Wednesday, November 8, 2017

About Service Dogs

Heath poses with the Blu Roo. His assistance makes it possible for me to be independent so we finally have our own transportation

Having found myself part of a Service dog team, I am becoming aware of some of the issues that presents. As some of them are far more serious than people who are not involved with SD’s could understand, I hope to do my best to explain them and then, through you, educate the public.

The American Disabilities Act determines what constitutes a Service Dog and the rights of an SD team.

First of all, a Service Dog’s owner must actually BE disabled to the point that they cannot live a normal life without the assistance of the dog. In essence the dog is akin to a piece of medical equipment, like a wheelchair or blood pressure monitor or anything else necessary to assist the handler and protect their health and safety. The dog must be individually task trained to mitigate that handler's particular disabilities.

An Emotional Service Animal (ESA) does NOT have the training or rights to public access. They are a comfort animal only and with a doctor's note have rights to live with owner in what might normally be a no pet complex and have rights to fly with handler.

A Therapy Dog is not a Service Dog. It is specially trained to interact with children and others who may be somehow confined to a facility as a type of Emotional therapy for others. Their handlers may or may not be disabled.

While we all probably visualize a dog that guides the blind, the Service Dog of today is able to serve far more disabilities, often more reliably than conventional medical equipment. There are hundreds of invisible disabilities. Some dogs automatically “alert” to events such as : seizures, blood pressure changes, insulin changes, disassociation and others. Not every Service Dog is able to perform those particular tasks as some are born, not made, so they are more rare than others and can be any breed or size. Their attention to their handler can often be life saving. Dogs can be used to detect allergens in foods, another life saving service, others may help with mobility, counter balancing and assisting handler in rising and walking safely, pick up things that are dropped, bring items that are out of reach of handlers, open and close doors, turn lights on and off, assist  with psychiatric disabilities such as PTSD, blocking and trying to keep a safe zone open for handlers, help avoid triggers, they can alert handlers to harmful behaviors such as picking, scratching, rocking, they can guide a disoriented handler out of stores or strange places, taking them to exits, guiding them to vehicles, there are hundreds of  tasks a dog can be trained to do that are life changing to a disabled handler.

Size and temperament are important factors in choosing a Service Dog. A large Mastiff type dog may be suitable as a mobility dog, whereby a chihuahua, or toy breed might have a natural alert that is more easily detected when near a handlers breath and are small enough to be carried. There are no size or breed requirements, but temperaments are critical, as these dogs must perform in a variety of situations in public and must be biddable and confident enough to accept any and all of the things that might occur in public places. 
These dogs require a high degree of training, executing their jobs while presenting good manners in public, not barking, straining at the leash, showing aggression towards strangers or other dogs, quietly and calmly accompanying their handler in all places and situations.  A good SD should be unobtrusive, attentive to its handler, does not pull, bark, sniff around for food, defecate or urinate inside, behave only mildly interested in other dogs, if not ignore them all together. 
Legitimate SD's have legal public access to any place the public may go, such as restaurants, hospitals, stores, etc.

They are NOT required to wear an identifying vest, and they do NOT have certifications. Certifications (unless given by a training facility upon graduation, a courtesy, not a requirement) are a sham, as they can be purchased online for about $80 with no proof of training, disability, or anything else. It’s basically a false ID and illegal to use. Some States may offer a special tag, as a courtesy.
With the rising number of Service Dogs for invisible disabilities, there is also a rise in phony teams, causing serious problems for both business owners and legitimate Service Dog teams.

As a gatekeeper or store owner, you have the right to ask if the dog is a Service Dog and ask what special tasks the dog performs.The team is not required to demonstrate the tasks. This seems like it is impossible for gatekeepers to turn away illegitimate teams, but if a dog’s behavior is causing a problem for the business, (barking, urinating or defecating, aggression, jumping on people, riding in basket, sitting off floor, etc) the business owner CAN request the handler to remove the dog and be welcome to return without it. It is illegal to deny access or treat a legitimate Service Dog team differently than any other customer, provided the dog is not causing a disturbance by misbehavior.

The easiest way to tell if a SD team is real or not, is pretty much by observing the dog. Although dogs are sentient beings and can have ‘off days’ just like we do, they can sometimes make mistakes but they should not be disruptive. A phony Service Dog team can not only give Legitimate Teams a bad reputation, they can cause serious problems for real teams.

Dogs can be acquired through professional training facilities often for thousands of dollars, trained by a professional trainer who knows something about the requirements of the handler’s disability or trained by the handler themselves.

Heath waits with me at the hospital

This is most of the information about the dogs I can think of off the top of my head, now I would like to address the responsibility of the PUBLIC.

One should NEVER ask to pet a Service Dog. There are multiple reasons for this. I know handlers with beautifully trained dogs that they can no longer use, because the dog draws unwanted attention and makes going in public even more stressful with the dog than without, because of people constantly approaching to talk with them or the dog. These are folks that need space and no uninvited interaction from people.
Another problem of distracting someone’s Service Dog is that it draws the dog’s attention away from the handler and he may miss a necessary alert to a coming seizure or other event.
Heath is a social butterfly, and it causes me a great deal of grief, when people reach down to pet him. because he quickly gets excited and over threshold and wants to socialize with EVERYONE, especially any children that happen to be in sight. Fortunately, he is learning to take it more in stride as he matures but is still upsetting because most people only ask as they are reaching for him and it's already too late.

If you are in public with your own dog, keep it far away from Service Dog teams. I know of dogs that have been ruined because someone else allowed their pet dog enough leash to reach a Service Dog, sometimes even becoming aggressive and causing injury resulting in the Service Dog to either lose confidence or become aggressive towards strangers or their dogs itself. Basically, the dog is no longer able to be used because of careless ignorance on the part of irresponsible or ignorant pet owners. I have had it happen to Heath and I and am fortunate that he is flexible enough that he did not respond, we were able to remove ourselves quickly and the incident wasn’t serious enough to cause him much distress. These dogs work hard and the mental discipline they use can be exhausting to them. Dealing with strange people and pets can cause burn out for the dog.

Another pet peeve of handlers is strangers who talk to their dog. Again, it distracts the dog but it also demeans the handler. Even I find it very annoying when someone approaches and uses the baby talk voice to distract Heath and behave as though I am not even there. It is terribly rude, regardless of intention.

Not many people want to answer a thousand questions about their dog or share private information about their disability with total strangers. It is appreciated when parents instruct their children about the dog teams and teach them it is important not to distract the dog because it is working and doing an important job for its owner.

Not every handler is opposed to speaking with people, but what has been most appreciated by myself, if someone must interact with us, is for them to speak directly to me,  a quick compliment on Heath’s behavior. Even my husband and family are not allowed to interact with Heath when he is working, other than to hold him at the hospital until I am out of surgery or X-rays.

We are often told “It’s obvious he is a REAL Service Dog. He’s so well behaved!”
Last week it was “I’ve seen a lot of dogs that don’t belong in here. That is one good dog, he belongs”
 We've worked hard to  achieve the level of training he has and it's nice to be recognized.

Heath having fun with his brother while "off duty" on one of our road trips

So, to the Public, please don't interfere with Service Dogs that are working.
To the Business owner, if a dog is misbehaving and causing problems, you have the right ask the the handler to please remove the dog and return without it.
To the Pet Owner, please leave your pets at home. Their behavior may not only endanger a team, but makes it more difficult for legitimate teams to be accepted by the public.
To the Service Dog Teams, be considerate of others. Don't allow your dog to become disruptive. Don't disregard the rights of others, and don't be rude to people who want to ask questions, instead try to educate them, politely, because your behavior also reflects on all Teams. We are all ambassadors.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Trip and Fall on the Way

As most of you know, Heath and I took the Blu Roo and went to California for the last month of summer. It was a fabulous trip, so I thought I would share some of the highlights.

