I realized the other day that while I’ve written a lot about Hudson being funny or difficult, I haven’t written a lot about…well, what everyday life with a service dog is like. Which feels kind of silly to me, since I write so much about what everyday life with a disability is like!
If any of you are coming new to my journal from this post, Hudson is my service dog, a 3 year old labradoodle who I have been with for almost a year. I actually break one of the rules our trainers set out for us – when Hudson and I are in the house, Hudson is almost never on a leash, because he’s so well behaved. With very rare exceptions (like really needing a drink or to go outside), Hudson never leaves the room I’m in, and never runs to anyone or anything, so I don’t worry about him not being leashed. Unlike most service dogs, Hudson has very little interest in the outside world, so he’s not about to run to the doorbell or run outside given the opportunity.
So here’s what a normal day looks like, living with Hudson.
I tend to kind of grumblingly wake up before I’m actually ready to get up because my bladder is demanding a trip to the bathroom. The doctors can’t decide whether it’s interstitial cystitis or functional bladder disorder, but I’ll tell you one thing for certain: it’s annoying! So I drag my grumpy butt out of bed. Hudson’s a bit of a lazy bum in the mornings too, so I have to call him several times and sometimes even poke him with my foot before he’ll hop up to accompany me to the bathroom. We drag over to the bathroom, and then drag back to the bedroom, and I go back to sleep for a while longer.
When it’s time for me to actually get up, usually Hudson’s already awake. As soon as it looks like I’m getting out of bed, he pops up excitedly and starts frisking around the narrow space between my side of the bed and my dresser. He comes up to me to get petted, but he’s too excited to stay, so he scampers back and forth, back and forth. Once in a while he gets TOO excited and whacks me with his open mouth, which ends this particular playtime.
When I get dressed, most of the time Hudson insists on smelling at least one article of my clothing. Otherwise, he mostly stays out of the way when I get dressed.
I live in a hundred plus year old house, so the halls and stairways are narrow, I send Hudson down the stairs in front of me, so we won’t foul each other up. This was something I had to learn – the stairs are theoretically just wide enough for the two of us, but he wants to go down the middle. He doesn’t want to be on the side towards the room because he’s afraid of heights, and he doesn’t like going down the wall side because he doesn’t like the feeling of being too close between me and a wall.
This summer, we put up a curtain hanging across the bottom of the stairway, to keep the livingroom air conditionering in the living room, and Hudson is still very uncertain about it. He walks veeeeerrrrrrrry slowly up to it, and waits for me to move it out of the way. The one in the kitchen doorway is, for whatever reason, less scary. That one, he just wants a big enough space open to squeeze through, and will walk right up to it before that space is opened.
Anyhow, so we get downstairs. I throw him out to do his business. Our backyard is concrete, so we have a little wood framed box of mulch for him to pee and poop on. We tried with dirt at first, but that got really icky, wheras this rubber mulch can be cleaned with a hose or by the rain, so it stays relatively clean. When he comes back in, I feed him and then get my own cereal out, then pack my lunch.
Right. So I’m dressed, we’re fed, what next? Let’s assume this is a work day.
I walk over to our front door. His gear is right next to it. No matter what kind of treats I offer him, Hudson doesn’t want to come over, because he knows that he’s going to get dressed and start ‘work’. I eventually coax him over, and once he’s there he’s pretty cooperative in getting dressed. He’ll duck when I try to put his harness over his head, but that’s the only attempt to make it more difficult for me.
Now that we’re all ready, we either get in the car (if my boyfriend is available) or go catch the trolley. Hudson likes the car, so those days are a lot less eventful. If we have to take the trolley, we walk about three times as far, which tires me out a bit. We get on the trolley and they let me pay the disabled rate, something they never allowed when I was disabled and walking with crutches. I have to ask the person in the front-left seat to move because that’s the only spot with enough room for the dog because the seats don’t have space under them for him to duck into. We ride the trolley for I guess 8 or 10 blocks, and then we get off to catch the subway.
I’ll note, at this point, that it’s inevitable that someone will comment on my dog – usually at least one person per vehicle. More often than not, they ask what he does for me, which is rather rude as effectively it asks, “Hey disabled person, what can’t you do for yourself?” There is almost always a comment on how handsome a beast my boy is, and queries about what his breed is are not uncommon. I try to be nice and friendly when responding to all these questions, because a service dog user is, in the eyes of the world, kind of an ambassador for service dog users. I’ll admit most of the time I wish they’d leave me alone just like they would do anyone else on the trolley or subway, because travelling is uncomfortable to me, and the dog is usually scared so requires a lot of my attention. They believe they have a right to my attention, and if it were only for my own sake, I’d be more willing to make it clear to them that they do not, but I represent service dog users so I have to be nice.
This branch of the subway is actually elevated on our end, so we take the elevator up, pay at the window and then walk back to the accessible gate (because harnesses are not compatible with turnstiles). I have to ask someone to open the gate for me, because it’s beastly heavy. Hudson is nervous to be up on the platform, from which you can easily see through the tracks or through the fences to the ground. He spends most of our time up here shaking, while I pet and verbally reassure and feed him treats.
Then the subway comes, and he’s scared so everything he’s doing is very abrupt and jerky (OW!). We get on, and more often than not I have to ask someone in the handicapped reserved seating to move – they almost never give up their seats without me asking, and sometimes they’re very rude about it. I get sat down, and get Hudson down as much out of the aisle as possible. He does his best to stay in the aisle as much as he can, which is of course hazardous to both him and other passengers. We continue on a bit of a tug-of-war the whole way to work, which is hard on my body and frustrating.
