Saturday, August 05, 2006

"Adaptive Equipment"

One of the downfalls of having a psychiatric disability and training my own service dog is that I don't always have the emotional energy to deal with the stress and anxiety of having a "high profile" dog at my side all the time. The demands on me to train Rowena to be the "perfect" owner-trained service dog can be overwhelming. These are not necessarily demands I put upon my self either. These are demands put upon me by every critical public eye... Every eye that looks at me with my vested asstistant and wonder why the heck "I" need a service dog. Even those who automatically think I am simply raising her for someone else's benefit are jumping to conclusions that I don't appear to be disabled. (If only they knew that inside I was wishing I had a xanax and a paper bag.) People get nosy and want to know what my disability is. People get nosey and want to know what I am training Rosie to do for me or what she already does for me. I mean, she is task trained. We are simply smoothing out the rough-coated edges a bit... waiting for maturity to complete. They can ask the latter question... but I don't know if I "have" to answer it fully. Do I need to verbally tell them atleast three of the tasks that she does for me when they ask or can I be vague? If I tell them what tasks she performs, I may as well tell them what my disability is too.

Then there is the person who feels that they can walk right up to Rosie and pet her because if she is wearing a vest then she has to be friendly. For some reason the big yellow stop sign patch on the top of her bright red vest that says "Service Dog- Do not Disturb" is not very obvious... Or the employees at businesses who see her come in covered with IDs and patches announcing her as a service dog who still need to clarify this fact by asking: "is that a service dog?" Then there was the incident when I was being chased down the corridor of a hotel where my father was staying just so a late arriving employee could be sure that she was a service dog when I believe the front desk had already taken note of her as we came in. Sometimes I do get snappy: "She is a Service dog."

"What kind...?"

"It doesn't matter what kind... she's a service dog."

My husband doesn't understand the whole service-dog-in-public game enough yet to stand up for me. He still thinks we have to call hotels that WE will be staying at ahead of time to see if they accept dogs.

I am weary of the anxiety I have when my dog displays her imperfections while in public. If she startles and swings around or freezes while in public I just keep thinking how people might judge this scenario. I mean, this has to look "unprofessional". Then I wonder if this service dog thing is really the best thing to have for someone who has any kind of social phobia. Then when a training consultant gives a lecture in class about legistlation and how people want to take my rights away (for training my own service dog or maybe even having one at all), I can't help but feel a build of anxiety in my chest. I just want to grab my dog and run away screaming.

Something new to me this year is something called liability insurance to cover my dog when she is in public. I had never heard of this before I began consulting this trainer. However, I must purchase this insurance before I can do public access work with the class. I guess normally people just include this in their home insurance or renter's insurance, but my husband and I had none such creature and I did not know how to go about getting some. Social-phobe that I am, I couldn't stand the possibility of having to CALL around to find out what was out there. It sounds like something a caseworker would do, but that is a different story all together. To think someone would accuse my dog of something horrible (when in fact she hadn't) scared me. To remind myself how sue-happy our society has gotten added to this extra stressor.

Then there is the internet owner-trained service dog support groups... some individuals actually think that if our dogs are not absolutely perfect in every aspect then it is a reflection of our setting low standards for our dogs. Here is a sample list: A service dog must not... sniff anything, lick himself, itch himself, get sick in public, lick anything, eat in public, must only drink water descreetly, must not fear anything, must NEVER "scavenge", eat food unless given permission by handler, drink out of puddles, urinate with the vest on, Poo with the vest on, not ever beg, jump up, sniff another dog, respond to anyone or anything other than the handler, ever get excited...

I think you get the hang of it. It is like if my dog even makes the slightest error (or something that says "never" by it from the list above) then she should be flunked... or I am not training her properly or then my dog is less than because she did one of the horrible acts listed above (some of which are outright laughable to begin with).

I take in all of this tumultuous information and have to remind myself and others in the groups that although service dogs are considered "adaptive equipment" for someone with a disability, they are not machines. We humans are not machines either. What does this mean?? It means that dogs cannot be perfect and should never be considered faultless or bombproof. How can I tell if my dog will be sick that day and puke out in a public setting... like (eww) in a restaurant. Did I fail if she did? Hell no. Even when Rosie is completely trained, I can never gaurantee that she will always do as she is asked or taught. What if even when I though Rosie was bombproof on never eating things off the floor she did anyway while at a restaurant or something? Is it because I set low standards for her? NOOOO! She is a dog... NOT a machine. She has her own brain and can make her own decisions: right or wrong just as we can. We humans are raised and even if we had the best parents who set reasonable standards, we are taught what is right and what is wrong. However, even with the best parents, we can choose to do the wrong things or heaven forbid, make a mistake. This does not necessarily mean that our parents were failures. We are all imperfect living beings on this planet called Earth. God does not expect perfection from us... he only expects us to work towards perfection to the best of our own individual ability. My fear is this: God knows that our dogs may make mistakes or have accidents, but does the public take this into consideration when a service dog does show a glimmer of imperfection? I have to keep telling myself that I am not perfect and so that I could not expect Rowena to be perfect either because one can never fully control the actions of another living being no matter how hard one tried to.

All in all, I seem to keep coming up with the same conclusion... For what Rowena has done for me over the past (almost) 2 years, I have to say that having her for my service dog has been a great thing. I believe she has done more for me than any paid professional has in a long time. And so I continue to take my anti-anxiety meds to help me through training and dealing with public.

There is a quote by someone famous, says something like: "The more people I meet, the more I love my dog."

Deep Breath.
(By the way, people asking what my disability is are asking something that is private medical information. Basically I don't have to tell anyone. One person said that when asked that question by a man, she answered with "How's your prostate?" WHAM!)