To begin with, one of my granddaughters was visiting, so I had company besides my Service Dog for the long drive. We packed Roo to the hilt with stuff I was taking down for some of the grandkids and we left as soon as I was able to drive. Other than a Cinnabon in Winnemucca, we didn't stop to eat all day. By the time we made it to Turlock, we were starved. It was dinnertime. I don't know my way around Turlock anymore, even though I used to occasionally compete at ApHC shows there. I suddenly remembered that Heath has a sister in town, so I had my granddaughter message her owner on FB for me, and we met up for an impromptu dinner date, after Heath and his sister had a short reunion.

Heath and his sister Lark, an agility competitor

We had a great time at dinner and Lark's owner was a really good sport about the total lack of forewarning that we were coming.

A few hours more and we made it to my granddaughter's home. It was neat to see all of the creative improvements they made on the house, and fun to be in the midst of a family again, with all of the laughter that goes with it. We stayed most of the week, my daughter-in-law graciously taking care of me as most of the time I was recovering from the drive. When I was stronger we all took a drive up to where they often camp and go boating. Heath, happily followed Hannah into the river, a big surprise as he doesn't like water, but he apparently likes being hot even less. He also really likes Hannah, who took care of him at the hospital while I was in surgery. My son treated us all to ice cream and candy at a nifty little shop, where Heath diligently protected us from a large stuffed gorilla with his low, threatening growls and then we headed back.

We passed the stables of an old competitor friend when I was showing clients horses on the circuit, so I mentioned if they were considering riding lessons for the girls, she'd be a good fit.

And so it was.

We also spent an evening out with a daughter and her family for dinner, the night before we headed down further south. Another granddaughter was also with us, but I didn't get a pick as she and her friend quickly snuck out and took my car to be washed before we got back. Sneaky, sneaky...

The littlest

One of the boys, preparing to dash....

That night, for my grand finale, I managed to trip over a sprinkler and splatter all across their front lawn, requiring my son and a neighbor to hoist me back up and drag me into the house. We can't let them forget me too easily, can we??

We headed to my younger sons and wound up staying at an in-laws with him as he had promised to help put in sod the next morning. Heath had a great time with 4 kids to entertain him. We also got to go to church, which was a huge blessing as it has been 10 years, there not being any where we live, for obvious reasons...

There was also a lot of fishing going on... back at the ranch my son works for and lives at...

Heath and I mostly stupidvised from the top of the hill.
We eventually made it up to my old home town and met some friends who I've been talking with on the internet for years, but never met in person before. It was great! I also got to meet with a couple of different friends I have not seen in years....

And more grandkids, who kept me entertained for at least a week!

More kids, grandkids, it was a busy month. We sewed, embroidered, played xbox, went to swim lessons, boxing lessons, riding lessons...all the things I have missed living so dang far away.

Heath also had a great time. We played in water, went shopping, out to eat, to parks, played with all the kids, played with the family dogs, and then, after a short trip back up to my oldest son's for a day or two, we headed to Northern Calif to see my cousins that I haven't seen in wayyyy too long.

My cousins' beautiful wife (which of course is also my cousin) took us on the most amazing day trip I've ever been on. The beauty of Creation was exquisite!!

Even Heath was in awe at the Redwood Nat'l Forest

We stopped along the coast

We love this woman!

It was a soul restoring month. I felt welcomed and cherished everywhere we went.  I had to head home a few days sooner than I had hoped, as I got sick and knew I would get worse before I got better, but I hope to go back soon. Meanwhile...

Heath and I are still wondering why one cannot Pee between signs...

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Change of Season

When I started this blog, it was Range to Range as I was slowly losing the ability to ride and be out where I wanted to be, and was spending more time in the kitchen, trying out recipes, making milk products and homemade meals in an attempt to fill my days.

As the years have passed, my disease has been looming larger and taking away more and more of what I love in life and leaving me feeling much like an empty shell. I couldn’t blog because my state of mind was nothing I would want to share with anyone, nor anything you would care to read. My life is changing again, so although there will be a little about ranching and livestock, I will share the life I’ve been given, such as it is.

As my readers know, I now am dependent on a Service Dog to help me through the normal activities of my day, that I can no longer manage on my own. I would like to expand a little on how he assists me, as it is doubtful there will be many entries in the future that don’t include Heath.

Unable to bend over and reach the floor anymore, Heath hands me anything I drop (which happens more and more often as my hands become more involved) and anything I point and ask for. On really painful days when I cannot get up, he brings me my pillow and blanket. I consistently forget to take my medications, and mid day cannot remember if I took them or not as I am easily distracted or confused, so Heath brings them to me the minute I wake up, and stays with me until I take them, then he puts them back on the table where he prefers to keep them. That in itself has been a tremendous help. He also brings them to me at night, as there are meds that have to be taken at certain times of the day. I know when it’s almost  bedtime because he hands them to me.

He picks up all the dirty laundry and hands to me so I can put it in the rolling hamper and he takes the clothes out of the dryer as I cannot bend far enough to get them, especially things like socks, where even he has to crawl in to reach them. He’s doing a good job pushing the buttons that open doors for wheelchairs, although I am not yet in need of him to do so. He already does a good job walking along beside a wheelchair as I have to use the scooters in the store, unable to walk that much. Better to get the training done before it becomes critical. There are always new tasks that I find I need to teach him, such as flushing a commercial toilet, helping me to undress, and bring my attention to my scratching as my skin always itches and I tend to scratch till I bleed.
Over the years, I have lost my ability to do many things, and medications as well as disease both changed my body.I no longer wanted to see people or go out. I hated shopping, refused to join the parties on the ranch and Lord have mercy on anyone who points a camera in my direction. I’ve always been a ‘loner’, but I was becoming a recluse. A very unhappy, depressed and pain-wracked recluse. Heath has made huge changes in my life.

After 10 years, I got myself a phone, got a drivers license and bought a car. I enjoy going to town with Heath and doing the shopping or whatever, as he is always so happy to serve and seems to love new places. I no longer suffer from anxiety being out in public, because people tend to focus on Heath, not on me or what I look like.

The boss wants me to get rid of my animals. I had already planned to get rid of most of them as I cannot take care of them anymore, but they were not selling fast enough, so all our cows went to a sale one day, and the sheep another. There's not much reason for the kids to come visit anymore. Their highlights of the trips were gathering eggs, playing with and feeding the lambs, goats and calves, milking the cow and the other stuff they could only do where we lived.

We held back 2 lambs for our freezer, one for the dogs and 2 ewes and the ram to send to a friend we worked a deal with so we will still get our 2 lambs a year. Bruno and Mr Potamus are not very thrilled with this decision, but it wasn’t mine or theirs to make. Without a flock to protect, they now live in the yard and house, much to my dismay, as they constantly loose enormous clumps of white hair on the carpet and make a challenging obstacle course in our very small house for me to try and negotiate. As I am not allowed to seek outside help to get the house and yard clean, which is beyond my abilities, I found my life was easier to just leave the ranch and take a long running road trip with Heath.

It’s been a great month, and has been good for me. TheMan has agreed that I will come home for awhile and then take another road trip whenever life there becomes too overwhelming. I don’t know how long I will be able to exercise this option, as we don’t know when the disease will render me unable to drive, but until then, I hope to make the most of it! I will be able to make up for all the time I lost seeing my grandkids and my kids. I will meet some of the people who have encouraged me on FB for the past several years, and hopefully, I will see parts of the country I’ve never had the opportunity to see.

Here’s to the future!