Tuesday, November 15, 2016


(Things you need to know about Service Dogs during the holidays and obviously don’t)

My Service Dog is a constant help to me. I have absolutely no balance without her. She functions as a cane, and provides balance and counter balance. This is probably something you don’t realize your body does for you automatically.
Service Dogs are AMAZING; they provide things to a human that are not available from other devices. In my case, my peripheral vison is so poor due to brain damage, that my entire body is off-balance. I look down and things appear further away, or closer than they are. —This means when I try to use a cane it becomes another object to fall over.
Having my Service Dog Goodee out in front of me allows my body to compensate and I become aware of the depth of things, making it easier to use steps.  I also use Goodee to retrieve things from high shelves. In some instances, I am unable to see the handicap ramp but I give Goodee a command to search for it.
A Service Dog is life-changing for the disabled person who uses it. On some levels the Service Dog looks and acts like every dog; however, they are in no way typical or average. A Service Dog goes through years of training and continual training and testing to be reliable for the disabled handler.
It is most helpful and in fact vital that the Service Dog and handler be given access to public areas and freedom of movement.

Here are a few ways the well-meaning public blocks access for Service Dogs, creating a barrier, and defeating the purpose of a person having a Service Dog. This creates a highly frustrating situation. —Which is a nice way of saying: Please get a grip, notice it’s a dog and move on. Service Dog handlers are people, just like you. At the end of the day we just want to get stuff done.
1. THE BOX IN: This is where the Service Dog and handler are turned around looking at something on a shelf and everyone else in the store becomes so fascinated by the “neat dog,” shopping carts and people form a circle, the Service Dog handler turns around to try to exit finding the wagons are “circled” to a point that there is NO EXIT. Someone finally realizes they need to BACK UP AND GIVE THE DOG SPACE. —This would be so the human can continue shopping. --- PS. Don’t look at the handler like they have three-heads as they are working their way through the maze you created. Many Service Dog handlers can see and hear, we all have feelings.
2. HANG UP THE CELL PHONE AND DRIVE: When you are in a store please notice the Service Dog and shopping cart are a wide load coming at you. —The dog may not be able to “stop short,” “change lanes,” or “U-turn.”
3. THE STALKER:  Please don’t follow a Service Dog and handler for several blocks throughout the store. They are not likely to share information with you between the toilet paper and cat food. When you see a Service Dog just MOVE ON. If you have a question about Service Dogs or training, it’s on the web google: Service Dogs Your Town USA. If you have a question about the dog: Their name, breed, rank in litter, that’s information you don’t need. Why do you need the dog’s name? Are you wanting to make conversation with a total stranger? Most Service Dog handlers don’t like to give out the dog’s name. — because it’s natural to call the dog as soon as you know the name, this causes a distraction for the working dog. If you want to know: what the dog does, how long the person has it, or why they got it, this may include private medical information and in some cases talking about these items is a PTSD trigger.
4. SILENCE IS APPREACIATED: The Service Dog is trained to ignore you. When you continually say “see doggie,” making barking noises, or point. It’s not cute it’s rude. You don’t look cool you look like an idiot. While it is natural for a child to say “doggie” when they see one, adults should not be nearly as amused. If the dog isn’t distracted the human handler certainly is. In case you don’t notice you are not original, the Service Dog and handler have heard all your obnoxious comments before.
5. IF YOU MUST HAVE A “TEACHABLE MOMENT” for your child, please do so FAR AWAY from the Service Dog. The dog you are making into a teaching exercise is in fact a medical device upon which the handler is totally dependent. There is a one-time limit on “see the doggie.”—If you say it 5 times and the child has still not shown an interest please get over it and go away!
6. NO “ARM CHAIR” COMMENTS: Things such as: “You are making that poor dog work,” “Oh the dog is working hard,” and “You made your dog tired,” are unnecessary and unwanted. Only the handler knows when a dog is working. When you see, a dog laying it doesn’t mean it is not “working.” If you have comments about a working dog put them on opinion web sites don’t confront a handler while shopping.
Do not talk to the dog. Your chatter may contribute to a medical emergency for the disabled person. No “fly by” pets. If a sign says DO NOT PET, it is there for a reason. When you insist upon petting you are not cute, you are a jerk without regard for others. “Fly bys” cause loss of function and may contribute to falls, seizures, or “flashbacks” for the disabled handler.
8. No “Critiques” for the dog. The Service Dog is aware of being “cute,” “good,” or any other adjective you can use. DO NOT TELL the DOG “You’re a good dog.” In fact, you have no way of knowing if the dog has been good or just done something for which they need to be scolded.
9. NO FEEDING THE SERVICE DOG Many Service Animals are on special diets. ASK before offering the Service Dog anything. I do not let my Service Dog accept food from strangers. We go out often, and I don’t want her to think she will get food everywhere. Furthermore, you just never know what a stranger may feed your dog.
My Service Dog Goodee is highly skilled with magic words. I was proud of her when she showed no interest in shrimp, a worker  threw  to the floor to “call the doggie.”—
Dear Dipshit employee,
The dog is attached to a leash; she is trained NOT to pay attention to you. She is in fact, attached to my body and it’s her job to stay with me. She knows not to take food from strangers. —Yes, I CAN see I am NOT BLIND—even if I was I could sense you trying to distract the dog.
Sorry we can’t do a little show for you. Do you think you could go back to your job and leave us to ours?
PS. That looked like good Jumbo Shrimp you threw to the ground. Does your employer know you are wasteful?

