Introducing: Sidekicks

Last week, I asked for your participation in a project that my friend Melanie and I are working on. As of that post, we had a broad vision of what we wanted to accomplish, no name, and the only progress we’d made was that we’d made a secret Pinterest Pinboard. That’s essential, I’m told.

Today, I’m happy to say that we have a name, a photoshoot under our belts and several more in the works, a web domain, and an elevator pitch, albeit shaky at the moment, and also subject to change. Apparently elevator pitches are also essential. Continue reading

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Things That Are Awkward With a Service Dog

As much as I love my big, adorable, squishy helper, she can make life really awkward sometimes. It’s probably a little like having a small child, except people mostly expect to see children in public.

Using public restrooms.

It’s really uncomfortable to talk to Bright in the bathroom when other people can’t see what’s going on, but unfortunately, it’s also necessary. No matter how quietly I speak to her, it echoes, so I usually whisper, but that’s even weirder because, when whispered, sit sometimes sounds like sh*t, and down can sound like d*mn. I’d hate to know what the lady in the next stall is thinking as she hears me whispering what sound like expletives to no one while I sit on the toilet.

Then there’s the tail or nose under the stall wall issue. One time, a lady actually screamed when Bright’s tail slid into her stall.

Bright in the bathroom

Eating at Asian restaurants.

Let’s not dance around the truth, here. When taking a dog into an Asian restaurant, there’s about a 50% chance I’ll be met at the door by a lady in her 50s or 60s who is adamant that we stay outside. (I should mention that the other 50% of the time, the experience is usually great!) Yeah, I’ve heard all the jokes about dog meat in Chinese food, but honestly, I find that this is usually a small, family owned business and the lady greeting me at the door only knows the health codes that prohibit animals from restaurants, and she’s not aware of the ADA which allows them. Really, what makes things uncomfortable is the language barrier. Try explaining ADA laws to someone whose primary English vocabulary revolves around the restaurant industry. There’s very little overlap there. It’s painful for both sides.

"Ma, I think I need thumbs for these."

“Ma, I think I need thumbs for these.”

Wedding ceremonies.

Bright has army crawled her gorgeous mug into at least one fancy ceremony photo, and nearly tripped the bride on her way down the aisle at another wedding. Come to think of it, these were both cousin-in-laws of mine. Actually, they were the last two family weddings we went to. We’ve probably been blacklisted.

This photo belongs to Erin Sleezer.

This photo belongs to Erin Sleezer. Where’s Waldo?

This photo also belongs to Erin.

This photo also belongs to Erin. At least Bright was invited to be in this one.

Riding next to strangers on airplanes.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the process, when I fly, Bright lays on the floor in front of me in the bulkhead. News flash: The width of an individual’s space on the plane is far less than the length of Bright. So usually, when Bryan and I fly together, she takes up a little of my space and a little of his, and we’re good. She makes a pretty fantastic ottoman, actually. The last time I flew, though, I was alone and got seated next to a lady who’d just had knee surgery and needed to be able to extend her leg. And she was wearing black yoga pants and said the dog hair didn’t bother her, but she kept picking it, so it obviously did. And her kid wanted to say hi to Bright, and I wanted to let him, but she kept saying no.

In other circumstances, I’ve been seated next to people who LOVE dogs. For 3 or 4 hours at a time. Captive. Miles in the air. With no way out. And they carry photos.

Help.

Waiting at the gate for our first flight together. Oh, the adventures we were in for.

Waiting at the gate for our first flight together. Oh, the adventures we were in for.

Being anywhere near people who are afraid of dogs.

Oh for crying out loud, I thought you were dying, or that there was a man with an axe behind me.

When I emerge from a bathroom stall with a dog you weren’t expecting to see, the appropriate response is not to scream, point, and run away. If you’ve got that serious a phobia, for your sake and mine, please, seek professional help.

When we pass each other on the sidewalk, if you’re uncomfortable with the dog, cross the street or something. Stopping in the middle of everything to gawk and make a scene is not going to get us past each other any faster. In fact, you’re blocking the sidewalk, which is preventing you from getting away from me. Please move.

This is the face Bright makes when she's unamused by such antics.

This is the face Bright makes when she’s unamused by such antics.

Walking, since I’m not blind.

Nevermind that I walk like a newborn giraffe. If I’m not seated in a wheelchair, sometimes, people can’t fathom that I’m not either blind or training Bright. It’s one thing to be unaware of the possibilities and to ask questions, but another thing entirely to be totally unable to articulate any kind of normal question. Staring at me with your eyebrows raised, your nose wrinkled, and your eyes crossed is not a form of a question – it’s awkward, and it makes you look like a Klingon. It also makes me think you’re weird, it makes you feel weird, and it makes anyone observing think you’re dumb.

I have very few photos of me standing with Bright, so there. That's me, standing like an idiot.

I have very few photos of me standing with Bright, so, there. That’s me, standing like an idiot.

You Knew Better, Right?

As Service Dog users, we’re quick to point the finger at the general public for making our lives difficult.

Here’s the thing: At least most of them can plead ignorance.

