Posts Tagged ‘service dog’

Silly Dog

I thought you guys would appreciate this one.

We’ve had a bit of a mouse problem here for the last several months.  Our house is pretty much spotless on food (everything is now in plastic tubs because the damn critters get into everything).  We’ve plugged mouseholes as we find them, we’ve set traps and killed a number of the little beasts, but still they come back.  We suspect one or both of our neighbors is less…rigorous…in their clean-up attempts.

Anyhow, the mouse problem is background.  It has turned up a funny tendency of Hudson’s – once he hears or sees something somewhere, he continues to expect it to be there, whether he has reason to or not.

Three hours ago, there was a mouse under the far end of the loveseat.  I heard it, and Hudson at least heard it – he may have also seen it.  He has periodically stared at or sniffed that end of the loveseat, and continues to do so, even though there has been no further evidence of mouse.  He’s just convinced that it must somehow still be there.  He does this ALL the time, and he’ll end up staring at places where nothing has happened for hours, as if he’s willing the mouse to return.

For a smart dog, he’s a real dummy sometimes!


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Right now, I’m on a combination of meds they don’t allow me to drive on.  It’s annoying, but before that my fiance was doing most of the driving anyhow, so the only change is that now I use cabs when he can’t give me a ride.  On the whole, it hasn’t been a big deal.

Friday, I called a cab to take me to physical therapy.  The cab got here and I walked out to it, with Hudson, a novel, and a change of clothes for exercising at physical therapy.  When I get to the cab, the cabbie is talking on his radio, and he locks the doors right before I try to open them.  I heard the sound of the locks going, and I assumed he was unlocking the doors.

He gets off the radio, and gets out and announces to me that I needed to tell the dispatcher that I have the dog, and that he has to put newspapers down on his seat.  He then spends the next 5 minutes scolding me for not having something to cover his seat.  He tells me that the city government will fine him, and that the other driver of the cab will give him a hard time over the smell (from my very clean dog?), and goes on and on and on.

Look – I’m disabled.  By the time I have all the things I need to be running around on a chilly day and waiting for people and doing physical therapy (or school, for that matter), I’m about maxing out my carrying capacity.  I can’t bring along one of the rugs I put down for Hudson when I have someone else to carry things.  And I don’t have a responsibility to do so.

We get to my physical therapy location, and I use the credit card machine in the back, and then he asks me if I am going to tip him.

No.  I do not like people who expect me to do all kinds of bending over backwards for them because I have a service dog.  I do not tip people who scold me.  No way.  You want a tip, you treat me with respect.  I would not have objected at all to him putting newspaper down for the dog, even though it made Hudson uneasy to lie on crackling paper.  But scolding me?  Uh-uh.

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…yes, my fiance actually said that.  It actually happened.  You see, Hudson has allergies, so he has to take medication to manage them.  Typically, my fiance stands behind Hudson, holding him and opening the dog’s mouth, and I use the piller to shoot the pills into his throat.  This puts Hudson’s head right next to my fiance’s crotch.  Hudson has had itch issues, which make him shake often…and thus, my poor fiance’s crotch was whacked.

Sadly, it’s happened twice.  In his words, “My penis failed its saving throw versus the dog’s ear.”

Other awkward things that happen when you live with a service dog…

Hudson has gone to ‘get’ my fiance (a command that typically involves jumping on him) when said fiance was lying down, and put one of his front paws on my fiance’s groin.

That wasn’t the first time he’s done something…interesting when sent to ‘get’ my fiance.  Very early on, ‘go get <fiance>’ just meant making contact of some kind – usually Hudson nosed my fiance.  My fiance was asleep, and because we’d just moved into the house (and my bedframe had been destroyed by people at my old apartment), we had the mattress on the floor.  I told Hudson to go get my fiance, and he decided to lick my fiance’s armpit.  I, of course, started cracking up.  My fiance was very…confused.

Finding doghair in your crotch (no wonder it was itchy!  Disturbingly frequent discovery, however.)

Getting nosed on the nipple (agh, he does that so often)

Going to step out of bed and finding that your toes are nudging the dog’s crotch (or that you’ve just plopped your feet ON him)

The dog bowing in front of you…with his hind end pointing at you, like he’s presenting his ass to you.  Somehow he always does this one with his tail curled up and towards his back, which just highlights his anus.  (Unfortunately, he rather often farts in that position…)

And speaking of farting, Hudson has this tendency of farting when we’re in the bathroom.  I don’t know how much of my noticing it is confirmation bias, but especially if I’m um on the toilet a while, I’ll hear him passing gas.

