll have to find trainers in their area to help them, because we don't have funds to travel," she says. One source that might be of help to anyone who is looking for a service dog is Assistance Dogs International, which lists dog training organizations by state.
Prospective owners should be aware there are many different fees and rules, depending on where you live.
"Some organizations charge as much as $15,000 for a dog," says Hillson. "We charge a $500 placement fee that covers a crate, harness and other expenses, but that's all we charge. Another difference is that Colorado has no certification for service dogs. There's nothing official that makes it a service dog; whereas, I believe California has a very structured certification program. It really needs to be made uniform nationally."
Training service dogs can be expensive, says Hillson. FSD spends about $25,000 per dog, and its only funding comes from private donations and some grants.
"The government has a lot of money put aside for service dogs," she says, "but none of it has been allocated. A lot of people say, 'It's a dog. How can you spend that much money on a dog in 6 to 9 months?' The problem is, for every dog we train, we may have gone through as many as 20 looking for just the right one for a client, so it takes time, space and money for dog food. But when you see the faces of the people who get these dogs…It changes their lives. We have one Air Force retiree who came back with PTSD and was terrified of leaving her house, until we placed a dog with her last December. She's now outside, going places, and it's totally changed her life. Another veteran came back with an ankle injury and PTSD. Even though he was back from Iraq, he was still there mentally in many ways, so we taught the dog to be a buffer between him and other people. The dog would stand in front of him and alert him when someone was behind him. In the grocery store, when they reached the end of an aisle, the dog let him know if anyone was coming around the corner. Because of the dog, this owner has become much more outgoing because he's more comfortable."