Sunshine on Four Feet

The journey of a new service dog handler

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What Next?

After doing the math, I spent $1,425.10 just on Levi and his food/gear/vet needs. He was rehomed for $500, so I took a personal loss of $925.10 in this situation, not including the costs of paying my private trainer for her work.

Now that Levi has washed out, I have to start over. Fortunately, I have a fantastic answer to the question of, “What next?”

To begin with, I began pursuing service dog programs again. I’d previously been rejected by 35 programs, and recent inquiries raised that number to 43 programs which didn’t work out. Of the new ones, either they didn’t take people with my disability, or they only accepted local applicants. After I investigated multiple organizations, two accepted me and a third seemed like they might accept me once I had my doctor fill out a portion of the application form and applied.

One of the programs which accepted me charges $12,500 to match me to a fully-trained SD, and the other price was $10,000 but I’d be working with a Labrador, a breed I’d rather not have. That’s about the amount of money I would be putting into a dog from my private trainer, except there would be no personal financial loss if another dog washed out from training like Levi did. They’d simply pull up the next available dog, and I’d be matched to a fully trained service dog in the end, period. Even with the steep price tags, a SD from an organization would likely be far cheaper overall.

Working with a SD program was my first choice, and I worked to move forward in that process until a far better option came along.

A friend through Facebook contacted me, offering to give me the GIFT of a service dog! After training her own dog to work for her, she felt pulled to offer the same thing to someone else. She picked me.

I’d be responsible for a far more minimal portion of the costs. Any SD-specific gear like the vest to wear in public, boots to protect paws, and a raincoat to avoid the wet dog smell everyone loves. Of course, the cost of traveling out of state for team training would fall to me, too. She would raise, feed, train, and care for this dog for the 18-24 months until he or she was ready to graduate, and during that time I contribute what I can toward major costs like food, vaccinations, and hip x-rays.

There was no question about it that I would say yes, and I did, with much enthusiasm!

Our next step is to find a good breeder who produces golden retriever puppies with calm, stable temperaments, health-tested parents (those hips are important!) AND is willing to donate a puppy to us.

Currently we are working through a list of reputable breeders.



A Long Overdue Levi Update

Levi had his preliminary hip x-rays on January 27th at 14 months old.

It was a regular vet, not an orthopedic vet.  The news wasn’t great. His left hip socket is shallow.  My trainer was not told how shallow, since apparently only ortho vets give the ratings.  Sadly, I was told that Levi would never be able to do mobility work.  (I’d planned for him to do momentum pulling.)  Thankfully he was not placed on any exercise restrictions or any training restrictions after the x-rays.  It was only working that was a risk.

He could have probably been a working dog, but would have had to retire early.  How early was “early”?  We had no way to know.  A second opinion from an actual ortho vet could have given us a better timeline, but I didn’t have the money for that and even if I did, it probably wouldn’t have told us anything different.

While Levi might have been able to work the normal amount of working years (for his breed mixes) with little to no problems, he also may have problems down the road and have to be pulled from working far sooner than “normal”.  My trainer told me that Levi’s hip made him prone to injury, and if he happens to twist wrong in a year, that could be it.  He could be pulled from all work in as little as a year.

I had to make a decision.

Do I continue pouring money into a dog who would more than likely have to retire early?  Or do I rehome him to a pet home, and start over with another prospect?  It was evening when I found out his x-ray results, and by the next morning I’d made the choice to wash him out of training.

I liked Levi.  I liked him for his size (height and weight), his very calm temperament, for the fact that he reacts WONDERFULLY to people with my condition.  I liked the fact that we found a dog who had already been in training as a SDiT, and thus has a fantastic foundation laid.  Any future prospect we find would probably not have that foundation, since my trainer will now be looking for a young adult dog around a year old.

I decided that I’d rather begin again with a dog whose parentage is known, and whose hips are cleared, instead of playing the “hoping” game with Levi’s hips.

Just a few days after washing Levi out, I drove through the area on a cross-country move from California to Minnesota.  I met and photographed the dog who had been planned for me less than 48 hours after making a very hard decision to pull him from all service dog training.  He was everything I hoped he’d be, minus being a dog with fantastic hips.

In early February my trainer interviewed several prospective owners and families who were interested in adopting Levi as a pet.  He went to a couple about my age (late twenties) who like to go camping.  One of them works from home, so Levi won’t be alone/bored all day!  They went to meet him on February 4th, and picked him up February 7th. 

This couple will be taking Tucker, as they renamed him, to training sessions with the same dog trainer just to stimulate him and make him into the best dog he can be!  Wanting to continue his training is a good sign, and it makes me happy about his new life as a beloved pet.

Levi A

Levi B

Levi C

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Food for My Furry Miniature Elephant

The good news is that I found a cheaper source for Levi’s Taste of the Wild kibble. 

Instead of my trainer paying $51 in her area for a bag of this dog food, I can get it on Amazon for $44.89, and free shipping sends it directly to her house!  At a rate of 5 cups of kibble a day, this would reduce the monthly cost of Levi’s food from $65.88 down to only $57.98.

The bad news is that despite a cheaper kibble source, the monthly food cost is still increasing by $3.70 overall due to my growing puppy. 

Levi’s food needs have grown along with him.  He has gotten taller without any weight gain, so we have decided to increase his food to 6 cups of kibble each day.  This means he will get 20 days of eating from each bag of food and will eat through 1.55 bags of food per month.  If each bag continues to cost $44.89 through Amazon, then monthly food costs will be $69.58. 