When you see us out and about please know we must say:

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Holiday Life of a Service Dog Handler

PREFACE: I have great friends and family. – a small, supportive group. Also, I am most grateful and thankful for the medical staff that helps me deal with things life brings my way. You all know who you are, and this blog is not addressed to you.

I write on behalf of others in the Service Dog community who feel frustrated, isolated, unwanted, invisible, and unable to raise their voice. 

I want to provide a small glimpse into what it is like to navigate the world with a Service Dog during the holiday season.

Recently,  boxed in by holiday inflatables in a store, instead of cheer, I instantly thought of extra holiday shoppers.  Like other people, I will melt in and possibly be crushed by on-coming people traffic. —Unlike others, I will be the “spectacle,” the “teachable moment,” the “neat” thing people point to(literally).
Do I not like attention?  Well, let give you a sample of how “neat” it is to need a Service Dog.
Would you like this?
People on both ends of the aisle STOP dead in their track to look, gawk and YELL, “Doggie.” I guess no one has ever seen one before. I just need to get to the other side of the aisle and truly want to be LEFT ALONE so I can get shopping done and LEAVE. – Yet I cannot move because everyone on both sides of the aisle is frozen.
We finally clear a path but not before 12 people come up and ask if they can pet the dog—Despite the LARGE DO NOT PET sign. At least 6 of the 12 people will beg vocally to pet, --one, will use the F word telling me I should not bring a dog if I don’t want people to pet it.
I finally make it through shopping and need to go to the ladies’.  I wait an extra 30 minutes because people are in the large stall—the only stall I am able to use safely with my dog. I don’t mind waiting but when there are small stalls vacant it would make sense for people who CAN use them to do so and leave the large stall for the person with the medical device.
Thankful like others to be done with any shopping. –Then I realize, I didn’t buy anything for parties because well I don’t get invited out because there is this elephant of which no one speaks—THE DOG.
I have at least 15 people or so per year ask if I could come do “X” and “Oh can you just come without THE DOG because, well __ is afraid of dogs, oh and ___has to bring her princess dog and that dog doesn’t get along with other dogs, and well you know --- I CAN HELP YOU – You don’t really NEED the dog, do you?
I always think WTF, of course I NEED the dog! She is not an optional extra! I always manage to get a smile on my face, and lately choke back tears that are only reserved for the therapist office because well after all “Service Dog people” are so full of cheer. I politely decline all invitations to go without my SERVICE DOG, the device which allows me to be “normal. “At least 3 people will tell me how much they will miss me being there, once someone said “I guess you get use to having to be left out.” --- To which I smile, say “I guess” and continue to hold in emotion, looking forward to being alone so I can explode.
I am constantly told “just continue to educate” “People just don’t know.”—SO here it is. —Please make notes:

1. When you have a Service Dog it is a sign that you do NEED the dog to mitigate a disability—The subject of people faking disability is a different blog.
2. Always assume the person needs the dog and will tell you IF you can help. NO, you cannot take the place of a highly trained medical device.
3. NEVER ask a person to leave their SERVICE DOG anywhere.
4. If you can’t have the Service Dog at the party because of ____ then don’t tell the Service Dog handler, “Gosh I would but____.” People attached to Service Dogs have real feelings, telling them what they will miss only adds to feelings of isolation.
5. Don’t be rude enough to call the person after the holiday and tell them about the party to which “Gosh, I would have invited you but___,” There is enough isolation without having to relive it again and again.
 It doesn’t help to hear every detail of your fun when I’m not invited.

Service Dog handlers are the “toy of the month.” – The thing that people love to see as if we are an interactive educational display. We often encounter people who talk baby talk to the dog, scold us for having a dog, or tell us how lucky we are to have a dog and then move on without asking a single thing about the human attached to the end of the leash, or maybe not even acknowledging there is a human at the end of the leash.
During the holidays Service Dog handlers have a hard time because we are treated like entertainment on the schedule at the mall, then we get home and have no text, no emails, no phone calls because, well we were good for a store display but THE DOG would just not be good at the party.

In closing let me give you a glimpse into my life without THE DOG:
 I fell constantly, not even having enough balance to get down steps. Sometimes I needed two people to help me sit or stand. When I was younger my family would carry me up steps that were too steep because there was no “disability access” back then, you just had to create your own IF you wanted to do anything “normal.”

Now, I have THE DOG, we move when we want to move, I go places and do things completely by myself. —All because THE DOG is able to provide things that mitigate my disability. Would I like to have more human contact? Maybe.
 Would I like people to recognize me as a HUMAN and stop talking to THE DOG as if she is THEIR TOY. —ABSOLUTELY!

Would I change anything? YES! I would love to change people's attitudes about Service Dogs. I want people to understand that "the doggie" is a medical TOOL and NOT a toy!

Would I ever want to be without my SERVICE DOG--- NEVER!