Frequently Asked Questions
HOW DID IT ALL START?
Patriot Assistance Dogs was founded by Linda Wiedewitsch, a retried detective from Minnesota. With years of dog training behind her, and as the owner of the Lucky Dog Complex in Detroit Lakes (which also houses the Marshmallow Animal Shelter), she had noted the difference that a dog could make in the life of a person. With the support of her husband, a Veteran himself, Linda started to form the idea of rescuing dogs and training them as service dogs for Veterans living with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), TBI (Traumatic Brain Injuries), and more. In 2011, she started the program and trained our first dog and matched him with a Veteran. The pairing was wildly successful, and Linda surged forward over the years, gathering a small army of very devoted volunteers to help foster, train and place the dogs. As of 2021, we have paired over 200 dogs with Veterans and are going strong.
WHAT TRAINING & TESTING DO WE DO WITH OUR DOGS?
Each dog that is brought into the Patriot Assistance Dog program is first put through a temperament test. While many dogs may be able to be trained to do one or two of the tasks that we teach, many do not have the right temperament for the job and can not handle the various situations, places and things that they will be exposed to. Finding dogs that are eager to please and ready to learn, while still keeping a calm head on their shoulders, is the beginning of the process.
Once a dog has been accepted into the program, the training begins. Because many of our dogs are rescues, the training may begin at different places for each dog. Many of our dogs know a few basic commands when they come in, and some aren't even housebroken. Our trainers start at the beginning and see where the dog is at, and then build on the dog's strengths to take the dog all the way through advanced obedience. The dogs are thoroughly socialized and introduced to as many locations and situations as possible. As the dogs are learning all of these things, they are gradually introduced to some of the specific tasks that they will be required to perform while working as a service dog. The training time for each dog can vary, depending on how quickly the dog learns and what kind of strange habits the dog might have brought with it that we need to work out.
Before the dog can be placed with a Veteran, it must be able to pass the basic Canine Good Citizen Test. Once we know that the dog can pass this test, and has met the requirements that we have set forth as far as obedience and tasks, they can start meeting with potential Veterans. The Veterans themselves will also bring the dog through the Canine Good Citizen Test and then will return within a few months to complete the more stringent Public Access Test with their service dog.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO GET A PAD DOG?
Our service dogs are placed with qualifying Veterans at no cost to the Veteran. Each Veteran and Service Dog team is sent out with everything they need to get started. The dog is fully vaccinated and comes with a leash and service dog vest. The Veteran is also presented with a military style backpack that contains essential dog care items.
ARE PAD DOGS SERVICE DOGS?
Patriot Assistance Dogs are trained to perform specific tasks that help mitigate a disability specifically for their Veteran, and are defined as service dogs under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990).
According to the ADA - "Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."
WHERE DO WE GET OUR DOGS?
About 75% of the dogs that we train as service dogs are rescued from various rescue organizations. The others are either donated or bred for the program.
WHAT DO OUR DOGS DO?
Patriot Assistance Dogs are taught to successfully mitigate many of the things that Veterans struggle with (flashbacks, night terrors, anxiety). They are also taught to perform additional tasks, things like watching the Veteran's back, blocking unwanted approaches, and removing the Veteran from harmful situations. Veterans can often go back to live a life that many of us take for granted. Many of the Veterans can start to live again. They can do things that most of us take for granted, things as simple as going to the grocery store, or their child's ballgame, or maybe even getting a night of uninterrupted sleep.
Patriot Assistance Dogs fill a specific demonstrated need created by the Veteran's disabilities. The goal of Patriot Assistance Dogs is to place these much needed assets with the veteran and at no charge to the Veteran.
Each Patriot Assistance Dog will be trained to meet individual veteran's needs by:
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH REQUIREMENTS FOR OUR DOGS?
Just like we would not send an unhealthy soldier into battle, we would not send one of our dogs out into the service dog world without a very stringent health evaluation. Generally we look for young dogs, ages 1-2, for consideration for the program. Although we may begin training with younger dogs (as is the case with any pups that come through the program), the dogs are not considered able to be active until they have passed their health examination (as well as the required training). The health examination may not be completed before the dog is one year of age. During this exam, the dogs have their weight, eyes, ears, skin, teeth, hearts, lungs, hips and legs all checked over by a Veterinarian. This includes x-rays and various other techniques. Our dogs are also vaccinated for Rabies, Lymes, Bordatella, Distemper. and the flu. Each of the dogs are also treated with preventatives for fleas, ticks, heartworms and more. We go through all of these steps with careful diligence, as it would be very unfair to the Veteran and the dog to pair them together, only to discover that the dog cannot complete the work it was trained to do.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO TRAIN A PAD DOG?
From the time the dog enters the training program until it is paired with a Veteran we have found that the average cost per placed service dog is around $16,000. This includes housing, care from the kennel staff (including exercise and playtime), food, equipment, grooming, training, testing and veterinary bills. Training a service dog is not cheap, but each life that we save places a much higher value on these dogs than we can place a number on.