My hope is that when Levi finishes growing, he will be back to eating 5 cups a day as an adult. 


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Hungry, Hungry Hippo

Levi got to visit the vet today, visiting as a bystander.  (It helps for a service dog to have positive associations with the vet before going in for any treatment or procedure.)  While there, my trainer put the vet’s scale to use. 

His official weight at 12 months and 3 weeks old is 82 pounds!  It’s very close to my trainer’s guess of 80 pounds. Right now his height is 29.5 inches at the shoulders, but the vet says he may grow another inch or even two inches taller!  As for an estimate of his adult weight, the vet told my trainer that Levi may wind up to be a whole 95 pounds.  This was a surprise, since we’d guessed an adult size of 85 pounds, give or take. 

Currently my pup eats 5 cups of Taste of the Wild brand kibble each day.  If he does hit 95 pounds, this may increase to around 6 cups per day. 

Online sources say that ToTW has 120 cups of kibble in their 30-pound bags.  Dividing that by the five cups that Levi eats, each bag should last around 24 days.  Assuming 31 days in every month (I rounded up), he’ll need 155 cups of food in a month.  That’s 1.2916 bags of food per month just to keep him fed.  At $51 per bag where my trainer lives, this means a cost of $65.88 per month for Levi’s food. 

If Levi’s food needs do increase to 6 cups of kibble per day, then the monthly cost will be around $79.05 instead. 



How I’m Fundraising

I am struggling to raise funds for the costs associated with Levi.  I find it hard to outright ask for donations, so I went about things a slightly different way.

In June 2013, I opened a shop on Etsy to sell my handmade beaded jewelry.  Unfortunately, it did not take off like I’d hoped, and in thirty months’ time I’ve had just seventeen people make a purchase from me.  They say that on Etsy, the jewelry market is the most saturated category.

With little interest in my beadwork, I thought perhaps there might be some interest in my nature photography.  This past July, I opened a second shop on Etsy just for the photography, and spent over three months editing my photos so they were ready to put up.  So far I have made two sales.

In all honesty, this gets discouraging, but I’m still trying.  I promote my art regularly, and still have hope that some might be purchased as a Christmas gift.

Ocean of Beads, my beadwork on Etsy.

Sunny Oak Studio, my photography on Etsy.

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Expected Costs for the Housing and Care of Levi

My trainer and I have discussed the numbers in depth, and these are the expected costs to purchase Levi and the items needed to house and train him.  Of course, it does not include the cost of hiring my trainer to do all of this!

  • Dog: $1,000
  • Gasoline to assess and then get dog: $30
  • Vet care (one year): $400 (estimated)
  • Emergency vet fund (refunded to use toward team training): $1,800
  • Food (one year): $800
  • Training treats (one year): $375-$600
  • Gear: $150
  • Various training tools: $40
  • Boots: $35
  • Dog bed: $0 (came with the dog)
  • Bowls: $0 (came with the dog)
  • Wire crate with divider: $0 (came with the dog)
  • Crate mat: $0 (came with the dog)
  • Chews for one year: $250
  • Gasoline for proofing training (one year): $2,080
  • Monthly flea and heart worm meds (one year): $100
  • Shampoo (one year): $75
  • Preliminary hip and elbow x-rays: $250
  • Hip and elbow certification: $350
  • Neuter: $0 (he came neutered)
  • TOTAL: $7,735 to $7,960

Gear costs include things like a service dog vest (obviously a yellow one), collars, leashes, a car harness, a Dremel tool for his nails, etc.  Having a harness to attach to the car’s seat belt will keep Levi from becoming a projectile if I’m in a car accident, the same way that a my own seat belt works!  The prices for flea and heart worm meds are what my trainer pays, local to her.  We hope that the emergency vet fund will go unused, but if anything should happen, costs for an emergency vet trip can’t come out of my trainer’s own pocket.  At the time I’m matched to a SD, the emergency vet fund will be refunded to me, and I plan to use it for transportation and lodging during the two-week team training when I learn to work with my dog.

These costs I’ve listed for Levi and his equipment are actually very low.  We got lucky finding a dog with the right temperament for SD work, not to mention one who comes with the foundation laid for this job!  Typically a purebred puppy costs $1,500 to $2,000 for the dog alone.  Levi was just $1,000 and came with his crate, his crate mat, his dog bed, his toys, his bowls, and his collar.  And he was already neutered, which cuts costs even more.  Because my trainer won’t be working with him for two full years, that further reduces the budget for food, chew toys, and gasoline needed to socialize him.

Of course, all of these equipment costs that I’ve summarized are only correct assuming that Levi succeeds in being trained as a service dog.  My trainer thinks he’ll make it, and be ready to work in about one year.  But if he fails out of training, we will have to start over from the beginning, and next time it won’t be so “cheap”.

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Not Exactly Sixty-Five Pounds…

Contrary to what I’d thought, Levi is not gonna be in the range of 60-65 pounds as an adult. Apparently his “recent” weight was an incorrect number.

My trainer compared him to a dog she knows that is 75 pounds, and my boy’s actually bigger! Levi is estimated to be about 80 pounds now, and possibly fill out to be 85 as an adult!

He is 29.9″ tall at the withers.  And to think, I only needed a dog who was 50 pounds (at minimum) for the momentum pulling task!