I have news for you if you have a Service Dog. You cannot plead ignorance to etiquette or laws. When you call your dog a Service Dog, you lose that privilege. If you’re not prepared to be held accountable for your dog’s behavior, don’t call him or her a Service Dog, and don’t take advantage of the laws that provide public access rights. Continue reading

What Constitutes a Service Animal?

Regarding what constitutes a Service Dog and what rights it has, confusion abounds. There are many vocations for animals, and only some of them involve helping people with disabilities. Let’s just stick to those, for now.

It’s important to understand that the only legally agreed-upon titles are Service Animal, Psychiatric Service Animal, and Emotional Support Animal. I’m only going to talk about those in this article, but I promise another one breaking down all the different types of each will follow. Continue reading

Not Just Cute

Recently, I’ve had some conversations regarding the current marketing theme for many non-profits that provide Service Dogs – the cuteness of the dogs and pups. Our culture, particularly the socialmediasphere (yep, all one word), is obsessed with cute animals; my Facebook feed is blasted with memes of sad puppies, videos of babies and dogs singing together (it’s had more than 8 million views on YouTube), and canines wearing glasses. Continue reading

Crazy. Part Two.

Consider this the sequel to the last article I posted. Crazy. Part One. was about the nutso things that people say to me just for having a disability. Brace yourselves, folks, because this one brings in a whole new level of crazy. Dog People Crazy.

Like it or not, dog people are whacko. I’m a dog lady. I totally get it. We see those fluffy, furry, sweet bundles of doggy love and we forget our manners. But there’s manner-forgetting within reason, and then there’s totally-insane-what-planet-are-you-from behavior.

If you haven’t read Crazy. Part One. yet, go do that before you continue.

If you’ve already read it, read on and enjoy. Continue reading

I Believe I Can Fly

If you don’t know that R. Kelly reference, click here. If you do, you’re welcome.

Traveling by airplane with a Service Dog is one of those things you do because you have to; not because it’s fun. And let me make this clear: It’s not the dog’s fault that it’s usually not fun. Nevertheless, I love to travel as much as the next guy; whether you’re a Service Dog Partner, a Puppy Raiser, or an innocent bystander, this article will be, at the very least, entertaining, but hopefully also helpful. Continue reading

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

If that title didn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.

There’s a question that I get asked a lot, and I never feel like I have enough time to do the answer justice: Did you train her yourself?

I’m going to give you a really quick overview of the journey of a CCI puppy from birth to retirement, but my plan is to spend the bulk of this article paying homage to the people behind our four legged life savers.

So for starters, No. No, I did not train my dog. Continue reading

Traveling Light

Traveling. One of the most exciting, and potentially stressful things I do.

I love to travel. I love seeing new places and meeting new people. I especially love seeing places I’ve only seen in movies and on TV before. The first time I went to New York City, I just had to get to the diner from Seinfeld; it felt so crazy walking around and arriving all of the big landmarks that I’d only ever known on a screen.

As it turns out, traveling gets more complicated as you get older. If you’re a wheelchair user, you understand the need to pack light; if you can’t carry it on your lap or strap it to your back or chair, you can’t take it. When I was in college, I’d visit my boyfriend, who lived halfway across the country, and I’d pack for two weeks in a 20 liter backpack. I never checked a bag, and I was very proud of my low-maintenance status. Continue reading

Pups at Play

Remember the post “Tag! You’re it!“? I wanted to back it up with some proof. Check out these hard working CCI dogs having a well deserved pool party.

“You’re so lucky.”

“…treat people with understanding when you can, and fake it when you can’t
until you do understand.”
Kim Harrison

Before you read this article, I want you to know that it isn’t meant to feel like a rant. Quite to the contrary, I’m opening up a personal subject to try to help you understand something that can be sensitive for a person with a disability.

I’ve used a wheelchair my whole life, and ironically, I’ve been told over and over again by able bodied people, “You’re so lucky.” Continue reading

Why do you need that dog?

Yes, I really do have to answer that question on a pretty regular basis. Sometimes it’s even followed with, “She pulls you? Can’t you push yourself?”

Wait. Wait a darn minute.

In my sans-Bright moments, I’m often asked, “Don’t your arms get tired pushing your wheelchair all the time? Why don’t you have handles?”

So which is it? One half of the peanut gallery thinks I’m being lazy for using a dog for propulsion; the other half thinks I should get handles and let another human be responsible for my mobility. Continue reading

An Introduction to Questions, Comments, and Suggestions

Is that your dog?

That’s so cool! I was thinking about getting my dog one of those vests so I can bring him everywhere with me!

How do you know your dog gets to go to the bathroom enough?

That looks just like MY dog!

Umm…can you…er…see me? I mean, you’re blind, right? You don’t look blind.

Why does your dog look sad? Your dog looks so sad!

Why do you need a service dog? You don’t look like you need one.

Did you train that dog?

[Parent to child] Never pet service dogs. They bite.

[Parent to child] Ooh, look at the puppy! Go pet it and I’ll take a picture!

You’re going to run that dog’s foot [or ear, or head, or tail] over. 

That dog is underfed (whispered to companion – not to me); look at how skinny it is!

This list, I lament to say, is far less than complete. Usually, in the moment, I respond with the most polite, obvious answer I can conceive. I’m really excited to elaborate a bit.