Back on the trail.

Hi, Friends. It’s been awhile!

The last time I posted here (in January–eek!), I was introducing the creative project I’m working on, Sidekicks. I gave myself permission to take some time off from HOFL because I needed to focus on getting that off the ground, and here I am, four months later, realizing how much time I’ve allowed to pass. I’ve found out how loyal an audience I have, though, through readers reaching out to ask when to expect something new!

So, I’ll ease back in with a little update on our last few months.

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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

Keep Thanksgiving Happy

How many of us treat our pups as family members?

*Raises hand sheepishly.*

Thanksgiving is a holiday of grazing. We eat, and eat, and eat. Turkey, stuffing, pies, mashed potatoes and gravy, squash, casseroles (or as we Midwesterners say, “hot dish”), cookies, roasted veggies, the list goes on and on and on…and on. Then we take a turkey-induced nap, then we eat again.

When our furry relatives look up at us with those big, beautiful, pleading eyes, our hearts melt, and we hand over our leftovers.

But beware: some foods that humans can consume without a problem are toxic to dogs and can turn your holiday upside down. Erin Callaghan, a dog trainer and consultant in the Bay Area, sent me a really great list of things to be sure Bright doesn’t get ahold of this Thanksgiving:

Chocolate – Erin explains that the more theobromine in the chocolate, the worse it is – dark chocolate and cooking chocolate have high amounts of theobromine.

Onions, grapes, and raisins – These can be hidden in many different dishes, including stuffing, casseroles, and salads.

Yeast – Watch out for curious noses while you’re baking.

Coffee, coffee grounds, and other caffeinated beverages – Caffeine, a relative of theobromine, is poisonous and can cause death in small dogs.

Alcohol – Yes, I know you have a story about when you lived in a frat house and the frat dog drank beer all the time and he was fine. Don’t take the chance, though. If you’re giving your dog alcohol, it’s probably for your own entertainment, and you’d feel awful if he had a bad reaction.

Xylitol – Used as a sugar substitute and found in many sugarless candies and gum.

Hops – Brewing beer at home is getting to be more and more popular; just be sure to keep your supplies out of the reach of your dog.

Marijuana – Stuffing your bird with something special? Don’t feed it to the dog. It’s poison. And don’t comment here if you did. The DEA will find you.

That’s not a comprehensive list by a long shot, but hopefully it hits most of the things your dog is likely to encounter on the feast-iest day of the year. And remember, you don’t have to offer it for your furry ninja to get his paws on it – “I swear, all I did was blink. He ate an entire hot dish while I blinked.” Pay attention so that your holiday isn’t interrupted by a trip to the emergency vet.

On that note, be sure to have the phone number for the emergency vet on hand at all times – in the event of any ingestion of poison, your dog’s life depends on your speedy response.

In any case, if you want to include your pup in the holiday and make it a special day for him, Erin suggests extra playtime or a new toy instead of taking a gamble on new foods. When he’s not having his stomach pumped, the cutest member of your family will thank you, and Thanksgiving will stay happy.

No treats necessary - a little extra attention and a new ball will be more than enough!

No treats necessary – a little extra attention and a new ball will be more than enough!

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.

There’s a Dog for That

Last week, I went through the legally recognized types of working dogs for people with disabilities in the article, What Constitutes a Service Animal? (Edit: Thank you, Sarah, for saving me from my poorly punctuated fate.) If you’re not familiar with the laws regarding Service Animals, I’d strongly encourage you to read it before continuing, or you might wind up very confused. 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

An Introduction to Things to Come

Yeah, get excited.

Over the course of the two years I’ve been partnered with Bright, I’ve noticed a major gap between my expectations of business owner knowledge regarding service dogs and the education that’s available to them. Continue reading

Take Your Dog Everywhere

Aaaah, the Bark Post. My favorite dog blog.

Today’s post absolutely cracked me up.

Fake service dogs are a big thing right now, as you know if you’ve ever laid eyes on this blog before, and my knee-jerk reaction to articles titled things like DIY How to Take Your Dog Everywhere is to get pissed and indignant, and before I’ve even clicked the link, I’ve crafted a nasty email to the author in my mind. I’m in the habit of brandishing the ADA, my sword and shield these days, before having a human conversation. Continue reading

International Assistance Dogs Week

Hello, and welcome to International Assistance Dog Week! Did you know there’s a week for almost anything? This week is also World Breastfeeding Week…

For Bright and me, every day is Assistance Dog Day, but it’s great to have a designated time to raise general awareness. There are events happening all over the country that are aimed to help people understand the importance of working dogs.

What about the international part, though? I thought it would be fun to research some organizations outside of the US that provide service dogs to folks in need. Continue reading

Fake Service Dogs on NBC

As many of you know, Bright and I were interviewed by Vicky Nguyen from NBC for a story about the issue of people pretending that their pet dogs are Service Dogs. Reactions to the story have been overwhelmingly supportive, and I’m excited to see where things go from here. 

The issue raises one big question, though, and it seems that the SD community is divided on the solution. I’d like to hear what you think:

Should the US have a standardized system by which to train, certify, and identify Service Dogs? What would be the advantages? What would be the drawbacks? 

Click here to read the article, Fake.

Click here to watch the story on NBC.

Click here to see what makes Service Dogs special.

