The “Dog Day” Experience

Guide Dog Partnership
Guide Dogs are probably the most widely recognized type of assistance dog. Equipped with a harness with a long, semi-rigid handle held by the blind handler, a guide dog strategically navigates around obstacles, indicates to hazards in the team’s path and intelligently disobeys commands that would be dangerous with which to comply. With up to two years of extensive training, a guide dog offers his handler the safety and confidence she needs for all manners of independent mobility.

Guide Dogs have traditionally been trained by nonprofit organizations or guide dog schools. Members of the blind community attend these schools for about a month at a time to train with their first guide dogs. The first couple of days are usually dedicated to orientation and lectures.

In many cases, students have preceded their lives as guide dog handlers with years of cane use and help from other people acting as sighted guides. Embarking on the journey of guide dog partnership will be like nothing they’ve ever experienced and may open doors which were previously inaccessible. Though many students live full, independent lives both before and after becoming a guide dog handler, they report preferring the increased degree of dignity guide dog partnership offers in comparison to alternative mobility options.

Dog Day
The day has finally come, when students know they are about to meet their guide dogs for the first time.  This day is wrought with intense emotion, as it is a moment students have been dreaming about for months- sometimes years.

Imagine what it would feel like to know, well in advance, that you were about to meet your best friend for the next decade. While it goes without saying that you’d be looking forward to this moment, it makes sense that you’d likely have a severe case of butterflies in your stomach. Will your new partner be all that you hoped for? Would you click right away? Would he be the breed or color you strongly desired? Did you make a mistake attending guide dog school? You have months of anticipation built up. How could you be expected to wait a second longer?

Speaking about her own Dog Day, Emily Sheets, handler of a guide dog from The Seeing Eye, expressed to me so poignantly, “When we were told to go to our rooms while they went over to the kennels to get our dogs, that’s when I simply refused to wait any longer, but had to anyway.” If that doesn’t sound like a day filled to the brim with excitement and tension, I don’t know what does. Emily goes on to talk about just how much her nerves had affected her, “I forgot my leash so I had to dart back in my room to get it. Talk about nervous when I literally was just told to bring the leash and leave it up to me to immediately forget to grab it.”

After minutes drag on like hours, it’s time.

Each guide dog is brought to his or her new handler by the student’s instructor. Students are told the dog’s name, how the name is spelled, the sex of the dog and the dog’s breed and color.

This is the point at which the new handler puts her hands on her new partner for the first time.  Feeling out his features, she notes the blockiness of his head and the texture of his fur.  She finds out whether her dog is the type to greet her as an old friend or may be briefly disappointed to find that her dog prefers to stick by the more familiar person in the room.  She’ll speak the dog’s name for the first time and may offer some treats.

All the eagerness, anticipation, worry and excitement of the past several months culminates in these first moments together.  This is just the beginning; this is Dog Day.

A Guide Dog Candidate

It’s been nearly a year since Bradley, my previous guide dog retired. In that time, my life has changed profoundly in several ways. Most significantly, my husband and I welcomed our first child into our family. Our six month old daughter is the center of our world.

During my pregnancy and for several months after my daughter’s birth, I put my plans to train a successor guide dog on hold. I’m so glad that I did because it allowed me to dedicate 100% of my attention to my newborn daughter’s needs.

After many waking hours of reflection, I’ve concluded that I’m ready to begin the process of obtaining my next guide dog.

I’m starting out by launching fund raising campaigns to assist with the initial purchase of a dog who will be my service dog candidate.

The first campaign is a t-shirt fundraiser via Teespring. The theme is “Where there’s a dog, there’s a way.” This is not only a reference to the amazing impact service dogs have on the lives of the disabled, but also to the incredible versatility of the species. Dogs have been enhancing civilization for thousands of years. Whether you have a dog who contributes to your livelihood or have a pet who amazes you on a daily basis, we can all think of myriad examples of dogs making our lives better.

Please consider purchasing a shirt to support my journey with my next guide dog. You can purchase a shirt with this design through February 4th. If enough shirts aren’t ordered, Teespring won’t print them and you won’t be charged- So be sure to share this with your friends to make sure enough are ordered for you to get yours!

Click here to see the t-shirt

http://teespring.com/guidedog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Beginning

As anyone who has followed my blog in the past three years will know, it has been a long road in my endeavor to obtain a successor to Bradley. After some wonderful and major life changes, I’m ready for a new beginning with a new partner. Please join me as I begin the journey to obtaining my future guide dog.

You’ll notice a revamping of this blog, looking to the future, as I invite new friends to share this experience. I’ll continue writing about issues relating to assistance dogs and, of course, keep the updates about this journey coming. Please bear with me as I (re)introduce myself.

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Bradley, Retired Service Dog

How the Idea of the “Fake Service Dog Epidemic” is Hurting Service Dog Handlers (Part I)

In September of 2013, I had my first (and only, to date) access challenge. Everything ended on a positive note, because I was prepared with printed information for the business and did not engage anyone in a confrontational manner. I recorded the exchange and it’s on my YouTube channel. 