Hudson loves standing right in front of me, facing towards my right (where the coffee table is).  Thing is, he stands really, really close, leaning against me, and our height matches up so that his sheath rests against my left knee.

One more quote from my oh-so-amusing fiance: “His tongue is relentless!”  (darn dog makes brushing his teeth difficult by working very hard to lick the toothpaste)

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We flew back home Sunday (arrived early Monday morning), and on the way we had one experience that just shocked me.

My fiance had gone to take Hudson out to do his business, as it was a long connection so we had time for it.  I was on my scooter and headed to check in with the gate agents so they knew to pre-board me so we had time to get everything taken care of and settled properly.

A man started snapping pictures of me.  I couldn’t believe it!  He didn’t ask, and by the second picture I was giving him the ‘WTF is wrong with you?!’ look.

When my fiance returned with the dog, the guy once again took pictures.  When my fiance rode the scooter back to the gate agent so it could be checked, even more pictures.

I’m furious.  I don’t know what the hell people are thinking when they pull shit like this.  It’s not the first time it’s happened, and most of the time it’s people of asian descent.  I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t like it.  It feels like being fetishized – people are taking pictures of me because I look disabled.  Or maybe it’s people who are taking pictures because I’m fat and disabled and use a scooter, so they can har har over the way I use a scooter because I’m fat (nevermind that I’m fat because I have a disability and have been on meds that increased my weight, and the scooter is to relieve pressure on my feet and knees that they can’t take because of my multiple, overlapping disabilities).  It makes me so damn mad.

I’m not here for you to take pictures of and amuse yourself with.  I’m just living my life and I’d like the space to do so without being a THING to you, thankyouverymuch.

(On the other hand, the guy who wanted to take a picture of Hudson because he’d never been on a plane with a dog before?  He asked first, and I was totally okay because A) the picture was of the dog, not me and the dog, and B) he ASKED and waited for me to okay it rather than just jumping in and taking pictures.)

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It’s carnival time!

Welcome to the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival!*  We are assistance dog partners, trainers, puppy raisers, and people generally interested in the world of assistance dogs.  These dogs have a great deal of impact on our lives.  When I sat down to think about a topic for this carnival, I wanted to give a relatively general idea so that people could run with it.

Difference is something we live with.  Some of it is good difference, like the way our assistance dogs improve our lives and how they change us.  Some of the difference just IS, neither good nor bad, like the difference between the service dogs we have worked with.  Sadly, some of the difference is bad difference, like being the person whose placement doesn’t work out or having people react in negative ways to you and your partner.

Without any further ado, I give you the summer Assistance Dog Blog Carnival!

I’d like to start with the tough entries, because I think it’s important to recognize that not all difference is good.  It is a shame that difference isn’t always a force for the better, but I think if we don’t think about and work with negative differences, we risk losing the positive ones.

First up I have truelyable, who offers a window into the 3 months she tried to make her service dog partnership work, “When it doesn’t work out.”  https://trulyable.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/when-it-doesnt-work-out/

I found the entry from Carin of Vomit Comet hard because I did a lot of thinking about how tough things were with her first dog.  As I am working with my first dog, I had to commend her courage in choosing to work with another dog after that first experience!  Carin talks about the difference between her first dog (who she had to return to the program) and her second dog (who is a great partner!) in “What a difference a dog makes” http://vomitcomet.blogspot.com/2011/07/what-difference-dog-makes.html

From the Pawpower Pack, we have ‘The difference is her’.  In this post, she talks about the difference her now-retired guide, Bristol, has made in her life.  I included it in the hard posts because part of this is talking about Bristol retiring and aging.  http://pawpower4me.blogspot.com/2011/07/difference-is-her.html

Karyn of ‘Through a Guide’s Eyes’ talks about how she has changed how she deals with one of the hardest things an assistance dog partner can deal with: health complications in her dog.  While it sounds like she is coping much better, dealing with illness in your partner is tough!  http://throughguideseyes.blogspot.com/2011/07/decade-of-difference.html

Martha of ‘Learning Baby Steps’ tells us about the differences in initiating relationships with her service dogs and how it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for her.  http://learninbabysteps.blogspot.com/2011/07/different-beginnings.html

We actually have 3 different entries covering city vs country living with assistance dogs and future assistance dogs.  I was kind of surprised that there were so many, but then, much of assistance dog training presumes that one lives in a city.

