Service Dog FAQ: Public Interaction

Hi friends!! First of all, I’m so sorry this post has been delayed… BUT today I’m excited to share some basic guidelines and answer your questions about service dogs and public interaction! As always, if you want to know more or have other questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me on any of the social medias!

  1. Can I pet service dogs? They’re so cute! Short answer: probably not. If we’re going to be technical, if you absolutely can’t ignore it, ask the handler if you can pet their dog. Sometimes they’ll say yes, sometimes they’ll say no- it really depends on the environment and situation. Either way, ASK first. Also, pay attention to their patches if they have any on their vests. Some dogs (like mine) have patches that specifically say “Do Not Pet.” When in doubt: please don’t pet a service dog.
  2. Why can’t I pet a service dog? Once again, there’s no simple way to answer this question. Basically, petting and interacting distracts a service dog. Some dogs are alert dogs, and if a stranger is distracting the dog from doing its job it might miss an alert and put their handler in danger. Some dogs help people who have severe anxiety and the interaction not only distracts the dog, but also makes the handler anxious or uncomfortable. Ultimately, it’s just not a good idea to pet a dog. Also: please don’t make kissy noises or any other sound to distract my dog while we’re walking by.
  3. My kids are scared of big dogs. What do we do when we see a big service dog? I’ve literally been asked this question, and I really don’t have an answer for you. I used to feel guilty when my dog made a small child scared. I do have a fairly large dog, but most people tell me she’s beautiful rather than scary. I get it, everyone has their phobias (hello, I’m terrified of cats). To be brutally honest, there’s nothing I can do for you if you or your kid are scared of big dogs. I won’t avoid a place just because people there are uncomfortable with my dog. She’s legally allowed to be there and I know she’ll do no harm. You do not have to be near my dog if you don’t want to be. I suppose the best you can do if you or your child are scared, find ways to learn about dogs and the good work that service dogs do. Be assured that service dogs are polite and well trained, and will not hurt you.
  4. My friend has a service dog! Can I pet it while we’re out since I know the dog personally? Probably not. I have a lot of really great friends who love me and my girl. When we are at home or settled in somewhere, sure you can pet my dog! Especially when her vest is off. Malibu loves a good belly rub. But when we are out in public or walking around a store, I’d prefer that Malibu be left alone. First of all, if people see my friends petting the dog they assume that they can pet the dog as well. Also, I need Malibu to be focused on me, and not paying attention to what everyone else is doing. It all comes back to the idea of not distracting the service dog. I promise that you will have plenty of play time with your friend’s dog when it isn’t working!!
  5. What should I tell my kids when we see a service dog? My favorite question!! First of all: tell them not to pet the dog… but then explain why! Tell them that the dog is special, and it’s working. Explain to them that service dogs are trained to help the person they are with. My trainer likes to use the superhero analogy, and the vest is their “cape.” Use whatever analogy works for your child. Most importantly- use it as an opportunity to educate them! Nothing makes me happier than hearing parents educate their children on service dog rules and norms. Education is the most important aspect of service dog interaction.

Have any more questions about service dogs? Let me know! Next up in our series, I’ll do my best to explain the training options and processes and what goes into making a dog a service dog.

With all the love,

A

Service Dog FAQ: My Dog

As you probably know, for the last two and a half months I have been on a journey to train my dog Malibu as my service dog. Two weeks ago, she passed her public access test and she is now an official service dog!

Throughout our time together so far, I have encountered a LOT of questions and comments. I’ve decided to address this publicly, in hopes of providing some education and taming some curiosity! Over the next week or so, I will be answering questions regarding different service dog related topics- training, public interaction, etc. If you have a question that you want answered, click the Contact Me button or leave a comment down below!

