PREFACE: Summer can be a difficult time for the Service Dog team, heat, and crowds bring on additional stress.
I constantly hear people say, “I just didn’t know.” That’s why this blog exists, so that people may know, understand, and educate themselves.
This post is lovingly dedicated to U.S. veterans. Thank you for your service and sacrifice. Team Goodee is blessed to have Service Dog friends in every branch of the U.S. military, and some in the U.K., and Canada. Social media makes the world our neighborhood.
To our military friends, thanks for teaching us to “walk in our shoes,” stand up, and speak out.
It’s hard to find ways to educate others. Giving out information when we are out and about is difficult at best.
“We should probably let people walk in our shoes mom.”
“Oh, hello Goodee the Service Dog nice of you to join the blog.”
“Let people walk in our shoes? Goodee, don’t you mean empathize?”
“No mom, you said empathize, I didn’t. I don’t use the big words I just supply the humor.”
“You mean you literally want people to walk in our shoes? It could get crowded. I hate to point out the obvious but you don’t wear shoes.”
“No mom, I mean figuratively speaking, I want people assimilate what it is like for us as Service Animal and human.”
“ASSEMILATE? Goodee, now who is using BIG words?”
“Ok mom, people just need to take in our culture and fully understand what we go through.”
“Oh, I see, Goodee, why don’t we try to explain.”
“Right mom, that’s code for I’m going to say things that might upset people and pretend that the Service Dog said it.”
BUSTED by my Service Dog again. I am known for keeping people at a distance. I’ve had people say, “I remember you; you don’t want people around you or your dog.”
To which I reply: “yes that would be me.”
“Well it’s not like I am an ordinary dog mom. I’m the medical device.”
"Correct Goodee, you function like both a cane and a walker for me. You help with balance/counter balance and estimate distances for me.”
“I do all that mom and more. I also tell you when to change your head position to avoid migraine headaches, I help you find a safe place and your migraine medicine... There’s a few other things too. Frankly, I deserve a raise.”
“Well, I could do a few extra pig ears per week.”
“Since I gave you a raise, could you help the blog along?”
“Goodee to the rescue again. Why don’t we just explain to people what it’s like for us?”
“You mean so they can empathize?”
“Right mom, empathize and ASSEMILATE.”
WALK IN OUR SHOES
I wish people could “walk in our shoes.” It would involve much more than putting a vest on a dog and having you go out in public. Even a highly trained dog would not simulate what it’s like for the Service Dog, and handler.
I joined several groups on social media before being paired with Goodee “the great” Service Dog.
I thought: “Gosh these Service Dog people need to get a grip. Why not just let people pet the dog? Surely a little eye contact, or talk couldn’t hurt.? Why not tell people about your Service Dog or disability? They are just making conversation. —and what’s the big deal if someone talks to the dog and not to you?
In just one week with Goodee, I learned the real consequences of letting others treat the Service Dog like a pet. It took much longer for me to understand how the Service Dog changed my life.
“Gosh mom that’s sounds epic. Are you going to be able to talk about all that in one blog?” “I hope so Goodee”
The “BIG DEAL” ABOUT SERVICE DOG INTERACTION
The Service Dog functions as a medical device. This is a hard concept to grasp. Medical devices don’t usually have fur. Let me use an illustration from my own life. ---Cerebral Palsy effects my entire left side. Everything on the left side of my body is slower and weaker. My hips freeze up on hard surfaces. Uneven surfaces are a nightmare. My peripheral vision is so poor I cannot drive a car, ride a bike, go down steps, or walk a half block. When I look down, things seem further away than they are. I need help with stability.
The Service Dog is AMAZING for stability. A cane is useless to me it’s just another object over which I might fall. However, the Service Dog provides constant motion to keep my muscles and hips moving. My body stays aligned, the dog goes ahead of me, finding handicap access ramps and smooth surfaces. When I must take stairs, they are now no problem. I feel the Service Dog going downward, and my I body adjusts accordingly. On the BEST days, I can accomplish twice the number of things I did before having the service dog, and at the end of the day I am pain free, instead of being unable to move.
The “best” days are not easily accomplished. Balance is a delicate thing. I feel the slightest shift as I walk with the Service Dog. My reaction time is slowed on the left. I may know I need to make an adjustment but my body won’t allow me to do so. The Service dog can assist me in trying to make adjustments. -- Notice I said TRYING to make adjustments. What could possibly prevent adjustments?
Usually it’s a person who has come upon us either in front or behind the dog. On a bad day, it might be six people who stop dead in their tracks to STARE at us. It could be the person who does a “fly-by pet,” brushing, or poking at the dog. Irritating? Yes.