From Allison of Gilbert and Me, we have a blog about home in the country and feeling at home called ‘There’s no place like home!’ http://anastoff.livejournal.com/28684.html

Patti of Plays with Puppies brings us a discussion about the things puppy raisers have to think about when they live in the country with ‘Living the Difference’ http://playswithpuppies.blogspot.com/2011/07/living-difference.html

Sharon of After Gadget talks about the different issues a rural assistance dog partner faces that most of us city assistance dog teams never have to think about in ‘The Rural Difference’ http://aftergadget.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/the-rural-difference/

We also have 3 entries on the differences between dogs and/or transitioning between dogs.

Cyndy of Gentle Wit talks about the different transitions she’s had into new guide dog relationships in ‘Moving On’ http://gentlewit.com/2011/07/15/moving-on/

Linda of ‘From Puppy to Public Access’ talks about the differences between her two service dogs, exhuberant Laurel and calmer Hardy, in “Differences between Laurel and Hardy” http://frompuppytopublicaccess.blogspot.com/2011/07/differences-between-laurel-and-hardy.html

Brooke of Ruled By Paws tells us about the different relationships she has had with her service dogs in ‘My Scorpios’ http://ruledbypaws.blogspot.com/2011/07/my-scorpios.html

Next, 2 posts about how life with an assistance dog is different.

From L^2 of Dog’s Eye View, we have a post about all of the changes having guide dog makes in her life, from community, public reactions, and safety to dogfood in ‘Nine Years Later’ http://l-squared.blogspot.com/2011/07/nine-years-later.html

From me, my (admittedly late!) post about the difference in caring for a service dog versus caring for a pet in ‘Service Dog vs Pet: Care’ https://brilliantmindbrokenbody.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/service-dog-vs-pet-care/

I saved for last the 3 posts that talk about the huge positive impact an assistance dog has had on their partner.  I saved these ones for last because I wanted to end the carnival on a high note!

Katrin of ‘By My Side’ brings us a post about how she is percieved differently with a guide dog because she IS different with a guide dog – a more comfortable, confident person – in ‘Confidence’ http://asdbymyside.blogspot.com/2011/06/confidence.html

From Linda of ‘From Puppy to Public Access’, we have a piece called ‘What a difference a dog makes!’ about all of the benefits (including some subjective ones that just make her happy) her service dogs have given her.  Linda’s service dogs not only provide mobility support, they also alert on conditions that she didn’t even know service dogs could predict!  http://frompuppytopublicaccess.blogspot.com/2011/07/what-difference-dog-makes.html

Finally, from Flo, a post that brought a tear to my eye.  Flo describes how her service dog, Duncan, has changed her perspective on life and brought her, has the title of her post says, from “Hatred to Hope.”  http://duncanfloyd.blogspot.com/2011/07/hatred-to-hope.html

Thank you all for contributing!  I think we did a good job on addressing a lot of kinds of difference in the lives of people in the assistance dog world.

*Please accept my apologies for how late this carnival is going up.  Between a series of medication changes and the loss of a good friend to suicide, I have been really struggling to get anything done.

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We talk a lot about how service dogs are different from pets, but one of the things I don’t see addressed often is how much more care goes into our service dogs than most people put into their pets.

To give you an example, I know what texture Hudson’s poop is and I pay attention to whether he is straining or uncomfortable while he’s doing his business.  It’s important because it tells me a lot about his mental health – when he’s anxious or stressed, he’s very prone to diarrhea.  It also tells me how his gastrointestinal system is doing with his current food, which has been an issue for us.

Hudson’s food costs over $1.50/lb.  We make his treats ourselves from ground beef (and we are thinking about branching into other things like sweet potato chips).

Hudson gets brushed almost daily.  Even among people with longhaired dogs, I know few people who brush out their pets daily.  He also gets tick-checked almost daily.  I’ll admit that there are occasions where I just don’t have the wherewithal to do it, but even on bad days, I check his head and his paws, as those are the most likely places to find ticks.  Tick checking means I go over his entire body with the pads of my fingers, feeling for lumps, bumps, and anything out of place as well as for little bloodsucking monsters.