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Hot Dog

Welcome to a series of posts I’ll do whenever I have an entire day to devote to creating an infographic. (Seriously, it’s my first one and I worked on it for like 9 hours, so please, be kind.)

There are two things going on here: (1) I’ve been looking for an excuse to practice design and illustration and (2) It’s summer and a lot of dogs get hurt when we take them out and about. Continue reading

A Public Service Announcement

My life with Bright provides me with some unique opportunities to educate people about Service Dogs and life with a disability, and also to teach common sense. These opportunities come in many forms, but there’s one situation in particular that blows my mind every time it comes up.

I grew up with dogs. I had a Westie when I was little, and got my first big dog when I was 13; one of the first things I learned was that it’s dangerous to surprise an animal. Dogs don’t like being the last ones to find out that someone’s about to touch them, so I was taught to always approach them from the front and give them a chance to sniff me out.

Apparently, there are a whole lot of children out there who were never taught that lesson. Pretty frequently, in fact, I hear parents and children approaching me and Bright from behind, and parents saying, “Look at the puppy! I bet it’s soft – why don’t you go and pet it?” Then, inevitably, I see a little hand in my peripheral vision, reaching out to grab Bright’s tail or touch a back leg.

I’m very happy to say that I’m confident that Bright will always respond appropriately, but I’m always shocked at the lack of respect people – especially adults with children – have for the power of a canine’s jaw.

Bright has lots of experience with babes.

Bright has lots of experience with babes.

Consider this post a Public Service Announcement:

Never Approach an Animal from Behind

Dogs are not people. When people are surprised, our reaction is usually fear in the form of a yelp or laugh, and maybe a little jump. But we’re past the point in our evolution where we’re constantly on the lookout for predators (although, maybe we shouldn’t be…), and dogs aren’t. When surprised, they often go into fight or flight mode, and in most cases, fight is the most viable option for them. While the jumpiness can be overcome through breeding and training, which it is in the case of a true Service Dog, that’s not the case with most pets.

For example, my mom grew up with her aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all living on the same block. There were lots of animals – chickens, cats, dogs, rabbits, even a pet skunk named Flower. She knew how to behave around dogs, and she was still injured by one when it was surprised. I remember her telling me the story of the time she was standing next to of one of the neighborhood German Shepherds, petting his back, when a cousin tugged on its tail. Since she was within striking range, my mom ended up with a hole in her hand when the spooked dog reacted to what it perceived as a threat.

To be clear, this kind of behavior is different from aggression – notice I said the dog bit her hand. It didn’t attack, maul, or instigate a fight unprovoked; it just reacted to what it thought was danger. While this kind of reaction to fear isn’t acceptable for a Service Dog, most pet owners don’t know enough about canine behavior to avoid situations like the one my mom experienced.

Fortunately for the kids that come up behind Bright and yank on her tail, they won’t end up with holes in their hands. I love that I get the opportunity to talk to them about safety with animals, but my heart’s a little afraid for kids who learn this simple lesson the hard way.

An Invitation

Parents: If you’ve read my blog before, you probably know that the most important part of etiquette with Service Dogs is that you ask before petting. That always applies, but I personally rarely say no to a young child or to you as a parent because it gives the you the opportunity for a teaching moment. You can walk your kiddo to the front end of the dog and explain why it’s important not to sneak up, pull tails or ears, or poke eyes. It seems like a small thing, but you could be saving your child serious injuries and trauma in the long run.

I love dogs. I’m comfortable with them, and I enjoy learning and teaching about them. One of the most important lessons we can learn is that dogs aren’t people, and if we want to understand them, we can’t apply human psychology. Respect the differences between the canine and human worlds, and please teach your kids to do the same.

Ugly

Dogs sure are ugly. Just kidding. If there’s one universal truth, it’s this: Dogs are always cute. Always.

Welcome to the second happiest place on earth (obviously nothing trumps Disney): Help On Four Legs’ weekly post of ridiculously cute pictures of Service Dogs and Puppies in Training doing awesome stuff. Visit us every Thursday at noon (PST) for another!

Does your dog carry the groceries? Mine does.

Does your dog carry the groceries? Mine does.

Want to join in the fun? Send a picture and caption to helponfourlegs@gmail.com, and you just might see it on Help On Four Legs next week!

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

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.

“Sit. No. Sit. No. Sit!”

A couple of times a week, I get asked if Bright is in training. It probably shouldn’t, but it’s kind of giving me a complex; does she look like she’s in training? Do I look inexperienced at handling her? Or is the idea of a graduated, working Service Dog just so foreign to most people that they assume that every dog they see in public is in training for that far-off, out of this world goal? Or maybe it’s because I’m not blind – Service Dogs are always seeing eyes, right?

Even though Bright has achieved that far-off goal, the issue begs another question: Is a Service Dog ever done with training? Continue reading

Tag! You’re it!

While most people we encounter marvel at Bright’s impeccable behavior and good looks (hehe), every once in awhile, someone decides she needs pity: “Oh, that poor dog always has to work. I bet she wishes she could play sometimes.”

Let me start with this: Of course she gets to play! Come on! Continue reading

A World of Distractions

“Can I pet your dog?” It’s the million dollar question.

I’ll tell you what: if you’re uncomfortable talking to strangers, don’t get a Service Dog. I’m asked constantly if it’s ok to pet, and in between the requests, many people do it without asking at all.

Unfortunately, this is not a question with a consistent answer, so really, all you can do is ask. Continue reading