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What a joy to present this column by Darcie Gore, my good friend and one of the fine minds behind Food for Thought. Darcie’s an inspiration to me, and I trust she will be to you, too. Doni
Bailey, a whippet, has been with me since she was 10 weeks old. She is my second whippet service dog. I had a stroke, and as a result of that brain trauma there are a number of medical issues that Bailey is able to mitigate.
These are common things people say when I am out in public with Bailey:
Is that a service dog? Yes (hint: that’s why she has a red jacket that says “service dog”).
What are you training her for? She has completed the minimum training but continues to learn.
Can I pet her? Thanks for asking, but no, it does distract her.
Oh, what kind of dog is that? A whippet. It is possible for any breed to be a service dog.
You don’t look disabled. Hmmm, never sure how to respond to that one.
What’’s wrong with you? I always feel uncomfortable with this one, too. Why would a perfect stranger ask me such a personal question?
Does she ever get to just be a dog? Of course (she loves Benton dog park).
Is she really shy? No, but she is supposed to be focused on me when she is working.
What does she do? She has been trained to perform specific tasks that assists or alerts me to medical condition/issues/concerns so that I can take the necessary action for my health and well being.
Can I give her this treat? No, she is on a special high-energy diet and again, it distracts her from her job.
Wow, it must be nice to have your dog with you all the time, how can I do that? Again, what am I suppose to say? While I love being with Bailey, I would rather be independent and have the all abilities and mobility I had before the stroke. I am sure most disabled people feel the same way.
People will start a conversation with, “my, friend, neighbor, sister, father, co-coworker, etc., has a service dog.” Then they launch into a long-winded story about that person.
Please don’t get me wrong, I love talking about Bailey and talking to other people about their dogs. However, when Bailey is with me and she is “dressed” in her red service-dog jacket, she is working. It also means I am trying to get some errands or shopping done independently. It is usually not a social setting for me. I know there aren’t that many service dogs in this area and people are just curious. If these questions were only asked a couple of times a day it wouldn’t be so hard. The reality is that any time I go out with Bailey, those same questions are asked dozens and dozens of times. I have had people interrupt my conversations with clerks, tellers, cashiers or companions to ask about Bailey. Not only is it disruptive, it takes much longer to do routine things, like grocery shop. It saps my energy and patience and makes it harder for me to focus on the task at hand and for Bailey to focus on her job.
So today, I would like to share some guidelines when you encounter a service dog:
• Always speak to the person first. Do not make distracting noises to the dog.
• Always ask before you pet and then only when the service dog is resting; not working.
• Never feed or offer food to a working dog. They are well fed (even if they are skinny whippets).
• Do not let your dog initiate contact with a working dog while it’s on duty.
• Do not ask personal questions about the person’s disability or otherwise intrude on his/her privacy.
Doni’’s website provides a wonderful opportunity to ask questions. I will try to answer anything about Bailey or service dogs in general. In addition, I am partnering on the creation of a website with resources about service dogs at http://www.servicedogsforliberty.com/
Darcie has a master’s degree in social work and has always been involved in the community and social services. Having been married to Jim for 36 years, she has learned about computers by osmosis, starting with key punching his first computer programs at Cal Poly. She is often seen with her service dog, Bailey.