Unexpected Perk, or Bother?

Several of the emails I receive through Hearing Elmo each week are questions about assistance dogs. This week is actually “Assistance Dog Awareness Week“, so I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about life with an Assistance Dog.

The first thing I always tell people who have questions is that if you are not prepared for the fact that an assistance dog will draw attention to you, then PREPARE YOURSELF. More importantly? If you are not comfortable with the attention, then an assistance dog is not for you.

Because I have a hearing loss and because I don’t hear well in stores or crowded places, I am oblivious to all the comments my family members DO hear. “Look at the dog!” “Oh look, a working dog!” “Why is that dog in here?” “Mom, why does that lady have a dog in here and why is it wearing a saddle?”

Assistance dogs lend independence to those who chose to mitigate their disability or illness with these special canines. I never worry about missing a phone call. I can do laundry without assistance from a human family member. I no longer burn supper. I always know when someone is at the door. I can shop and go out in public and never worry about not being able to bend and pick something up – important as I constantly drop things.

Some things you may not know that are actually perks of having an assistance dog?

1. Pre-Chloe, a routine doctor’s visit would result in the 3rd degree about why I always have so many bruises. It can be tiresome to field questions about whether or not I’m in an abusive relationship, when I simply fall or run into things a great deal because of Meniere’s disease. Now, Chloe lends legitimacy to those bruises. She reminds doctors why I have bruises because folks don’t go to the doctor with a dog partner if they didn’t need the assistance.

2. I’m rarely bumped into or shoved out of the way now in public. When you don’t hear well in these venues, impatient shoppers who don’t give a “fig” about why you are standing looking at dancing electronic flowers in the garden department, assume I’m being stubborn about moving to let them by. Now they see Chloe and if she doesn’t notice them and cue me, they carefully maneuver around me.

3. I never receive comments like “It’s a little early to be drinking isn’t it?” or “You should be ashamed of yourself” when I’m seen weaving a bit on rainy weather days (comments that have really been made). In the past, if I slammed into an end cap in a store, those around me assumed I was high or drunk. Now people see Chloe and think OR SAY, “Gee, it’s great she has that dog to help her”.

4. I’ve grabbed onto a fellow client’s scooter before (sorry, John) when I almost fell down. He understood. However, when what you grab is a nearby shopping cart, others aren’t as understanding. I once had a grandmotherly person stick her finger in my face and sternly say, “Let… GO”. I mumbled an apology and went my way. Now that I have Chloe, the most anyone will say in a “near swoon” moment is “Are you OK?”

Assistance dogs help people with hearing loss, mobility issues, seizure alert, PTSD, diabetes/blood sugar alerts, vision loss, balance problems, fine motor skill difficulties, and much more. I hope the next time you see someone with an assistance dog in public that you maybe take a minute and tell them that you think their independence with their canine is a great testament to courageous people. Don’t pet the dog or distract it though (grin).

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

4 thoughts on “Unexpected Perk, or Bother?

  1. I, too, have an assistance dog. She is a beautiful Standard poodle that I got early in 2004 because I had started losing my hearing in my early 20’s and by that time, I had none. I had her trained and she was wonderful (and still is). I know the comments that people make about service dogs too. I heard about CI’s about 6 months after I got Hailey and had one in December of that year. I had wonderful success with the CI and did not need Hailey as much but still she continued to do the things for me that she was taught to do. I had since gone bilateral and she has become a very well behaved pet. She gave me freedom when I needed it and I know that Chloe must do the same for you. Having more than a hearing loss has to be hard for you but knowing that you have this wonderful dog to give you the help and the freedom that you need to live a “normal” life has to give you strength.

  2. Growing up, I was in marching band at school, and one of the members of our band was Royal, a golden retriever who wore a band uniform and marched alongside his master, a boy in the drum section. At first, Royal was a bit of a bother. His boy played clarinet in concert season….and Royal liked to sing along to clarinet music. Rehearsals were often peppered with small howls from under the boy’s chair. But that dog was amazing, and we all found out how amazing pretty quick. He was everyone’s helper dog at some point. Dropped drumsticks on the field, reeds getting left behind in the concert hall…. Royal always lent a helping paw.

    The moment I fell in love with Royal was during a wintery morning when we were rehearsing and the ground was covered in frost. I sat huddled in the frosty grass with the drum section, waiting for my time to dance. I was shivering. Suddenly, I felt a warmness circle around my back. I turned and saw Royal’s head on my shoulder. I’ve always thought you shouldn’t touch helper dogs, so I wasn’t sure what to do. But his eyes were still on his boy. He could multitask, apparently. No sweat for him to keep a shivering girl warm and still watch his boy.

    Recently, we got word through the internet grapevine that Royal passed away a few months ago. I actually cried. Like I said…he was everyone’s helper dog. And he loved out band, loved to march, and really loved to sing. So, during helper dog appreciation week, I’ve been thinking about Royal, the marching band dog. I know how wonderful they are. ❤

  3. Important stuff. Thank you for the reminder that it would be a real morale booster to say something to the folks I meet who have assistance animals about what I think–and it’s true that I do–about the courage it takes to speak up for and obtain what one needs to be independent, regardless of what otherwise might sometimes seem like negative public opinion. I hadn’t considered doing this, because my approach to such situations has been to treat everyone the same. This means that yes, if I would hold the door for a non-physically challenged person, I do the same for those with wheelchairs, service animals, etc. But I am cautious about going overboard because I might be assuming more support needs than really exist. It’s a balance, but I do want to begin saying a quick word to those with SAs. Thanks, Denise!

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