Assistance dog trainers appeal for State support

Portugal’s assistance dog association (APCA) has called on the government to start supporting the training of assistance dogs following the overwhelming number of requests the association has received (250) since its creation in November 2014.

While the APCA does provide training and certificates, it is an association that relies solely on donations, and 70% of the people who need assistance dogs do not have the money to pay for training.

The APCA has officially certified three assistance dogs with another 15 in the pipeline. However, up until now, it has only had two paying customers.

“It’s very complicated as training can cost between €5,000 and €15,000, depending on what the dogs are going to be trained for,” the association’s president Rui Elvas told Lusa news agency.

Assistance or service dogs are more than just guide dogs, he explained. They can be trained to perform tasks like “opening and closing doors, retrieving phones and medications, providing support during epileptic attacks, detecting blood sugar levels and comforting children”.

According to the APCA, a law passed in 2007 says that the government must pay around €17,400 to entities that provide training for guide dogs. Elvas claims similar support is also supposed to be provided to assistance dogs in general, but he admits Social Security services might not be aware of this.

“It is up to us to go knocking at their door,” he said, and see whether they are ready to comply with the law, stressing his association was formed to fill a real need, as many people in Portugal seek assistance dogs but can only find guide dogs.

One of these is Diana Niepce, a former ballerina confined to a wheelchair as a result of an accident.

As Niepce is unable to pay for training, APCA has been covering the costs of training her dog, Nina, to help her at home.

Nina is already opening doors, retrieving objects and “behaving very well in the café”, Elvas told Lusa.

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