Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Please Don’t Ask: We May Not Want to Tell: Service Dog Etiquette In Public Places

“What does she do for you?” I hear this question from total strangers every time I walk into any building, for any reason every day all day all year. --This question never takes a holiday!
One might think this question is about an Executive Assistant, A therapist, or a maid. Actually, it’s about my Service Dog Goodee.
Goodee does lots of things for me. Many of the items she does are included in the occupations I mentioned above. However, I’m sure she would tell you herself:
1. We don’t have a maid
2. Goodee picks up things.
3. Goodee IS an Executive Assistant of limited scope
4. Goodee does not do windows.
It is odd to see a dog where dogs don’t usually belong. It’s a childhood game we learn. Our brain may automatically ask: “Which one does not belong?”
I know it’s funny to see a dog in: a church, an office, a restaurant, a pay phone, or public rest area—So why not ask?
I know animals that do human things fascinate people. —So, why not ask?
In certain legal situations limited questions may be necessary. The legal reply is limited in scope and purpose. ---The purpose is to assist the disable human with their needs.
You may want to help the disabled person the best way you can so why not ask?
You may want to ask: “May I help you?” that would be great but please not---
“What does she do for you?”
This question nearly always requires a follow- up (or two).
If the Service Dog Team stops to reply to one question it appears rude to not reply to a follow-up (or two, or three, or four)
If the Service Dog Team replies to your questions it appears rude to the person behind you to not reply to theirs.
If people behind you don’t have questions frustration sets in. You stop people. (Often in a narrow passage.). –--Then starts a public traffic jam that resembles a circus.
Think of the things you need to do each day. The Service Dog and their human are trying to do the same things in the same amount of time that you are. –Often at a physical disadvantage.
The Service Dog is paired with the human so that disability becomes ability. The impossible is now possible.
What happens when “the circus” comes into the picture?
The disabled person experiences a barrier, an additional disability. ---
Now the disabled person has to navigate themselves and a Service Dog through “the circus.”—Why? : because someone asks “the question” and “the follow-up question(s)”

“What does she do for you?”
This is an opportunity for teaching. —So why not ask the question?
There are many resources that allow you to learn about Service Dogs.
You will find there is not an exhaustive list of replies for the question: “What does she do for you?”
Each dog is different. Each handler’s need is different.
Imagine if someone asks you: “Why do you brush your teeth?”
Not such a personal question. You won’t mind doing a quick reply.
Now, imagine if someone asks you: “What do your glasses do for you?”
Oh and “May I wear them?”
“Oh please! Just for a minute”
Well, that’s still not so hard.
You may not mind allowing a trial fitting
After all -- --“shades” are cool and they may remind someone of old “shades.”
Remember, they may never get to see another set of “shades” like yours.
Now, image if someone asks you: “Why don’t you have children?” and “ Well have you tried to have children? “
This question is a little more difficult and personal, right?
In the examples above the reason for the glasses may be obvious, but the reason a person is childless is not obvious at all.
The follow up question about glasses doesn’t require much and may even be fun The follow up question about your childless status may be complex, painful and sad.
It’s the same with disability
Just like you a Service Dog handler has his or her own comfort level.
Your question may remind someone of life long barriers.
Your question may remind them of a perfect life disrupted by injury,( often in the line of duty to their country).
Your follow up questions may require medical detail they are not even legally required to share with businesses or employers. --- So, they may not want to disclose it to a total stranger in at a crowded mall,
Service Dogs are fantastic. Your admiration is appreciated. However, please understand: There is a proper time and place for everything
In public we often say: “NOT NOW WE ARE WORKING!”


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Yes, The Dog is working: Commonly Misunderstood Service Dog Vocabulary

On Saturday morning I was enjoying the breakfast buffet at a local hotel. I chatted away to family. The leather leash of my Service Dog Goodee comfortably fitted to my wrist. Suddenly my conversation was disrupted as I hear Goodee rise from under the table. She came out and shook her head briskly. The rattle of her dog tags stopped all conversation.

“Goodee, what exactly are you doing?” I questioned. --Her brown eyes looked back at me as if to question why I was so oblivious to my surroundings. Then, the man Goodee had been observing finally got my full attention.

I had a stunned look on my face,looking first at the stranger then down to the patch on Goodee’s vest

“Sir please, don’t touch my Service Dog.” “She is working. “ I gave another gaze to the large words displayed in red: “DO NOT TOUCH.
Maybe the well-meaning stranger missed the 24- inch type. Maybe he couldn’t read English. These situations are possible I told myself.

The stranger gestured to the word WORKING and rolled his eyes. “Well, the dog was just laying here.”

The man finally moved away and gave us space when I said Goodee is not use to being stroked while wearing her vest

Goodee’s vest has two patches clearly announcing “WORKING DO NOT TOUCH.” Yet, I receive between 30 and 100 request per day to “pat,” “touch,” “feed,” or otherwise distract Goodee from her job.