Today, I’m answering the 5 most common questions that I am asked about my dog specifically! Here we go:

 

  1. Why isn’t your dog a lab or retriever? I understand where this question comes from. In media and movies, service dogs are almost always portrayed as golden retrievers or labs. This is likely because most fully-trained service dog agencies breed labs and retrievers specifically for their clients. Because I chose to train my own dog, I was able to adopt any dog I wanted to! I chose to rescue a dog from a shelter, because that’s what I believe is best. At the shelter, I tested the aptitude of a few dogs and decided that Malibu had the best behavior and personality for service dog training. Moral of the story: service dogs can be ANY breed!! That’s a right- even “bully” breed! (and before you have to ask, she is half St Bernard, half Great Pyrenees)
  2. Is she a service dog or emotional support animal? What is the difference? She is a Service Dog!! Many people ask me this question simply because they don’t know the difference between an SD and an ESA. A physician can prescribe an ESA. It can be any species or breed. ESA’s are typically used as “calming” companions for people who may have emotional or mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. An ESA does not have full public access rights protected by Federal Law. On the contrary, SD’s are allowed in ANY public place that the handler goes- including all forms of transportation and food establishments. Legally, a service dogs does not require a certification or registration, and a physician does not always prescribe them. A service dog must be trained to do specific tasks that help or benefit the handler. By law, Malibu is a service dog because she is trained to preform specific tasks that make my life a little easier.
  3. So you can take Malibu with you ANYWHERE? YES! I can and usually do bring Malibu with me everywhere. As I mentioned, no public establishment can deny my dog entry. The only reason that I may be asked to leave is if my dog is disruptive or a threat (of course, we have never encountered that problem!!). Now, just because I CAN bring Malibu doesn’t mean that I always DO. There are certain times that I leave Malibu at home, such as if I am going to be running errands for the majority of the day and know that I won’t have time to let her rest or take a break in between. I will also leave her home if I suspect that she’s not feeling well, or if we have already been gone for a long time that day and she deserves some alone time. 9 times out of 10, Malibu will be with me- but sometimes it’s just easier to leave her at home.
  4. What tasks does your dog do? Before I answer this question: friendly reminder that this is NOT a question you can legally ask a handler! But since I’m your friend, I’ll go ahead and answer! Malibu does a lot of things to help me! The most common command you will hear me give Malibu is “cover.” Malibu can do a front cover, and a back cover. Basically, this is where she puts her body in front of or behind me. This serves a multitude of purposes. Most commonly, I use it when standing at a counter such as a cash register or when ordering at a coffee bar. The cover keeps her out of the way and in control between the counter and me. She also covers me to put space between me and other people. This ensures that I have enough room to breathe, and that I don’t feel overcrowded. Malibu also has a command called “snuggle.” This command is specifically used in times of high stress/anxiety/panic or even high pain. To the passer-by, it looks like I’m just loving on my dog and scratching her ears and giving her kisses. In reality, she is grounding me and keeping me focused on her (and my breathing) and not whatever stressor is around me. One of my favorite tasks is called deep pressure therapy. This is when Malibu uses her weight to lay or lean on certain parts of my body, typically my legs. Not only does this have a calming effect, it also mitigates my nerve pain. Malibu also does a variety of mobility tasks, including “bracing” to help me stand/balance, and walking ahead or behind me going up or down stairs to give me support and balance. These are just a few of the great things Malibu can do for me! And of course, we are always working on new tasks to add to her list.
  5. Is Malibu ALWAYS on the job? Technically, the answer to this is absolutely not. When we are at home, Malibu is a pet just like any other pet dog! I take her vest off the second we get home, if not when she gets in the car. She loves to run around outside and take really long naps. She LOVES belly rubs, and likes to carry her kibble around the house and spit it out for me to find later. See? She’s a dog! Now, of course, taking off her vest does not mean forgetting her commands. She will (almost) always do what I tell her to, and she’s really good at responding to my needs 24/7. She comforts me always, and will help me any time of day or night. We also run through a series of basic commands each day to keep her training up and her mind sharp, but that is always balanced out with lots of treats and playtime outside!

If you have any other questions about my girl Malibu, let me know! Up next I’ll be answering your questions about how to interact (or NOT) interact with an SD in public…

With all the love,

A

Hide the Broken

I had major anxiety at Target the other day, for no reason other than that’s what my mind likes to do. Panic.

My service dog, Malibu, was alerting like crazy. People were obsessing over the “cute dog” in public. I was trying to find an empty aisle to get away from reality. (the tupperware aisle in the corner is ALWAYS a safe place, FYI)

Thats when I heard the sound of something breaking nearby. I looked around the corner and a girl about my age was holding a cute little mug that was clearly in two pieces. She was looking around nervously, probably conflicted about what to do next. She put it in her basket as if she was going to keep the broken one, or at least admit to her mistake.

A few minutes later, I had made it to the coffee aisle (where I needed to be in the first place, obviously). I saw the same girl across the aisle, again holding her broken mug. I watched as she carefully put it back on the shelf, amongst all the other similar mugs. Then she walked away. She had successfully hidden her broken pieces with a sense of order and guilt. Nobody had to know what had happened. She could walk out of the store free and with a mug in one piece.

My panicked  brain started to solidify into coherence and symbolism, the two most important aspects of my thoughts if you ask me. In every sense, that girl and I had a lot in common – her brokenness was just more literal and tangible.

Here I was, with a dog who wouldn’t take her eyes or her tongue off of me, in the midst of an anxiety attack, seeking solitude and wholeness. I was broken, possibly beyond repair, but hey – we all are. I was hiding my pieces in the tupperware aisle, out of sight and out of mind.

Why is it so natural for us to hide the broken pieces? Why can’t we accept our flaws for what they are – beautiful and unique and vulnerable and real?

I don’t know the answers to those questions.

What I do know is that I’m loved for every part of me, the broken and the whole. No part of me is  deserving of hiding. I’m free of all those chains, whether I recognize it and accept it or not. I’ve been made just as I should be by the One who makes no mistakes.

I know that the same is true for you, too.

Trust me, I just know.

Let’s stop hiding.

With all the love,

A

 

The Girl With The Dog 

I’m at work right now.

I can hear my bosses footsteps down the hallway. He’s with someone. He asks if anyone’s working in the nursery yet.

“The girl with the dog is here”

I hold my breath.

“Allyson. Her name is Allyson.”

Sigh of relief.

I have major identity issues, stemming from the time I was little and first diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome. From the age of twelve, I became known as a diagnoses. The acronym CRPS became attached to the end of my name. Doctors knew my symptoms better than they knew my personality. They knew my favorite medicines better than they knew my favorite foods. They knew the name of my favorite hospital staff better than they knew the name of my best friend.

I became “the girl who can’t walk.” I was introduced as “Ally with chronic pain.” I was more often a patient, rather than a person. I was my own disease.

When I came back to college after learning to walk in 2015, I was able to shed that identity. My new friends didn’t have to know sick-Ally unless I told them about sick-Ally. Strangers didn’t know I had a disease, let alone any pain at all. I was finally Ally… for a bit.

Then I glued a service dog to my side. I gave myself a 70 pound visible sign that said “hey look at me!!!! Im disabled!!!”

Please don’t misunderstand. I love my girl more than anything. She saves my life daily, that’s why I have her!

But when people see her and not me – when people acknowledge her and not me and ask her name but not mine – who do I become? I’m no longer Ally. I’m the girl with the dog. I’m Malibu’s handler. I’m a second thought.

But, I’m not any of those things.

I AM Ally. I’ve been Ally this whole time, and will continue to be as long as the Good Lord let’s me. I’m content knowing that HE knows my heart and sees my every quality, good and bad, for what I’m worth. My identity is much more secure in Jesus, rather than in my dog or my former wheelchair-bound life.

So, I want to challenge you. Are you seeing people for who they are? Or are you seeing them for what they have – a disability, a child, a dog, a different appearance? Do you know them? Like, really know them? Or are you going to let them continue to be seen as “the girl with the….”?

With all the love,

A

Malibu Miracles

By now I’m sure that you’ve met my dog, Malibu. She’s a rescued St Bernard/Great Pyrenees who is in training to be my service dog for CRPS, Anxiety, Panic, and more. She’s my best friend and I probably couldn’t love her more if I tried.

In the month that I’ve had Mali, she’s attracted a lot of attention. People always want to stop and ask about her, or compliment her behavior or appearance (friendly reminder: do not pet my dog!!!). Last week we had our first (actually, 2!) Malibu Miracle. Here’s how it went:

I was on campus, headed to class with Mali by my side. I noticed this girl running up to me and I figured she was just a dog lover who wanted to pet her. Wow, I was wrong.