His teeth get brushed daily.  I’ll admit this is one I fall down on when my fiance isn’t around, because Hudson wants to get the toothpaste so badly that brushing his teeth without someone holding his head still is about as difficult as feeding an uncooperative baby (except that he struggles against me with 65 pounds of strength!) – things go everywhere but where they’re supposed to, I get frustrated, and his teeth don’t get done well.

His nails get cut weekly.  Most people let their pets’ nails get long enough to tick on tile or cement, but this is actually too long.  It makes dogs shift the way they carry their weight and will wear out their hip joints faster.

Hudson’s ears get cleaned weekly.  I know there are a variety of thoughts on how often ears should be cleaned, but that’s what our school taught and he gets frequent enough ear infections that it seems like a good idea with him.

He gets his paws and ahem personal areas trimmed twice a month.  As a longhaired dog, Hudson is prone to getting mats between his toes, around his groin, and around his anus, so I have to get in between his pads and around areas he’d rather I left alone and trim away fur.  He gets trims to his beard and moustache about every 6 weeks because otherwise he makes an enormous mess when he drinks.

Hudson sees the vet much more often than your average pet does.  My dog sees his doc any time he seems to be significantly under the weather, and he has gotten the canine flu vaccine because I can’t afford for him to be sick.  He takes medication to take care of his allergies and gets his monthly flea, tick, and heartworm meds.

Hudson also gets washed every 4 weeks plus any time he goes in the ocean.  He has to be clean and not smell too strongly of dog for public work, not to mention it’s probably good for him.  He also periodically gets a steroid conditioner as he has itchy skin when his allergies flare.

Hudson doesn’t care for a lot of the things that are done on his behalf.  He’s quite sure that his paws and nails are fine without any interference, thankyouverymuch.  He believes that his groin and his hind end don’t need to be touched.  The bath is entirely unnecessary.  Toothbrushing is a waste of time and I really should just give him the toothpaste to lick up.  Ear-cleaning is enough to get him fighting with most of his strength to get away from me pouring cleaner in and scrubbing his ear.  Tick-checking is annoying, and I really should just pet him instead.  Giving him pills is an annoying habit of mine that I really ought to stop (and trying to get him to take them via something like Pill Pockets is just silly).  Bathing is cruel and unpleasant, especially when it involves washing his head and his beard.  Brushing is unkind and I should stick to scratching and petting instead.

In short, Hudson isn’t fond of most of the care he recieves that keep him in tip-top shape.  He makes a lot of his care mildly difficult – in general he is very polite about the fact that he doesn’t like it, but it’s clear he’d rather we didn’t do it.  The most pitiful is probably the hangdog body language while he’s being bathed, while the strongest attempt to escape what he needs done is when his ears get cleaned.  For the most part, he makes it clear that he’s tolerating what we do.  He hates being clipped and has to be held in position by someone else while I clip him – usually my fiance, as no one else is willing to hold onto the dog quite firmly enough.

For a little bit of amusement, let me tell you what happens when we’re done doing pretty much any of Hudson’s necessary care.  Once we’re finished, I announce ‘All done!’  Hudson starts running around and frolicking, followed by a spate of doggy breakdancing.  His favorite move we call ‘the moustache’, where he uses both of his front paws to smooth over his snout like a man grooming his moustache, except that Hudson tends to make an even bigger mess of it.

So there’s my bit of difference: the difference in healthcare and grooming that a service dog recieves from his partner.  I had a lot of other topics I wanted to write about, including the difference in how people respond to you, but I decided that I didn’t want to write yet another post about how normal folks treat us in uncomfortable ways.

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So, I had a procedure today to determine what’s going on with my GI.  The news is good; with some minor adjustments in diet and the addition of a medication that binds liquid, it should be totally managable.  I’ve been on that medication before with no side effects, so this is about 99% positive.  (The only real downside is that I’m going to have to pay a lot more attention to the way my GI reacts to things, and may have to be more careful about substances like caffeine)

But to get to the good news, I had to make it through the procedure.  They gave me a combination of an opiate (to minimize ‘discomfort’ and sedate somewhat) and versed (to borrow my doctor’s words, “to make you forget”).  I remember things clearly up until the second dose of versed…and then I woke up in the recovery area.  I’ve heard of people having all kinds of bad experiences on versed, but this is the second time I was dosed with it, and all things being equal, it wasn’t all that nasty for me.  (Though I did have a reaction to something the first time that had me throwing up for a couple of days, I think that may have been my oh-so-delicate system’s response to the physical stuff they were doing, not the drug.)  I apparently take rather a lot to be knocked out – two to four times the standard initial dose.

