I recently sat down with Josh Drew, the executive director of Little Angels Service Dogs, to learn more about the 501c3 non profit’s work in training service dogs in San Diego, California and Bartlett, New Hampshire. Josh worked in marketing but fell in love with the organization after they helped his younger brother get a service dog. Little Angels Service Dogs trains dogs for seizure alert and response, mobility conditions, autism assistance, hearing alert, diabetic alert, and civilian and military psychiatric. They are one of the only companies to offer civilian psychiatric service dogs.
Little Angels Service Dogs stands out because they train dogs to alert owners to seizures ahead of time instead of just responding to them. They also train dogs for children. In general with service dogs, across training programs, one of the biggest challenges is finances. Healthcare and insurance do not offer financial support for service dogs, and it can be quite expensive (Josh estimates between $38,000 and $45,000) to train a single dog. Little Angels primarily notes that service dog recipients fundraise, and they work with them until they reach that goal. They have grants and fundraising managers that support their operations, too. Little Angels also relies heavily on volunteers as well as foster homes for their dogs in various stages of their program, to keep costs low and training operating smoothly.
Little Angels Service Dogs receives over 3,000 applications a year for service dogs. After conversations with doctors, people changing their mind, and other factors, the numbers end up winding down a bit. Currently, Little Angels Service Dogs has 80 people on their wait list for dogs, and about 250 people fundraising, with 300-400 applications in queue or processing. With both San Diego and Bartlett training dogs, they can place about 30 dogs in homes a year.
The dogs themselves come from a mix of rescues and breeders. Partnerships with local rescues mean that the team receives a call if any dogs are coming in that may be a good fit. When they receive that call, they head over to temperament test the dog candidates. They wear big hats, sunglasses, and storm around a corner to test how the dogs react, their confidence levels, and whether they may be good candidates for training. If the dogs do well with this step, they can join the program, with perhaps some love and rest in foster care first. In cases where rescues have seen too much trauma and are not a fit for long-term training, Little Angels Service Dogs adopts them out as pets or utility dogs, depending on how much training they’ve received. They’ll soon start working with a rescue in Guadalajara, Mexico, as well, which means they’ll have an additional 25-30 dogs coming in each year for training consideration.
They breed golden retrievers and English Labradors, as well as poodles and golden doodles for a hypoallergenic option. Josh says that golden retrievers and labs just want to work to see you happy, which makes for a perfect service dog. With dogs with perfect service traits like this who are bred specifically for this mission, they are put into training right away. While the puppies are still with their mama, they’re put into sensitivity training, stimulation, and socialization. In the two- to-eight-week old period, they’re taught not to fear things that dogs would usually learn to fear at that age, such as thunder, fireworks, and noises. Little Angels Service Dogs also hosts summer camps for cookouts to familiarize the puppies with children, so they can adjust to and get comfortable with the noise and energy from young humans, too. Then, they graduate at eight weeks and head to foster families and prison programs.
Foster families are supplied with everything they need to care for the dogs and are taught how to do more basic training. Their main job is to take the dogs out in public three time a week for socialization. The dogs go between foster families and inmates, who watch them for several months at a time and give them one-on-one training. Finally, the dogs are brought back to Little Angels Service Dogs for advanced training for specific disabilities. When the dogs graduate, fosters and trainers are invited to their graduation program and can meet the dog’s new owner.
How you can get involved:
Donate to the PUPS Prison Program:
Apply for a dog:
Adopt a utility dog: