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).
© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal