Author: Deborah Goodkin, Managing Director, Savings Plans, First National Bank

As a dog lover, I know all too well that dogs make the best friends—and even family members. But for individuals with disabilities, dogs can serve an even deeper purpose. Service dogs provide companionship and confidence, living to serve, protect, and assist their handlers.

The remarkable ways these dogs can lend assistance was exemplified by the passage of Koda’s Law in Alabama this year. Koda’s Law is an act allowing registered therapy dogs or certified facility dogs to accompany their handler in court—when permitted by the judge—in order to provide crucial emotional support.

In September, we recognize these amazing dogs and their importance to the disability community by celebrating National Service Dog Month.

In honor of this special month, we had the opportunity to speak with Ashley Taylor, Head Trainer at Service Dogs Alabama. Here is what we learned from her about service dogs and the incredible work that Service Dogs Alabama is doing to help individuals with disabilities find their perfect companion:

Service dogs are not just pets. As such, members of the public should bear in mind that these animals are not to be pet, spoken to, or distracted. A handler’s life could depend on their dog. Indeed, for many members of the disability community, service dogs are essential to living. They are specifically trained to perform tasks to assist a person with their disability, which can include everything from retrieving dropped keys, to fetching clothing or food, to carrying mail, to pushing a button and calling 911 in an emergency situation.

With all of these remarkable skills comes extensive training. The process of training a service dog takes an average of 2 years, and not all dogs are meant to be service dogs. Service Dogs Alabama trains for Public Access and A.D.A. Standards, and they task train specifically for the individuals on their waitlist. The trainers work diligently with dogs on a variety of needs, such as Type 1 Diabetic Alert, Seizure Alert, Wheelchair Assistance, Mobility, Autism, and PTSD Intervention Dogs.

While service dogs can cost up to $30,000 to train, Service Dogs Alabama awards dogs free of charge to those who qualify. In addition, you can also acquire a service animal by using money from your Enable account.

To learn more about Service Dogs Alabama, visit http://www.servicedogsalabama.com. Have a service dog and want to share your story? Reach out to us on Facebook.