Here are some little-known facts about service animals and the local groups that work with them, based on information provided by the groups.
The Guide Dog Foundation and America's VetDogs offer no-cost hearing, service and guide dogs to all disabled, honorably discharged U.S. military veterans and first responders. According to Amercan's VetDogs, "it costs more than $50,000 to breed, raise, train and place one assistance dog."
Clients who participate in the Guide Dog Foundation's program travel to their Smithtown campus for a two-week, in-residence training program, free of charge. And every client receives a guide or service dog that has been task-based trained to accommodate their specific needs and lifestyle.
Each year, the organizations train about 120 service and guide dogs, which are quite impressive when it comes to carrying out tasks for their handlers. The dogs can be trained to do everything from "retrieving items as small as a credit card to a five-pound object, opening and closing doors, waking their handler from a nightmare, getting help or pushing an emergency button, bracing and supporting their handler when standing or walking up and down stairs."
Because guide dogs can't differentiate a red from a green traffic light, their handlers need to direct them when crossing the street. But the dogs are trained to recognize unsafe situations and react with "intelligent disobedience."
Some prospective service dogs spend the first several months of their lives doing hard time! Puppies are sent to prisons in Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Florida and Maine to participate in programs that give inmates the opportunity to raise and train them before going on to work with veterans and first responders.
In all, there are more than 300 puppy trainers participating in the Guide Dog Foundation's program throughout Long Island, Florida, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
Guide dogs are trained to do just about everything that's necessary to protect their handlers from potential harm or danger. They can lead a person in a straight line, find and follow a clear path, operate through ground and overhead obstacles and are aware of changes in elevations, including curbs and stairs.
America's Vetdogs is home to Charlie, the adorable Today Show "puppy with a purpose."
In 2016, 1,600 volunteers on the East coast donated more than 4.5 million hours of their time to The Guide Dog Foundation and America's VetDogs.
All disabled veterans are eligible for service dogs through America's VetDogs, even if their disabilities aren't combat related.
Trainees at America's VetDogs consume 1,500 pounds of food each week -- totaling 39 tons of a food a year.