There was some minor stress and confusion today.  I didn’t think about the fact that I was going to be knocked out and someone else was needed to mind poor Hudson.  The fiance had headed out for a walk and I couldn’t get him on his cellphone.  For a while it looked like one of the nurses was going to hang on to Hudson in the room with me, which would have worked out okay.  I was really impressed that no one seemed upset or annoyed or difficult about Hudson, even though I’d managed to make quite an unexpected imposition.  Granted, this hospital has always been totally awesome about the service dog.*  Their only concern was making sure that everything was handled in a way that kept the pooch comfortable, and the nurses were willing to totally go out of their way to take care of us – they were great when I explained minimizing interaction with him for the benefit of our partnership, which I’ve found a lot of dog-friendly places have issue with, but not here.  In the end, though, my doctor was running so late that the particular nurse who had volunteered to hang on to Hudson was going to be off shift.  They discovered that my fiance was in the waiting room, though, so he was able to take Hudson. 

Poor fiance was worried that it might be like that instance last summer when the ER barred Hudson, but it was really just a case of trying to keep the stress on the dog the lowest.  At least if he was with the fiance, he was being left with someone familiar to him, and his second favorite person in the world.  Apparently Hudson periodically whined while I was away – poor pooch.  That seems to be his typical response, though.  He doesn’t like being away from me.  I think sometimes he worries about what might happen while he’s not there to watch over me.  The fiance occasionally petted him when he whined, and apparently Hudson took that as a sign that they were going to me, because he stood up looking at the door he’d gone through when the fiance took him back to the waiting room.

Anyhow, so everything went well.  We grabbed an early dinner and had a brief stop in a store I enjoy to get a treat for later.  We got home and…well, they warn you that you aren’t to drive or make major life or business decisions, and I can quite tell why.  I’ve felt kind of…floaty…ever since, and I think I got dosed with the medications about 5 1/2 hours ago.  My head is fuzzy, and it takes longer for things to make sense than usual.  And oh, the bed felt so good to lie down in.  I spent a few hours curled up in bed reading mostly because bed felt so GOOD.  Just comforting and the right temperature and soft and…nice.  (I’m spoiled and have very nice sheets and a thick memory foam topper, oh yes I do.  I love them very, very, very much.)

I’m definitely not entirely back to myself.  I’m…here, but I’m drugged.  Not in an entirely unpleasant way, but everything feels just a little bit surreal.

…I probably should have put off writing the IT guy about my request for a listserv for a project until tomorrow, but at least I had the fiance read it first.  Oh well.  Worst he can say is no, I guess, and then a friend of mine has said he’ll find someone to host it if the school won’t.

*Almost all of my doctors are at this hospital, and the worst thing anyone has ever said about him is either that he startled them or that he’s in the way and needs to move to a different spot in the room.  They are always friendly and positive about his presence, and never once has anyone suggested that I shouldn’t have him with me.  Today was no exception – everyone loved him and wanted to help and even listened when I explained the ‘can not pet or interact’ rules, much as they wanted to love on him.  The way the hospital staff have responded to Hudson is part of why I ❤ that hospital and have everything there, even though it’s halfway across town.  I go where I am welcomed, you know?  It also helps that they consistently treat me as a person, not just a medical question or a disability.  The way this hospital acts?  This is real access, this is real accomodation.  This is me being a person with dignity and rights and intelligence and value and individuality in their eyes.

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Every spring, my service dog organization does a ‘dogs day off’ fundraiser.  Unfortunately, I’m really not up for it right now – I’m in too much pain, and too sick.  So I was thinking about it, and I had an idea for a fundraiser of my own, but I wasn’t sure if there would be much interest.

So here’s what I’m offering: for a $5 donation, you would get a picture of Hudson that no one but me has ever seen.  It could be him working, performing a service task, just chilling, at dog park,  at the lake or the beach.  For a $10 donation, you can specify what kind of picture you like – even a pose you want (or at least, I’ll TRY for requested poses).  No one else would get the picture you get.  It’d be a special thing just for you.

Would anyone be interested in that?  If I could sell 200 of the ‘basic’ pictures or 100 of the requested pictures, or some mix of the two that totaled $1,000, we could sponsor a puppy and name it!  If we get that far, the boyfriend and I have a list of names and everyone who donated, even if they didn’t donate enough to get a picture, would get to vote on the names.  The names, for reference, range from tremendously silly to respectable, most of them nicknames I used at one point or another for my dear Hudson.

