Dear Savvy Senior

What can you tell me about assistance dogs for people with disabilities? My sister, who’s 58, has multiple sclerosis and I’m wondering if an assistance dog could help make her life a little easier.

Inquiring Sister

Dear Inquiring,

For people with disabilities and even medical conditions, assistant dogs can be fantastic help, not to mention they provide great companionship and an invaluable sense of security. Here’s what you and your sister should know.

While most people are familiar with guide dogs that help people who are blind or visually impaired, there are also a variety of assistance dogs trained to help people with physical disabilities, hearing loss and various medical conditions.

Unlike most pets, assistance dogs are highly trained canine specialists — often Golden and Labrador Retrievers, and German Shepherds — that know approximately 40 to 50 commands, are amazingly well-behaved and calm, and are permitted to go anywhere the public is allowed.

If your sister is interested in getting a service dog, contact some assistance dog training programs. To find them, Assistance Dogs International provides a listing of around 65 U.S. programs on their website that you can access at AssistanceDogsInternational.org.

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Some groups offer dogs for free, some ask for donations and some charge thousands of dollars.

To get an assistance dog, your sister will need to show proof of her disability, which her physician can provide, and she’ll have to complete an application and go through an interview process. She will also need to go and stay at the training facility for a week or two so she can get familiar with her dog and get training on how to handle it.

It’s also important to understand that assistance dogs are not for everybody. They require time, money, and care that your sister or some other friend or family member must be able and willing to provide.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.