When I get up, he wants to bolt off the train, so he does his best to drag me along and I use his pinch collar to remind him that he’s not supposed to do that. Once again, we have to use the handicapped gate to get out, but this station isn’t accessible so I have to trudge my way up the steps to get to the surface. Ugh, I hate steps. Especially when Hudson’s wound up so he’s less help.
Hudson’s still darting and pulling, because he hasn’t calmed down yet. Because my background check hasn’t come through yet, I still have to go through the visitor’s entrance at the courthouse. The security people keep making me take an elevator all by myself, nevermind that the worst Hudson might do to anyone is sniff them. Up the elevator to my floor. The way the building is designed, I have to walk around 3 1/2 sides of it to get to my office, because the 4th side doesn’t have a through passage. Oh I hate this walk. The building is a block to each side, so it’s a long haul for me. And it’s not an accessible building – there are stairs, a few up, a few down. By the time I get to my building, I’m feeling woozy from the heat and sore as all hell from the trip in.
I put out Hudson’s rug and get us both some water, then we settle down to work, him to doze on his rug, me to read motions and petitions and research them. He pops up when I get up to move around the office for things. I eat my lunch in the office.
Around 2, we head outside for his bathroom break. My office has been very nice about it, and the security guard in the corner nearest my office will let me back in so I don’t have to do the big treck around the whole building to get back. It rains here often, and so sometimes his bathroom break gets postponed while I wait for it to stop. We walk across the street, and then across again, so we’re catty-corner from where we started, at the small park. I have him do his business in a planter so that no one is going to end up stepping in or sitting in or so on his pee or any of his poop that I can’t clean up. He usually poops at this time of day, so I take one of my bags out of his harness packs, grumble to myself as I climb into the planter, and clean up after him.
We go back to work for another three hours, and then we get to travel home.
Because we’re travelling home at 5:00 every evening, the subway is PACKED, and the crowd presses in around Hudson, which he finds uncomfortable (and I can’t blame him). It’s harder to get people to give up their seats this time of day, and I often have to point at the sign that indicates these are reserved seats to make them move. The struggle to keep Hudson out of the aisle is harder now, because the crowd puts him a little more on edge, and more important, because the aisles are so crowded with people standing.
We finally get to my station, and I breathe a sigh of relief as we get off the blasted subway. Hudson is jerking and pulling like a fiend. We get on the elevator up to the crossing to the other side, where there is an elevator to the ground. Walking across that pedestrian overpass scares the hell out of Hudson – too much ‘down’, too easy to see through the chainlink fences, on both sides, so that even if we walk down the middle he can see down.
Elevator down, finally, and then we cross the street to the trolley platform. It’s just a little island in the middle of the road with a railing on one side – no seats, no shelter. On hot days, if our timing is bad, I’ve come very close to fainting here. I lean against the railing and wait. Hudson is still anxious, and having cars and trucks and motorcycles going by on both sides of us doesn’t help matters any. I’d really like to just zone out and wait for the trolley, because I’m feeling lousy by now, but I have to stay paying attention to him and soothing him. And of course, because we’re standing there, people often want to comment on how cute my dog is and ask what he does for me, yet again.
Finally the trolley is here. This stop gets a lot of people boarding ’cause it’s the intersection between the trolley and the subway. They rush on, but they tend to be polite about giving Hudson and I enough space to board. I try to get on early so the person I depose from the front-left seat will still be able to get another seat, and no one has ever given me the slightest bit of a hard time. People who I chit-chat with on the platform occasionally stand near me to help shelter Hudson, who inevitably has part of his body out in the aisle. I do appreciate that quite a bit – he’s been kicked twice on the trolley, and I worry that he’s going to start associating the trolley with being walked into. I have to keep watch for people exiting and entering, to make sure they don’t step on him, and try to stop them with voice and outstretched hand when it looks like they will. You’d probably be surprised by how often people don’t even register the voice and hand unless I push back pretty hard, which tends to hurt me.
We finally get to our stop. Hudson’s worked up, I’m worn out and ready to collapse, but there’s still 3 2/3 blocks to walk home. I swear, it feels like these are the longest blocks in existence, as the dog jerks and pulls and I’m tired and god it’s hot…
We get home. I want to collapse, but I take off Hudson’s gear and get him a drink and let him out to pee first. Sometimes I even remember to get a drink into myself. Then I stumble up the stairs to go lay down in the bedroom, because it has the best ratio of air conditioning power to space. I usually manage to get out of my work clothes before I collapse. I stay down until my boyfriend makes dinner, usually.
The rest of the day is pretty uneventful. Sometimes we watch a movie and I spin yarn, my newest and favorite passtime. Sometimes I feel too flattened for that, or it’s too hot and our underpowered airconditioner in the living room won’t cut it, so I stay curled up in bed and read. Usually, the boyfriend either goes on his computer or plays video games then, because I’m feeling crappy enough that I need to tune out the world and fall into a book.
On work days, I usually don’t recover enough for a rousing game of chase-the-dog-around-the-livingroom, which is the only athletic play I’ve managed to get Hudson interested in at home. Work days are, for me, travel – work – travel – rest – eat – watch tv or read – sleep. It seems positively dull spelled out like that, but, well, I suppose work days are a bit dull because I don’t have the energy for them to be anything but. Work takes everything I’ve got, and at my current job, I don’t have the set-up that would enable me to work 2 days in a row.
That is, I suppose, part of the story of life with my disability more than it is life with my service dog. You have to pick and choose what you’re able to do and in what order and how. Having my service dog makes my disability matter less in some ways, but the disability will never go away and no adaptive aid or assistant is going to change that.
So there you go. An average (work) day in the life of a woman with a disability and a service dog.