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This is my post for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival.  I’ll link to the Carnival post once it’s up!

The theme for this Carnival is ‘Reactions’.

One of the things they warn you about when you go to get a service dog is that you’re about to become a lot more visible, and they’re right.  They’re so right that even when you expect that, it’s a little overwhelming.  You can’t so much as go pick up your medications at the pharmacy without someone making a comment.  Maybe they’ll ask to pet him.  If you have a dog like mine, who isn’t definitely of a recognized breed, they’ll ask you what breed he is, and often make suggestions as to what they think he is (some of which will be truely absurd).  They’ll comment on how well behaved he is, and some of them will talk about wishing their dogs were as good.  They’ll tell you you have a handsome dog.  They’ll comment on your gear.  They’ll point you and your dog out to their children.  The vast majority of them will say your dog is a guide dog, because the use of other types of assistance dogs isn’t as well known.

It’s kind of exhausting, and every now and again, I find myself wanting to say one simple thing to them: he’s not here for you.  I don’t get to, though, because as a service dog partner, I am treated as an ambassador for all assistance dog pairs out there.  I have to make nice, because a bad interaction with a service dog or their partner might make someone stop letting assistance dogs into their businesses, which amounts to not letting people with disabilities into their businesses.*

So here’s what I want to say, when it’s been a long day and I’m just trying to finish up and get home.  Please be warned that the rest of this post is extremely sarcastic and a bit angry.

Yes, I know every dog lover is happy to see my dog out in public.

Yes, it’s very nice that you’re not petting him, good for you on reading part of the signs on his gear.  I wish you got the ‘do not distract’ part, though, because your bending down and babytalking at him is getting his attention and I’m going to have to give my dog a verbal correction for something that isn’t entirely his fault so that he doesn’t learn that he can pay attention to other people like that.

Yes, I’m sure your dog looked just like him, except small and white and not so fluffy.  How very similar.

Yes, you know what?  My 65 pound dog is part ‘scotty dog’.  How ever did you guess?

Oh, by all means, please distract my dog from what he is doing and damage his training by petting him.  That is ever so good for us.  I will remember you the next time he dashes down the stairs and knocks me over so someone can pet him.

Please, give my dog human food!  It’s not like doggy digestion is a bit on the delicate side and human food isn’t designed for them.  I’m sure I won’t be dealing with diarrhea for the next two days.

Why hello stranger, it is ever so kind of you to take pictures of us without asking me if it’s okay!  I love being an object of curiousity for you!

How wonderful it is that you let your children run over and pet strange dogs without asking the owner first!

Please, ask me if you can ride my dog.  Yes, that harness on his back there is for your entertainment, and I haven’t heard that one before.

Do you really need to know what breed he is?  How clever of you to guess.

I’m so glad you approve of his haircut.  I’m not sure if you’re asking if I groom him myself because you are impressed by what the widdle crippled girl can do or because you want to show off your own dog grooming knowledge.  Maybe you’re looking for the name of a good dog groomer.

Why yes, he does wear boots when it’s snowy out.  Gee, no one has ever told me how cute they are before.

Please, don’t feel like you have to ask if I mind talking, even though I’m near collapsing and exhausted and flushed in the face.  I’m sure you could tell that I came here specially to chit-chat with you while I wait for the trolley to come.

What this all adds up to is one little thing: I’m tired of getting singled out by people who are looking for any excuse to talk to the girl with the dog.  Yes, I’m sure that I’m a curiousity, and you rarely see other assistance dogs, and you’re curious.  But please, take your curiousity online the next time.  Even if you go to another service dog user’s blog, they have the luxury of answering you when they have energy and patience to do so.

I don’t want to be stared at, any more than I did when I used crutches.  I’m a normal person going around doing normal person things, and while I love the furry little pants off Hudson, I don’t want my every public interaction to be about him or about the disability that causes me to need him.  I just want you to treat me like anyone else.  Do you know how long it’s been since anyone commented on anything other than my dog and my braces?

* This sentence originally said “…someone stop letting dogs into their businesses.”  Sharon pointed out that it’s not about the dogs, it’s about the people with them.  You see, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it isn’t the dogs who have rights, it’s the people-with-dogs who have rights.  It’s a pretty important difference, which is why I thought it was worth correcting.

