By Collin Kelley, Editor

Dogs are excellent friends and companions, but they are also helping those with disabilities lead more active lives.

According to the last census report, there are more than 50 million people with disabilities in the United States, but only 1 percent use a service dog.

Service dogs are being used to help the blind and those with autism, cerebral palsy and other seizure disorders.

Deana Izzo, the Georgia field representative for Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, said Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are the most requested kind of service dog, but Boxers, German Shepherds, and Smooth Coat Collies – for those who have allergies or asthma – are also being trained.

Because of the specialized training, there is usually a wait time of 12 to 16 months. Once a person is matched with a dog, six months of training follow.

“The student and dog work together as a team for a 26 day class,” Izzo said. “The dog is exposed to different environments, such as city and country life.”

For more information about Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, visit guidedog.org.

4 Paws For Ability is a nationwide organization that trains service dogs primarily for children. The nonprofit receives the most requests for dogs to help children who have autism.

Service dogs have helped children with autism overcome fears of sleeping alone at night, help track a child who has wandered aways and studies show that a dog can help calm an agitated child.

Since the cost to buy and train a service dog is high – around $16,000 – 4 Paws is always seeking donations to help offset costs for its clients.

To find out more and make a donation, visit www.4pawsforability.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.