There are also a few that boldly touch without asking usually resulting in Goodee having to brace and prevent my fall.

Perhaps the boldest encounter I’ve had was at a local grocery. The associate began scanning my items. She glanced at Goodee’s vest slowly as if to read every word.
“Oh no, here it comes” I thought to myself. I got out my discount card in hopes that that would become the topic of conversation.

Like a title waive it came—The batting eyes before reciting the familiar and tiresome inquiry, “Oh can I pet her?”
“Sorry not right now. She is working.” I replied.

The girl raced around the counter. Pushing me into the cart, she began petting Goodee strongly. It was as if I was invisible and had said nothing.
For a person who has never been dependent upon a Service Dog these are gray areas:

How do I know if a Service Dog is Working?

Like many of their human counter parts Service Dogs are specialized labor. They move, maneuver and progress throughout a day doing things which on-lookers may not understand. The whole purpose of the service dog team is to allow the human to do normal tasks that were impossible before. The dog may mitigate something obvious to on-lookers such as vision, or something less obvious such as seizure alert. The fact is you don’t know when a Service Dog is working but their handler does.

What does it hurt if I pet the dog” (I could always ask)?

Petting (or asking to pet) disrupts the Service Dog from their primary function of assisting their human handler.
We get stopped as many as 100 times just making it through our day. We love to educate people about the joys of Service Dogs and seek out opportunities to do so. However, Please understand if we are not responsive to your questions.
You may hear a collective sigh followed by the phrase NOT NOW WE ARE WORKING!


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Service Dog Etiquette in the Workplace

My Service Dog Goodee is a constant help to me for mobility.  I often work from home so I put off any office introduction. I told myself I could do it without her. I reasoned that I should consider my peers who may fear dogs or have allergies. I thought putting the needs of others above my own was a noble cause

After two years of denial I gave in.  Without Goodee my hips hurt constantly and I have no balance. I made many efforts to mitigate my Cerebral Palsy without her but nothing worked. --- A cane made falls worse, crawling from point A to B was too slow, and posting humans on both sides of me became cumbersome.

The day came when Goodee & I ascended the ramp into my office.  We glided over rough areas; I was able to climb steps without handrails. I was amazed; with Goodee forging ahead I was doing the previously “impossible.”  I was so excited this is my ticket to productivity, a measure of “normal” in my life that has been abnormal since birth.

“Why didn’t I do this before?” I said to myself. Goodee took her place perfectly under my desk.  For several hours my Service Dog partner went undetected. Then, in a microsecond I was reminded exactly why  I hadn’t brought Goodee to the office until it became absolutely necessary. --- A co-worker gazed down and said, “Is that a real dog?”   “Yes, she’s my Service Dog,” I replied. “That ain’t one of them dogs,” the co-worker said. “Yes she is,” I said, continuing to work.  “How long has she been your pet?” the co-worker continued. I looked up and replied:  “She is not my PET she has never been a PET she is my Service Dog.”

The day seemed to go from bad to worse as workers wanted to “see the pretty puppy,” ask me questions about our bathroom habits, eating habits, and the inevitable “what does she do for you?” –Sometimes the question came in a cute format such as: “Have you trained her to do any of your work for you?” Sometimes it felt as if everyone thought Goodee was a toy from his or her cereal box. --- I heard one co-worker tell another “I’m going to have the dog come get you”

Goodee remained at her appointed station under my desk and I continued working as the comments swirled around us.  “Don’t they know I didn’t go deaf overnight?” The frustration set in “I’m still the same person!,” I thought to myself. I have a dog instead of a cane.  “The dog” and I have worked together for two years and she is an extension of me. She is a tool not a toy. She is my balance not your board game.

The ADA addresses accessibility not etiquette I seek to enlighten because all questions (even in an awkward format) stem from lack of education.

A well articulated explanation of Service Dog function and purpose can be found in the New York Times Best –Seller Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him" by Former Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan (with Bret Witter).   ---And so, to most questions I say, “read the book.” (Which will have you crying, laughing, and cheering).

To the one question: “What does she do for you?” I would like to say: Today while you were laughing amongst yourselves Goodee prevented me from falling to the ground twice, and detected pain in my lower back. When I wanted to ignore my needs she insisted upon my going to the ice machine so that I could get the doctor recommended portion of ice for my spine.  Towards the end of the day Goodee noticed I was not well. She put her head in my lap. I looked down thinking she needed something from me. –--It was then I saw an aura and I realized Goodee was doing her job by  alerting me to a migraine headache.

Yes, Goodee is in fact a dog but she is NOT A PET.  We want to get through our workday and be productive like everyone else so to petting and talking we must say Please, NOT NOW WE ARE WORKING!