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Homeless Dogs get a Second Chance as Service Dogs

Properly-trained Service Dogs can provide an incredible breadth benefits to disabled individuals. From mobility assistance and independence, assisting with everyday tasks, summoning help when needed, alerting to night terrors and more. There’s a lot of focus on Golden Retrievers, Bichon Frisés and German Shepherds, but purebreds aren’t the only types of dogs that can be trained to become excellent Service Dogs.  Some organizations are helping homeless dogs get a second chance as Service Dogs.

Some rescue dogs, once thought of as homeless “rejects” – have gone on to fill this void as second chance Service Dogs – with second chances to prove they are not throw-a-ways — however, many have not.

Paws With A Cause, a Service Dog organization that has been in existence since 1979 states that 1-in-12 rescues ‘temperament screened’ from shelters and humane societies over the past 25 years have gone on to complete the training with them and become working Service Dogs.

“While in training, many dogs wash-out in the first 2-3 weeks because of medical reasons,” says Deb Davis, the Community Outreach Manager, who has been with the organization for the past 20 years, “or after 6-8 weeks they are unable to handle ‘a multitude of stimuli’ or cannot acclimate to their surroundings by ignoring certain stimuli for impulse control in order to complete a needed task.”

The stimuli tested that Service Dogs in Training must be able to handle can consist of but are not limited to the following: Malls and Wide-Open Spaces for Public Access; Tall People – Shorter People; People With Hats, Glasses, Scarves and Boots; Noise Levels That Escalate and Vary; Children Running and Playing; Florescent Lighting and Dark Corridors; Computer Game Arcades. (For more socialization ideas, please read Socializing Service Dogs in Training: 100+ Things to Include.)

It is important to know that it is for behavioral reasons that many dogs are re-homed or relinquished in the first place. Lack of preparation on the part of the new owner, or the wrong home are often times contributing factors. Whatever the scenario, a dog relinquished to a shelter or rescue may exhibit ‘confused and distraught behavior’ when ‘taken out of a shelter’ and put into ‘new surroundings.’

“Not every dog has the temperament or personality to become a ‘true’ Service Dog that mitigates a person’s disability,” says Davis.

“Don’t let rescuing just pull on your heartstrings; arm yourself with facts so you rescue a potential Service Dog into a beneficial situation that will provide the necessary training to perform a task(s) and become successful.”

The Humane Society tells adopters when visiting shelter animals to keep in mind, “that animals will be stressed out and often times will not show their ‘true colors’ until removed from other animals and the shelter environment.”

It is highly recommended that the assistance of one or more of the following is essential when preparing to adopt a potential rescue for use as a Service Dog:  Adoption Counselor – Animal Behaviorist – Certified Trainer or Procurement Officer.

All of the above should be able to administer ‘temperament testing’ and help select canines that will match your task-identified needs and lifestyle.

Many times dogs are relinquished because they are too active, and in some cases, this can be remedied by giving them exercise, mental stimulation and a job.

Animal Farm Foundation has established a – Service Dog program so rescued and sheltered “pit-bull” dogs can be considered for the same work or jobs traditionally reserved for purebred, purpose bred dogs.­­

For the dog to be eligible, the Pit Bull Dog must be homeless and residing in a shelter or a rescue. Their requirements also request that a submitted video be a part of the evaluation, which includes: Dog in a kennel or crate with strangers approaching one at a time – adult female, adult male and then child; On-leash greeting of a dog of the opposite sex first, then a dog of the same sex; Resource guarding test – dry food, wet food and rawhide; Resource guarding and arousal recovery test – ball, tug and squeaky toy; Dog in a city-type environment with pedestrians, vehicles, noise; Dog’s reaction to loud noises such as the doorbell and smoke alarm; Dog showing a desire to work for food.

Pets for Patriots – Bring Loyalty Home dedicates their mission to increasing the adoption of the most at-risk shelter animals and in doing so, demonstrates their gratitude to members of the military community through their financial assistance, education, and continued support throughout the process of adoption.

According to Pets for Patriots, it is estimated that as many as 30% of Vietnam Veterans have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and for decades Bob (a PFP recipient) struggled with PTSD. Now nearly four years into his honorable adoption of a dog named Trust, that was relinquished during a divorce, Bob is now, “living life to the    fullest. . .one day at a time.”

