A Dog Is A Man’s Best Friend- And A Life Saver

Sarah Morrison

The saying goes “A Dog Is A Man’s Best Friend,” but what if you depend on a dog to do simple tasks, such as opening the door or getting your medication, just to name a couple. You may not need help with these things, but people with disabilities may need help with tasks that you may think of as “everyday things.”  Service Dogs are trained for an individual who may be wheelchair bound, have diabetes, have epilepsy, or is blind, among other medical reasons. 

Mr. Falcones, a staff member at Farmingdale Senior High School, has volunteered to train a service dog. His goal is to train his assigned dog, Jet, in hopes to pass training to become a service dog to help an individual in need. “It’s all volunteer,” said Mr. Falcones, “I’ve seen family friends go through the process of training a service dog, and I wanted to see how it can impact the lives of people with disabilities.”  Mr. Falcones then went on and described the process, explaining how it costs just the same as having a regular dog at home– paying vet bills, buying food and dog toys, all the costs of owning a dog. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he did say there was a bit of a waiting process. “It took almost a year because of COVID. It was a four-round interview process because there were a lot of people who wanted to volunteer,” said Mr. Falcones, “He was given to me. I was put on a waiting list and as the puppies were born, they were assigned to different people in different regions.” He continued, “Jet was a part of the ‘J’ litter. He was born in a litter with a specific letter that his name has to start with. He was given to me with the name Jet, which I think is a cool name for a dog.”

He will have the dog for about a year and a half. In November 2022, Jet will then go through his final steps of training with the organization in hope of becoming a service dog. “The training never ends,” said Mr. Falcones, “He is still trained at home. He gets to enjoy more toys and we go for runs, so he can exercise as a puppy and get used to seeing different people in  a different setting. We go to puppy classes twice a month to learn different techniques and different commands such as heel, sit, and to work on their temperament. They even try to distract the puppies during the classes on purpose to see if they keep focus.”  As a student, I can definitely say that seeing a dog in the hallways does improve my mood a bit. Mr. Falcones said the process to allow a service dog in training in a school setting was not difficult at all. “Mr. Messina at Howitt Middle School did the same process with a different organization for a few years in a row. I contacted and spoke to my director and Dr. Thompson, and they said ‘No Problem.’”  How do people react outside a school setting? He described it as “a lot of awkward conversations when you tell kids or other adults they can’t pet a dog with a working vest on,” followed by, “The training also doesn’t only train Jet, it also trains the public to know they can’t distract a dog with a working vest on, or pet one unless the owner gives them permission.”

Mr. Falcones says that he does have the option to adopt Jet if he fails the nine month professional training after November 2022. When asked if he would want to do the process again, he said, “I think it would be hard to say right now because I would be very upset to lose Jet after having him for so long, but deep down inside I know I’ll want to do it again so it can change someone’s life who needs a service dog.”  

* Photos courtesy of Mr. Falcones