This sweet girl asked if my dog’s name was Malibu. Wait… how did she know that? I said yes, and she was nearly jumping out of her skin when she told me that she had adopted Malibu’s brother! We talked for a while and found out that they live right down the street from me, and we knew we had to reunite them.

We were both told at the shelter that the two pups were very attached to each other. They were best friends, and when Aragon (now Winston) was adopted without her, Malibu became very depressed and lonely. Reuniting them sounded like the most exciting possibility.

So, this past Monday night, Winston and his sweet owners came over to play. What started as an overwhelmingly sweet reunion turned into a mellow hang out between two siblings. I couldn’t help but miss my own siblings the entire time.

I’ll leave you today with a few sweet moments captured from that special night:

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Look how much bigger he is than her!
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Like brother, like sister. They have all the same behaviors!
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Even their tails wag in sync
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New friend Jasper came to play and Big Brother was VERY protective of Little Sister

With all the love,

A

Under the Table

As you may know, I recently got a service dog named Malibu. She’s incredible, and amazing at what she does. One of her favorite tasks to preform is called “under” and it literally means laying underneath a table, whether that be at a restaurant or class or meeting. She loves to lay quietly out of view, which is exactly her job as a well-trained working dog.

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As I write this, Mali is tucked up under the table at our favorite coffee shop

Recently, Mali spent an entire meal at a local restaurant quietly sleeping underneath our table. When we got up to leave, she slowly walked out from her cozy hiding spot and stood right by my side, just as she has been taught to do. The people at tables nearby all immediately turned their attention to the massive dog that they just became aware of. A customer nearby exclaimed “I didn’t even know there was a dog under that table! Wow!”

It got me thinking, as literally everything does. Most people never even know that my dog is under the table until she comes out. What else do I keep hidden under the table? What else do people not know about me, until it comes out either in conversation or visibility?

I’m sure I’m not the only one with something(s) under the table. In this instance, I think of my hidden service dog as a symbol of my hidden pain. My hidden anxiety. My hidden fears. My hidden struggles. Under the table, I have hidden all of the bad things – and in my case, they look a lot like a 70 pound pup.

What if I called her out from under the table more? What if she wakes up, and decides to come out of hiding for a stretch or a pet? What if she wasn’t so well hidden or so quiet under there? Usually, when she comes out of hiding people’s faces light up. They see her. They see me. They see us as a team, and embrace and accept her for what she is trained to do.

They tell me she’s beautiful.

What if we brought some of our other well-hidden baggage out from under the table? What if people accept it and embrace it for what it is, and not cast judgment or pity?

What if they tell us that what we’ve been hiding is beautiful? Would we not live our lives with so much secrecy and fear anymore?

Whatever you have hiding under your table – Embrace it. Nurture it. Share it. It’s beautiful. It’s you. 

With all the love,

A

 

Malibu Monday

Hey friends! Been a little while, I know. Life got insane for a second… and it’s about to get a whole lot more wild.

My heart grew by 78 pounds yesterday!

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before she found out that she had a home! 

Meet my girl Malibu!

Malibu (Mali for short) is a 4 year old Great Pyrenees mix- likely with St. Bernard. She’s a big girl with a whole lot of fur! I rescued her yesterday from one of my favorite shelters, and could not be more excited to love this girl for the rest of her life.

Mali is adjusting well to her new home, but she’s a bit sad. The last few weeks have been rough for this girl. Her owner was killed by a drunk driver, and Mali and her brother were surrendered to the shelter. Mali loved her brother and was glued to his side, but unfortunately he was adopted without her a few days ago. Sweet pup is learning how to live and love independently now – but hey, so am I!!

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So far her favorite things are naps and walks!

Here’s the best part: Malibu is my Service Dog In Training! Within a few months, she will be trained to help me with a multitude of tasks relating to chronic pain and also anxiety and panic. She’s going to save my life even more than I saved hers, for sure.

We are so excited to begin this journey and document it along the way!! I hope you come along for the ride to see this sweet girl from sad dog to service dog!

With all the love,

A