Of course, my access challenge video gets far less attention than its more sensationalized counterparts, which usually consist of handlers losing their composure and the confrontation escalating…because, which is more emotionally charged?

Earlier today, I stumbled upon a comment on my video, made by a person who questions the legitimacy of my service dog and speculates that there must have been red flags that gave the business cause for concern. Further back and forth with this person goes on to reveal that the person is very anti-owner trainer and pro-nationally recognized certification system.

If it weren’t such a troubling state of affairs that we now live in a reality in which service dog handlers have to contend with a general public, who, in the interest of protecting “real service dog teams,” jumps at the opportunity to make presumptions and accusations first and ask questions later, I would find it funny that someone could happen upon a video devoid of drama, which clearly demonstrates a service dog handler who is dedicated to non-confrontational education and associate the handler with those who misuse the system.

You can view the aforementioned comments on my video on YouTube.

(After asserting my positions on various issues and identifying that this is an individual who is not interested disagreeing in a constructive or civil manner, I’ve decided not to engage the person any further.)

My First Serious Access Challenge

This past Tuesday was the first time I experienced an access challenge that went beyond something along the lines of, “We don’t allow dogs in here.” “He’s a service dog.” “Oh, ok.” Or, “Is that a service dog?” “Yes.” “Ok, just checking.”

I was pressed to present “paperwork,” for my dog. Here’s a video of how things transpired with the second employee who approached me.

(Video description on YouTube: Before recording this, I had an initial interaction with a different employee, who insisted I present papers/documentation for my service dog. After quickly asserting my rights with her, she opted to have me talk to someone else, who I was told would be a manager.

This video reflects the entirety of my interaction with the second and final employee who I dealt with.)

My biggest Achilles Heel in this situation was the degree to which I was caught off guard. I’m lucky in that I’ve become accustomed to a partnership devoid of experiences like this one. Business employees rarely give me a second glance- at least not a scrutinizing one- when I enter with Bradley. So, when I was immediately approached in a somewhat hostile manner, being commanded to present documentation that was not legally required of me to either possess or present, I was very taken aback. I’ve experienced a myriad of access challenges, vicariously, through my friends in the service dog community, but it’s entirely different to experience it first hand. This was an invaluable learning experience just as much for me as it was for the employees to whom I asserted my rights and offered an education of theirs.

I do worry how much differently this experience would have been, had I not been prepared with the relevant educational resources about the applicable laws. Of course, I would have continued my effort to remain calm, well spoken and assertive, without compromising any of my rights or responsibilities as a representative of the service dog community. But I’m not sure that, in the absence of printed out educational material, the employees would have been as receptive to what I would have had to say.

This experience validated my position on the use of ID cards for service dogs, whether they’re from scam registries, fake certification companies or even the presentation of a legitimate certification ID for the purpose of gaining access to a place of public accommodation, during a public access dispute. Whoever was there with a dog, legitimate service dog or not, had presented something of that nature, which further cemented the impression in the eyes of management at that business that such documentation is required of service dog handlers. In an effort to make things easier for herself, that person directly affected how much more difficult things were made for me. I have no one to thank but myself, for my preparedness to deal with the ramifications of her decision.

The Quest for My Next Service Dog

As anyone who has been following this blog for quite some time knows, Bradley and I haven’t been partnered with each other terribly long.  I brought him home when he was 11 weeks old and started his training shortly after.  He’s now five years old.

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Looking Ahead to the Future
For the past few years, my plan has been to acquire a puppy candidate to train as his successor.  There are a number of reasons I came to this conclusion.  Foremost is that I want Bradley to be able to retire at his own pace and to be able to ease into it.  That’s a luxury that many service dogs, unfortunately, are not afforded.

Nothing is guaranteed, and when a service dog is suddenly no longer able to work, it’s devastating to both the handler an the dog.  While I can’t predict the future, there is no way to deny that reality or, short of optimal medical care and maintenance, to guarantee against it happening.

My hope for Bradley is that he will live a long, healthy life and maintain his willingness and capability to perform his job for years go come.  That being said, I have established a timeline that I have committed to following, in regard to Bradley’s retirement.  Just thinking about Bradley retiring is enough to stir up painful emotions.  It’s a reality I have to face, though, and it’s better that I do that now than when my hand is forced.

I have chosen to begin the process of retiring Bradley at age eight.  In many cases, handlers choose to work their service dogs as late as ten or more years old.  In Bradley’s case, however, his job is not only mentally demanding but also physically demanding.  It is my belief that he should not be expected to perform his job as he does now, well into his senior years.  I want to provide Bradley with a long, happy retirement, as a very special pet.

The Plan
It takes about two years to train a service dog, from puppyhood.  My goal is to acquire a puppy service dog candidate by the time Bradley is six years old.  He just recently turned five.  This would allow me to take two years to train a puppy into young adulthood, with the hopes that he would be ready to take over for Bradley by the time Bradly turns eight.  Ideally, I would ease Bradley into retirement, working each dog alternately, until Bradley was ready to fully settle into life as a retired service dog and active pet, who would remain a major part of my life.

This means I need to acquire a young puppy within the year.  While that sounds like a liberal amount of time, once one takes into consideration the research that goes into finding a suitable breeder and then waiting until that breeder expects a new litter of puppies, which often only happens once a year, the clock ticks faster and faster.

There are a myriad of breeds that I have researched and have added to my list of breeds to consider for my future service dog candidate.  There are so many factors to take into consideration that there are few who fully meet my criteria for a partner.  Here is a list of some of my top choices of breeds:

Golden Retriever
A Golden Retriever is certainly a safe choice for a service dog candidate.  I have fallen head over heels for the breed.  Right now, however, is the time to explore my options and that is what I’m doing.  If the option presented itself so that I could acquire a suitable Golden Retriever from a compatible breeder, I would jump at the opportunity.

 

German Shepherd Dog (European Working Lines)
The GSD, while a common breed used for service work, is not quite as “safe” a choice as a Golden Retriever.  I’m perfectly comfortable with that.  I’m ready for a dog with more drive,  who is handler oriented, yet capable of thinking independently.

 

 

Belgian Malinois
These dogs are SMART.  Like the GSD, they are pumped full of drive and require a handler who can keep up with them.  I’ve reached the point in my dog handling experience that gives me the confidence that I am capable of a successful partnership with a dog who needs a job and the right handler to meet his needs.

 

Doberman Pinscher
I’ve been dreaming of the day I could call a Doberman my own for over half my life.  This is another highly intelligent breed who thrives with a job.  They can be independent thinkers but are closely bonded to their handlers and sometimes learn faster than their handlers can teach them!

 

Siberian Husky
Yes, I did say Siberian Husky.  This breed is quite unlike any of those listed above.  Aside from the Golden Retriever, they are also the only breed of those listed that I have actually owned.  My experience with my Siberian Husky, Sydney, was one of the best experiences I’ve had with a dog in my entire life.  They are notoriously hard-headed, independent thinkers and almost at the opposite end of the spectrum from Golden Retrievers, when it comes to ‘trainability.’  This is actually a ‘selling point’ for me.  I enjoy working with dogs that command creativity in training and I understand what makes these dogs tick.

Other breeds I’d gladly consider:
Rough Collie
Pit Bull- provided the dog were large enough.  Many are small.
Samoyed
Border Collie
Cane Corso
Malamute
Norwegian Elkhound
Rottweiler

Coming To Terms
This is a position I veery much wish I did not find myself in, but it is par for the course, as an owner trainer.  Not only does the search for compatible breeders present a unique challenge, but it also serves as a very real wake-up call that Bradley is not going to be my service dog forever.

I know that, unlike many working dogs, deep down, Bradley does not have the soul of a die-hard working dog.  He has been a phenomenal partner to me, an eager worker and a fast learner.  I can’t ask for much more than that.  Yet there remains the possibility, as there does with any service dog who is transitioning into retirement, that he will prefer his working life to that of life at home- especially when his position has been filled by another dog.  I plan to do my best to set him up for all the happiness in the world, in his life as a retired service dog.

Undoubtedly, I’ll experience my own type of grieving process, along the way.

Asking For Help
For both our sake, I’ll spare you the details of the circumstances which have contributed to me ending up in a position in which I’ve decided to ask for help from others to fulfill my goal of acquiring a service dog candidate during a very specific window of time.

If you’ve ever visited this blog before, you may have noticed that there is a link to the right that will bring you to a fund raising page.  That fund raising page is an effort to raise money to support the purchase of my next service dog candidate.  I ask that you consider supporting me in this endeavor by making a donation, no matter how small.

However, what I could most benefit from is finding a breeder who would be willing to consider donating a dog to me to train as my service dog.  I realize that this is asking a lot and I hope that you’ll continue to bear with me for just another minute.

I appreciate that giving dogs away may be a hardship on breeders.  However, there are a myriad of reasons why, in the long run, donating a dog for service work can work in a breeder’s favor.  Aside from putting titles on dogs, the pride that would undoubtedly result from producing a dog who successfully made it through training to become a service dog would speak volumes for one’s breeding program.  What better way to assure future puppy buyers that your dogs are of sound temperament than to have an active, working service dog who is enriching the life of a person with a disability?

So here is my plea to breeders, whether you produce a breed that I mentioned above or not: Please consider this tremendous act of kindness while fulfilling your dedication to better your breed to the best of your ability.

Here is a photo of Retrieverman’s gorgeous girl, Miley. She is Bradley’s age and, as you can see, also has a bit of the graying going on that Bradley does now. Because Bradley is darker, his graying stands out to others more and I find myself getting almost constant inquiries about his age, these days. Seeing Miley’s ‘spectacles’ is my first time seeing similar graying on a Golden with a lighter coat than Bradley’s. I think she looks beautiful!

 

Below is a current photo of Bradley.  You can see his more obvious graying against his darker face.

Natural History

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Getting gray spectacles now.

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