I have had several extremely hard days. I feel like I have been running back and forth like a chicken with it's head cut off putting out fire after fire. Something has been weighing on my mind the last week that I want to discuss. It all started with a phone call...
Last week I received a phone call from a woman who was interested in learning more about having her puppy be trained to be a public access service dog for her teenage diabetic daughter. After spending a few minutes with her on the phone, I could tell that I had lost her. Why? Because as soon as she heard how much money it would probably cost her, and how much time, she immediately unsubscribed because she wasn't able to have the dog quickly, or cheaply. Before hanging up on me, she said in a nasty tone "shame on you for making money off of poor families with disabled children!"
I sat there for a few minutes, with the phone's dial tone in my ear, stunned. The first thought that ran through my mind was I'm disabled too. I have medical bills to pay just like you. I have to support myself, and I'm NOT making a huge profit off of these dogs that I train. I have found that it's a common trend for people to want me to either give them free training, or have it done at an extremely discounted rate. I specialize in this work and there are not many who have my experience or knowledge, and ironically, people judge me for charging a fair price for my services when they cannot find anyone else in their area who offers the same services.
It takes 1-2 years approximately to train a full access service dog who can appropriately handle going to all public places with their handler as well as offer some type of specialized task that qualifies them as a service dog. A qualified service dog trained by a professional can easily cost $25,000+, and can be almost that much in mere expenses alone if the dog is trained by the owner instead of a professional. People chastise me over the phone if I quote them only a couple thousand dollars. It's sad that people want what they want and want it now! Unfortunately, when it comes to the way of service dogs, that's just not how it works.
I was emailing back and forth the other day with another Service Dog professional and kvetching with her about the public wanting cheap, reliable, instant service dogs. It;s almost like people want a Sanka version of the good service dog. Alert the press! There's an INSTANT SERVICE DOG available for the masses!
"I know what you mean," I wrote to her, "people constantly contact me wanting me to train a full access Diabetes Alert service dog for them but only wanting to pay very little. It's very frustrating."
"You could let them know that dogs would cost only about 5 thousand dollars if the trainer would put in hundreds of hours at $5- an hour..." She answered back. "Nobody wants to hear that..."
Her answer sat with me for a long time after that, in fact it still does. She's exactly right. Copper receives an average of 40-60 hours of training a week (yup it's like a full time job) in between the field trips in public and the obedience and scent training he gets at home (sometimes at the most inopportune of times!) If I was being paid a measly $5/hr that would mean Copper's currently worth around 5k. But who wants to get paid that? Even at minimum wage currently, Copper is currently worth approx 8-9k. That's right people almost 10k! But let's be honest; I have an education in this field and I don't want to only be paid minimum wage...
I visited my parents in the central valley while traveling for business a while back. My Mom was a sweetheart and took me out to eat and I couldn't help but spend much of the time between beverages and the main course to whine about my problems. I was extremely disheartened by the response of people lately. "I keep getting the same response from people," I remember telling her, "If I can't offer it for unreasonably cheap rate, then people aren't interested." I can't help but think that if I were in any other profession, people would have a different attitude. If I was doctor who specialized in some rare disease, I know patients would not chastise me about my prices as well as accuse me of "making money" off of their misfortune. They would appreciate my professional opinion (for the most part) and come to me because I WAS a specialist and I knew more than most. I have a degree in Cynology, I have years of volunteer/fostering experience, I have service dogs currently in the field that I trained who are doing well and certified, I have shelter dog experience, I have service dog experience...I have a lot of experience across the board and much more so than others at my age of under 30.
"Why don't you share with people how much time and money you're spending on Copper," my Mom suggested. I took a few minutes to mull it over. The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea. Copper started his journey to become a service dog back in the fall of 2016 and now, only 6-7 months into his training, he's doing really well. So well, in fact, that he'll most likely be ready to be placed in the next several months.
So, starting now and until he's placed, I'm going to (attempt) to update y'all about Copper's weekly ventures and how much professional training time he's getting. Check back soon for the first entry in the "Copper's Training Journal" series.
...and to the woman who felt I was "making money off of poor families with disabled children," all I can say is that I'm sorry. I have been there and I know how frustrating this disease can be. I sincerely hope you find the support that you are looking for.