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This post was written for the second Assistance Dog Blog Carnival, which is being hosted at http://l-squared.blogspot.com/.

A lot of my blog is talking about this integration of Hudson-and-me, this pairing that mostly works very well and has been going on for a year and a half now.

But how did we get here?  And how do we stay here, and do we want to stay here, and what comes next?

Working with a service dog is a relationship, and in relationships, you have to make a lot of decisions.  Some of them are very intentional; others you kind of organically stumble upon and later have to try to decide if you actually want to stick with them.

For me, the decision to get a service dog was easy.  It was about a door.

I’m a law student, and have been since around the time I developed the secondary condition that really made me disabled.  My law school is contained in two buildings.  The first building has a totally inaccessible front door, up a flight of stairs, so it has a totally accessible side door with an electronic opener.  That’s where about 3/4 of the classes are, and the professor’s offices, and maybe 1/4 of the administrative offices for the school.  The second building has a stair-free entry, but at the time I started law school, it didn’t have an electric opener. 

At the time I started law school, the most heavily impacted part of my body was my hands, so opening heavy external doors that swung out was something I just couldn’t do.  I repeatedly got stuck outside until someone else was coming in or out and could hold the door for me, including numerous instances of being stuck in the pouring rain with no shelter while I waited for the door to open.

I decided then that I needed the full-time attendence of someone or something to help me.  The idea of having a person follow me around 24/7 seemed like a nuisance.  On the other hand, I’d had enough positive interactions with people who have assistive dogs for that to pop into my head pretty quickly.  Once I’d been this way for long enough that it seemed logical that it might be permanent, I started researching service dog schools.

I knew right away that I just don’t have the experience, the physical and emotional wherewithal, or the desire to train my own service dog from scratch.  Starting with a dog that had basic manners and skills seemed like a VASTLY superior option for me.  That’s not to say I think there’s anything wrong with training your own dog, but I think to do that you need to start with a desire I just didn’t have.  Also, though I love dogs, I know I don’t like dealing with babies – I want a dog who will reliably do its business outside and not chew up all of my shoes.

So then I researched service dog schools.  After a lot of thought, I decided a smaller school that was more able to adapt to individuals would be a better choice for me, because I have a very unusual disability profile.  I’ve had enough experience over the years with dog training to know that I’d want to get my dog somewhere that I’d have access to the trainers for problems in the coming years, so after-care and distance were major priorities for me.  I also needed to find a place that would be willing to match me with a dog without a name for my symptoms, because the quick answers were lacking in my case and I didn’t want to wait god-only-knows-how-long to get a diagnosis so I could get a dog.  I also wanted a program that matched dogs to people on a very detailed basis, and I was willing to wait longer to get a dog that suited my needs and my personality.  I was okay with having some financial outlay and getting a dog sooner, rather than waiting longer for a program that charges nothing for its dogs.

All of those priorities distilled one of the closest service dog schools being the best match.  I went and visited the program and met with the trainers, and I was very impressed with what I saw and with how thorough their matching process was.  The trainers seemed experienced, available, and friendly; the dogs were happy, healthy, and exceedingly well behaved.  It also pleased me that the head of the organization was herself a service dog partner.  One of the things I REALLY liked about the school is the harnesses they have, which are custom-made and loosely based on horse saddles in terms of structure.  They are healthy for the dog and really, really useful for a person who is ambulating but needs to be steadied or supported.  This service dog school has been around for 20 years, which I liked for a variety of reasons.  It meant there were a lot of graduates, some of whom were available to talk to me.  I saw the rate of return for a successor dog as very encouraging – after all, if you didn’t like your first dog, you certainly wouldn’t get a second from the same place!

I expected to get a lab, because the school I chose does about 80-85% labs, and I was perfectly happy with that.  I asked for a dog that would want attention and affection, and be playful.  I also knew that because my disability varies a lot day to day and week to week, I needed a relatively attentive dog.  Perhaps the most important feature of my partner-to-be was that he needed to be gentle.  I injure easily, and a dog that runs into me or tugs on me while we’re walking is just asking for dislocations and pain.  I had kind of hoped for a black lab, as I work in a field where we tend to be dressed very conservatively, which means a lot of dark colors, especially for pants and skirts.