 “So many of our stories are like this,” says Beth Zimmerman, Founder and Executive Director of Pets for Patriots, “truly life-saving for person and pet.”

The question still remains; are relinquished dogs re-homed in the disabled community filling the Service Dog gap?

Service Dog Express believes in helping people and giving dogs a second chance.  “We encourage new clients looking for a Service Dog to choose dogs from local shelters and rescue groups that have been assessed for temperament and trainability by one of our many trainers,” says Laurie, the CEO and Founder. “By choosing shelter and rescue dogs, customers are able to dramatically reduce the cost of services, and save a dog that may have otherwise been euthanized.”

The Humane Society recommends that when you spend time with each dog in a shelter to consider the following questions:

    • How old is the dog? You may be thinking about getting a younger dog, however, they usually require much more training and supervision. Also medical issues like ‘allergies’ may not be present at first, but show up later. An older adult dog may be  a better choice in terms of knowing more about their health history and  physical stamina.
    • How shy or assertive is the dog? Although an active, bouncy dog might catch your eye, a quieter, more mature dog, might be a better match; easier to focus for training a task(s), and a better all-around hanging-out buddy. 
    • Is the dog non-aggressive? Ask questions of the adoption counselors, but remember, not all shelter dogs will have a known history. In general, a friendly dog who likes to be petted and touched, is not sensitive to handling, abrupt noises and movement is likely a dog that will adapt and thrive in a new household.

What to consider when contemplating a rescue as a potential Service Dog

1) Select a size / breed that can be trained to assist with your disability and work with you on a needed task(s). For example:

  • Retrieving (bringing items out of reach)
  • Bracing (getting up)
  • Alerting (sounds)

 2) Use a trainer who can help teach the dog the needed task(s) for your specific disability, and help with the selection process.  

 3) Keep in mind the following behaviors:

  • Calm not easily startled by noises or abrupt movement
  • Responsive to cues, praise, and rewards
  • Not head-shy or fearful; welcomes petting and touching on all areas of the body
  • Makes good (soft) eye-contact
  • Maintains interest in key person; seeks their attention
  • Sustains interest in key person; not distracted by other people or dogs
  • NO Barking (excessive or alarming / lunging)
  • NO Signs of Aggression toward people or dogs

4)  Also make sure:

    • Vaccinations are up to date
    • Veterinarian has certified the dog is in good  health and can perform the tasks needed as a Service Dog
    • Always Microchip. Microchips are the tag your dog can never lose.
    • Give dogs a future, never as a present.] Too many dogs are given as surprise gifts to those who don’t have the ability or desire to give a dog the lifelong care they require.



Related Articles:

Pets for Patriots profile of Bob Quimby, United States Army (Ret.) Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division titled Trust helps Vietnam veteran deal with PTSD, loneliness and sobriety

The Office of the Vice President for Community Services at The University of Texas at San Antonio’s profile on Service Dog Express titled, Hope and Stability through Service Dogs







Bev Thompson is a Feature Writer covering stories about Service and Working Dogs for online and magazine publications and is the recipient of Excellence in Writing Nominations from The Dog Writer’s Association of America (DWAA). She lives in New York City with her Sealyham Terrier, Pip, who is Full of The Dickens, stirring the pot competing and titling in companion and performance events and currently ‘getting nosey’ in her Scent Work Classes.


  • mperuo February 14, 2015

    An excellent article about an important topic. Thank you for providing a concise list of things to consider.

    • Bev Thompson January 26, 2016

      Thank you, Marsha, for your support when considering rescues and their ‘resilient nature’ to have a second chance to serve.

  • kparks44 February 23, 2015

    I think it’s amazing that people are becoming so aware of animals and what they’re capable of even after suffering. Dogs want to be helpful and loved and it’s great that organizations are giving these dogs second chances!

  • Robi Thompson April 18, 2016

    I love and respect what you do. Is there someplace that I can contact about having a dog assessed to see if she would made a good service animal? She is a dog that I rescued a few weeks ago when her family moved and left her.


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