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!

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