Each year more and more people realize just how important a role dogs can play in the lives of disabled people. You've probably even seen “working dogs” yourself; they're easy to spot, with their bright vests and professional looks. Assistance dogs are now allowed on airplanes, in restaurants, in stores; anywhere their owners go, they can go, too. With the growing acceptance of assistance dogs, and the increased demand for them, the job market for professional trainers looks great. Still, don't enter this field for the money—the truth is, salaries are very low. Because most assistance-dog training companies are nonprofit organizations, they have very little money to go around and must struggle to raise the funds required to buy the dogs and raise and train them. Employees are there for the love of their work and the desire to help people, not to get rich.
Karen, an assistance-dog trainer for Assistance Dogs of the West in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has this to say about her work:
The dogs are always learning. That's why they live with me. If I leave the bathroom door open, they push the door shut for me. If I drop the keys at the front door, they pick them up for me. If I'm feeding, they have to wait. If I'm eating dinner, they need to be under the table and not begging. If I'm cooking, they can't be sitting right under the stove.
The dogs are a wonderful part of the business. It's incredible to work with them and teach them, but I think what it's really about is the clients—the people with the disabilities. Teaching the disabled to work with the dogs is more important than training the dogs. And to watch the dogs go work with somebody who really needs them is touching to me. I don't know how else I could be rewarded for my work.
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