I’ll admit, I really didn’t expect the partner I got matched with!  I was a little disappointed that I was being matched with a fluffy ‘doodle instead of a sleek, elegant lab, but it wasn’t a huge deal for me.  Hudson had all of the intelligence and desire for affection that I could have wished for.  Part of the reason we were matched is the fact that I’ve had dogs all my life, so I’m kind of familiar with how dogs learn and think; Hudson really needed a smart and emotionally supportive partner.  His training school had actually been worried about placing him, because he’s relatively fearful for a service dog and has to be worked through the things that scare him with gentle but firm understanding.

So eventually, I got my dog and I graduated.  I had a dog who had a very good basic skill set and the beginnings of a solid bond with me.  I then had to start figuring out what else I wanted him to do.  The beauty of a service dog partnership is that most of the dogs who are driven enough to make it as service dogs are happy learning new skills all their life.  Hudson is no exception, and he started learning things I didn’t even really intend to teach him.  Some have turned out to be extremely useful, like ‘here’ as a positional cue (I put one finger out, and he noses that finger; it’s very helpful when I need him precisely placed) and ‘move it’ as a cue that he is (or will be) in the way.  Others, like the hand signal to turn around, have mostly faded out of his memory because I rarely use them.  I think all together, I have developed hand signals for about 1/3 of his repetoire of skills – the ones I use all the time, the ones I need when I have a migraine and the sound of my own voice claws at the inside of my skull.

I never really had to make much in the way of decisions about our gear.  Our service dog school either provided us with our gear or had us purchase pieces that fit specifications, and I’ve never needed anything outside of that.  I do make use of almost all of our original gear, and have only added one or two pieces, like his long play rope (for when we don’t have a fully-fenced area available).

One of the drawbacks of the service dog school I chose is that it has VERY strict rules about one can and cannot do with one’s service dog and a contract to back them up.  I can’t feed Hudson anything designed for human consumption (except under very specific circumstances, like managing short-term GI issues), I am not allowed to let him off-lead except in fully-fenced areas, I must only use approved gear, etc.  To be perfectly honest, with very few exceptions, I’ve never really felt the restrictions were inconvenient at all, so for me, it wasn’t an issue.  Some of them seem a bit silly, but none have been really problematic.  I know for others, it can be a BIG issue.  I’m also obligated to re-certify every year or two, and during our first year, I was required to attend 6 follow-up classes, which was a greater difficulty than I expected.  It’s inconvenient, but the trade-off of having a trainer available by email or phone all the time (and in person if necessary) and about 20 follow-up classes a year available if we struggle with anything has been worth it bigtime.

I do think the biggest decision in our partnership was the school I got Hudson from, and I have to say, I think the school I chose was a good match for me.  No regrets there.  I’ll be honest with you, I’m proud of how the dogs from our organization turn out and I’m proud to be a part of it.  I think we’re one of the best schools that exists, and I think the way our dogs behave shows that.

There are a lot of factors that go into the decision of where to get a dog and/or how to train them.  For me, well, I’m physically fragile and easily injured, so I definitely couldn’t start with a puppy and deal with teaching things like ‘don’t jump on me’ and ‘I am not a chew toy’ and ‘walk nice means don’t hit the end of the leash at a dead run’.  I needed at minimum the basics taken care of for me, and I wanted to start with an adult partner rather than a service dog in training.  The past several years, I’ve been living in either rental housing or university housing, both of which you can navigate relatively easily with a full-fledged service dog but may have difficulty with a dog in training, so self-training became even less possible of an option for me.  And finally, I didn’t have the thing you need most to train your own dog – the desire to do so.  I was just fine and dandy with the idea that the dog would come to me with the majority of the tasks I would need already in place AND a training method inculcated that would act as a platform for any further tasks I wanted to train.  I also liked the fact that the majority of the graduates are within 100 miles of the school, which means there are a bunch of us locally, and we do get together sometimes.

If you’re thinking about getting a service dog, there are a LOT of questions to consider.  I think the one you should sit and put the most thought into is where the dog is coming from and how the dog will be trained.  Your whole partnership is affected very deeply by these first early decisions, and they’re ones you don’t get a do-over on.

I don’t think schools are right for everyone.  I’ve met good and bad examples of service dogs from both schools and owner-trained dogs.  While a lot of people evangalize about doing it one way or the other, I think it really has to come down to what will work best for you.  I think you should put hours into the decision of how your dog will be trained before you commit; do your research, talk to other service dog partners, and make sure you get to meet dogs who were trained by your potential trainer.  You won’t regret it.

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