Saint Francis Service Dogs operates two key services, which support our mission of helping children and adults with disabilities to become more independent and self-sufficient through partnership with a professionally trained service dog.
Service Dogs – Placing professionally trained service dogs with qualified partners is our primary goal. Service dogs are capable of performing many useful tasks, including going for help, picking items up, opening and closing doors, retrieving the phone, and turning lights on and off. More information about Service Dogs.
Facility Dogs – We also place expertly trained dogs with partners working in a healthcare, courtroom, or education setting. Facility dogs are trained to do many tasks to assist with therapy, provide motivation, and give comfort. More information about Facility Dogs.
If you are interested in applying for a Saint Francis Service Dog, please visit the How to Apply page for guidance.
Frequently Asked Questions
We serve the entire state of Virginia and the portions of North Carolina and West Virginia that are in a three hour driving radius from our facility in Roanoke County.
It takes tens of thousands of dollars to train a service dog. We pay for the food, vet care, equipment, and medicine for each dog for the entire training period, which is at least two years. We also pay for the trainers’ salaries – and the trainers must train more than the dog – they also train the partner in handling their dog.
Finally, we support each of our service dog teams for the working life of the dog, which is usually 8-10 years.
It takes at least two years. We maintain contact with all of our working teams and provide follow up training support for the entire working life of the team, usually an additional 8-10 years.
Learn more here>
We do not charge for service dogs. We ask that partners pay a small application fee ($25 for those within and 50 mile radius of our office and $75 for those outside of that radius) and a $200 fee to help offset the cost of the equipment that we provide when the dog moves in with the partner (a $600 value).
Although we do not ask that partners pay for their service dogs, they are responsible for all costs of the dog when it lives with them – including high quality dog food, grooming, toys, treats, and routine and non-routine veterinary care. They must also pay to have a fence installed if they do not already have one, and they must pay for travel, hotel, and meals while in Roanoke for training.
We get most of our dogs from reputable breeders and from the ADI Breeding Cooperative. Learn more>
We select healthy, structurally sound dogs with a good temperament. The dog must be friendly to people and other animals.
Usually, we use golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers or a cross of the two. These breeds tend to have naturally good temperaments, like to retrieve (it’s in the name!), are tall and strong enough to do task work, and are perceived as friendly by the public.
When a service dog is working in public, it needs to be completely focused on its partner. Petting the dog distracts it from its work. Our dogs are very friendly and love to be petted, so that makes it even more important to refrain from petting, so that they can concentrate on their important job.
Don’t worry, service dogs get lots of petting and snuggling at home! If you pet a service dog in public, you are rewarding the dog for not paying attention to its partner, which is counterproductive for the team.
It is also important to remember that the partner may be in a hurry, or have other things to do, and needs to move along with their errands. Remember to talk to the person, not just the dog.
No, service dogs don’t work all they time. They have lots of downtime – but it’s important to remember that for a service dog, work is play! All the tasks the dogs know were taught with lots of games, treats, and praise, so a service dog can’t wait for the chance to work.
Service dogs play with their partners the same way you do with your pet – they play fetch and all sorts of games. A service dog has to be able to work without its vest – unlike a guide dog that works only in harness, a service dog has to be ready to pick something up or run for help at a moment’s notice.
In many ways, a service dog gets more attention than regular pets – they are with their person all the time and have lots of opportunities to interact with their person.
We select very friendly dogs to use as service dogs. The dogs are supposed to welcome people in, not shut them out. A protective dog pay growl and intimidate others, and that is not what we want. We want for people to feel comfortable around a service dog.
We have a waiting list that is capped at 20 candidates. We cap the waiting list because otherwise, people would spend too many years waiting and by the time we had a dog ready, their living situation, their condition, and many other things may have changed.
Someone interested in a service dog sends us a simple form that gives us their basic contact information and a rudimentary knowledge of their living situation and disability. When a space opens up on our waiting list, we invite people who have sent the form to apply in the order we have received their form.
Learn about eligibility requirements and fill out the form here>
People can wait for years for a Saint Francis Service Dog. It is not a first-come, first-served process. We place dogs based on the strengths and weaknesses of the dog, balanced against the person’s needs.
We graduate 8 to 10 new teams per year. In addition, we maintain support of around 60 teams at any given time.
Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals. We are not associated with any religion organization.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Virginia law, all businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service dogs onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed. Additional charges for admitting a service dog to an establishment or fares for transportation are prohibited.
Service dogs are provided broad access to public places by law, but business owners have the right to expect certain things of service dogs. The dog should be very clean. The dog should be well-behaved and unobtrusive. The dog should not do any damage, should not cause anyone harm, or threaten any harm. Service dog owners are responsible for any damage done by their service dog.
Dogs usually retire after 8-10 years of work or when their health declines. When the dog can’t work anymore, he retires and becomes the person’s pet. We encourage partners to apply for a successor dog before their service dog retires. We give priority to applicants who have a Saint Francis Service Dog when they apply for their successor dog.
ADI stand for Assistance Dogs International. ADI is an umbrella group for service, hearing, and guide dog organizations. The purpose of ADI is to promote best practices in the field – from dog training methods, to treatment of candidates and partners, to promoting the responsible use of service dogs.
ADI offers a voluntary accreditation program. To be accredited, the organization must demonstrate that it adheres to the highest standards in the industry in all aspects of its operations. We were accredited in 2007.