NOW imagine, yourself, doing everything you do in a day but, being TOTALLY dependent upon the Service Dog for balance. No cheating, you must be with the dog 24/7. Hundreds of people per day at the bank, grocery store, place of employment, doctor’s office, hair dresser, and restaurant. —365 days per year. Now you may have some idea how exhausting these interactions can be.
Let me add detail to the imaginary exercise. The Service Dog can prevent many falls but, sometimes there is no getting around it. -- Literally people insist upon enclosing us in a circle or being at “zero line” so there is just no room to move. We can’t move, and other people won’t move (even when we ask them nicely). Suddenly, someone directly behind, or in front of me insists upon moving by pushing past me or the dog and I end up falling. Sometimes “the fall” jars my entire spine. —This necessitates several visits to pain management.
And Now the Rest of the Story… “I JUST WANT TO… “TALK, ASK, BE A FRIEND”
I wish I could put a shield of invisibility around myself and the Service Dog. Part of me understands why people want to chat. Before having a Service Dog, I was somewhat introverted but still friendly. Having the Service Dog has changed my public personality. The freedom to go and do things I could never do before is fantastic but it comes with a price.
Let me illustrate with a hypothetical:
You are out on a normal day. You have an accessory, “cool shades,” the accessory everyone wants to look at and talk about “Cool Shades” are so cool everyone wants to tell you about their experience, or their friend’s experience, and their uncle’s best friend and his girlfriend, and their experience with the same but “sort of different “cool shades."
In fact, your “cool shades” remind people of the “cool shades” they lost so they break down crying while telling you about their “cool shades.” You stop and listen to story #1, 2, 3,... 10. because you understand“the shades” are so cool. While you are listening to stories and trying to be friendly people pass by “barking” and saying, “oh cool shades.”
Can you image how much sensory overload this causes?
Neither could I, until it happened to me!
At first, I saw no harm in chatting. By the end of the first week with my Service Dog I allowed no one to pet, or talk to the dog. I learned, even if I brace myself to prevent a fall, I am physically unable to stand while 25 people (literally I had a family member keep a count for me). came to say “hello.”
There are other practicalities:
Can you imagine every errand you run taking you three times as long because you have a stranger stop you and ask questions?
Can you imagine being asked to share the most private details of your life every day with total strangers? --Medical information, so private that it’s protected by Federal Law. -- A stranger asks you about it as you stand between the toilet tissue and soap at a supermarket?
REALLY? Yes, REALLY!
This REALLY happens to me several times a week!
Can you imagine being sick in a doctor’s office and having a total stranger "talk at you," insisting upon being inches from you, while having their kid run straight at you YELLING, "DOG!"
Neither could I until it happened to me!
Continuing the example:
Imagine, in addition to all the events above, you have a physical injury, not just on one day, but two or more days per month.
NOW, you have imagined “walking in our shoes.”
Do you see how this could bet taxing?
Do you see how a person might come across to people as “short,” and unfriendly, when in reality they are simply emotionally drained?
I hope so!
Service Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, to manage all types of impairments. Each team works differently. Life gets scary after many “near miss” and emergency situations. The priority of a Service Dog handler is SAFETY for the Service Dog, themselves, and others out in public. The second priority is managing our own limitations, completing things in the same amount of time as a “normal” person, under very different conditions. Where do you fit in? please understand we may not be delighted when you “zero line,” pop out a camera, and/or start asking questions.
Why do we do what we do?
Together, dog and human make a great team and we do what was once IMPOSSIBLE. That is INCREDIBLE and that is why we do what we do.
The ability to do that which you could NEVER do without the Service Dog is worth ANYTHING life throws at you.
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Please know when we are out and about we must say…
“Not Now, We Are Working!”
It’s Your Dime Travel has put together an accessible affordable cruise for us.
HALLOWEEN AT SEA 2018!
Cruise along with TEAM GOODEE as we explore 3 Service Dog friendly ports.
We receive no compensation for reservations. We just love cruising and want to have a few friends along.
We'll be sailing on the new MSC ship, Seaside, from the Port of Miami, through the Eastern Caribbean to St. Maarten, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Nassau Bahamas.
MSC Seaside rewrites the rule book of cruise ship design, blending indoor and outdoor areas to connect you with the sea like never before. Circling the entire ship as low as Deck 8 is a unique seafront promenade lined with places to eat, drink, shop, swim and sunbathe. And you can enjoy more superb views from the two-deck glass-walled atrium and panoramic elevators.
Come on in the water is fine!