It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery
(Kea Grace did a wonderful article not long ago about the ten things handlers want you to know about their service dogs. Here is my personal ten. Here is Kea’s article: http://www.anythingpawsable.com/10-things-service-dog-handlers-want-know/)
1.) Gander is Always Working..
Gander, my service dog has the most inviting demeanor and lovable face of any animal I have ever owned. That and our seeming gregariousness in public make it hard not to engage him. And because he has a number of trusted friends that are allowed to interact with him it might appear we are not working. Gander is always on duty. Those that know us understand that Gander will drop everything, even his beloved tennis balls, to attend to my needs. People often whistle, click their fingers, bark, pet, call him to them or try to feed him treats. Please ask permission to interact with him and try not to reinforce him for being off task. He rarely loses focus, but in the event he does, please ignore him and let me engage him again. Please don’t ask him to “Sit”, “Shake Hands” or do tricks. He is a professional and he speaks a professional language. Most of the time he will not respond to your requests. Don’t feel ignored. He is on the job and his loyalty is to me.
2.) Gander saved my life and continues to rescue me
I love this dog as much as anyone or anything in my life. He allows me to function in situations that are otherwise difficult. I respect his skills, his loyalty and know every nuance of his special and complex personality. He is my friend, my family and my connection to all that is good. Please recognize him, not as a dog, but as a essential part of my life and well-being.
3.) I am open about my conditions…
I am happy to discuss PTSD and other issues, but not every wants to disclose why they have dog. For the first few months I had Gander I simply said: “He is a medical service dog.” After we started his page and began to advocate for suicide prevention and trauma survival I became more forthcoming. There are many invisible conditions that many people are reluctant to share. Please don’t ask: “Why do you need him?” As I have said before, the most common answer for me when people say I do not look like I need a service dog is: “It is because I have a service dog.”
4.) I may seem short on occasion if you ask questions
It is because I am asked the same questions 10-80 times a day: His age, his breed, his agency, his function. I am happy most days to share. I love to chat. But, you may well be the 50th person that day who has queried me. And I may be trying to get a package mailed, a blog post written or help someone who in crisis. Please give me and my good intentions the benefit of the doubt. And know that many handlers, especially those with psychiatric issues, may not want to connect at all. We are all in varying stages of recovery, and our dogs are part of our treatment plan.
5.) Yes, He is a Labradoodle and he is a real service dog…
Gander was trained by Freedom Service Dogs in Denver. They use rescues: Poodles, Labs, Mutts of all kinds as do many services now. As Kea said in her article, many “fake” service dogs have created a hostile environment for us with non-standard pups. The barking, snarling purse dogs that people but vests for have made us suspect. Watch the behavior of the dog. If he is disruptive, you may ask them to leave your space and not be in violation of ADA regulations.
6.) Gander is spoiled beyond belief….
Recently, there was a fire alarm in the complex where we live. The noise was deafening to me, so I cannot imagine how terrifying it was to Gander. I rushed him outside and held him until he stopped shaking. My wife was a little jealous 😉 …. he is well fed, massaged daily, and I put protective waxes and creams on his feet depending on the weather. I would stand in front of a speeding train to protect this dog. I think most handlers feel the same. We are grateful and protective. I spend 24/7 with Gander, and we have a special correspondence system that alerts both of us to needs. I know when he is tired, hungry, thirsty, afraid or bored. I attend to his needs the way any good father or mother would care for his child.
7.) Gander is, by law, Medical Equipment
To paraphrase Kea here: “My Service Dog is medical equipment, just like a wheelchair, crutches or an oxygen tank. She is medically necessary and anywhere in public medical equipment is allowed, so is my Service Dog. Additionally, please treat her like medical equipment. You wouldn’t walk up to someone you didn’t know and just randomly start pushing their wheelchair” nor would you chat up a peron’s cane, so please don’t touch, talk to, pet or otherwise engage with my partner without consent.
8.) Gander Is Protected Under Law
Gander goes where I go. He has the same rights as I do. It is my responsibility to see that he does not infringe on anyone else’s rights. I understand some folks are afraid of dogs and that some religions do not hold them in high regard. I will do my best to respect those boundaries, but I will expect the law to be followed. Gander and I work hard to remain calm and educate those who do not know or understand the federal rules of access. We are all in this together.
9.) Gander has no “Papers”…
Gander was trained by an Assistance Dogs International certified trainer and passed a required access test that is pretty comprehensive. He performs about 50 difficult behaviors that are needed for the exam. He can back up in a crowded space, load and unload properly from a car, avoid any food or strange objects on the floor, sit and stay without me in sight for several minutes, position himself under tables in a restaurant and many other tasks directly related to my needs. IF a dog has papers or certifications (there is really no such thing for service dogs), they have no legal weight. In Illinois, business owners may ask only two questions: “Is that a service dog?” and “What two tasks does he perform for you?” There is a movement afoot to develop enforceable standards but as yet as long as the dog is not disruptive and the handler can answer those two questions you must allow access.
10.) “I would love to go everywhere with MY dog.”
I heard this at a local sandwich shop recently from an owner. And people often tell me they envy me. I would happily trade my night terrors and social struggles for a chance to retire Gander and give his vest to someone who needs it more. And please keeping mind that the extra work required to take him everywhere is akin to that of a mother or father with an infant child. It takes great preparation and constant vigilance. We are never apart.