No “Dog’s Life” for a Service Dog
Every disabled service dog, the things they do and the life they live is as unique as the disabled person they serve. Because they are working dogs, dedicated to remaining with the disabled person most if not all of the time, they tend to live as their disabled handlers live.
Every disabled service dog, the things they do and the life they live is as unique as the disabled person they serve. Because they are working dogs, dedicated to remaining with the disabled person most if not all of the time, they tend to live as their disabled handlers live. If the person is mobile and active, the dog probably is as well. If the person is sedentary and seldom ventures far from home, it’s likely the service dog doesn’t either. For more information on the definition of a service dog, visit the ADA (http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/ADAregs2010.htm).
For this fact, the author offers a fictionalized first-person account of a day in the life for him and his service dog. The story represents life for them several years ago, while the author was still in college. There are a few other important facts, the author is a paraplegic since birth who mobilizes by a manual wheelchair; he is about 20 in the scene and around 180 lbs. The dog, Shiloh is a Yellow Labrador/Golden Retriever cross, about 75 lbs, around 3 years old* and we have been operating as a team for a little over a year in the scene imagined.
Monday 6:30 am
The sound of the alarm isn’t what wakes me, but the “clank snort” noise as Shiloh uses his nose to first silence the buzzing, and then prod me out of bed with it. With a brief pat upon the head, the dog deftly nudges the ever-present wheelchair a few inches closer to the bed and bolts from the room leaving me to get up on my own but not before he noses the overhead light and ceiling fan on, ending any chance I had of falling back asleep. When I’ve made it out of bed and into the living room, there’s Shiloh, sitting as he always does first thing in the morning near the sliding glass door waiting to be let out. This is the one door in the house he can’t open, when it’s locked. All the others he can open, easily, locked or not. While the dog is outside, I do the second of only three things he needs me to do for him, pour kibble and a quarter cup of wet dog food in his bowl.
While Shiloh eats his breakfast, I take care of my own dressing and hygiene stuff, the things I don’t need help with anyway. After his breakfast, Shiloh joins me in the bedroom. If I’m ready, he helps me put pants, socks and shoes on. If not, he waits, a little impatiently, for me to finish. Once I’m clothed and shod to his satisfaction, he doesn’t wait for me, he runs again from the room, turning off light and fan with a flick of the nose as he goes. If I take too long or he thinks we’re running late (he’s usually right), I might get a “yip” of encouragement. I find him, waiting more patiently this time, with his service harness and pack in his mouth and the front door slightly open. I buckle up his backpack, which reads “Service Dog: Please ask to pet me! I’m Working”. Pulling the house keys from their hook, he flicks them onto my lap and, after confirming they will stay on my lap he noses the door open and heads out. It’s a team effort to close and lock the door. Before we leave completely I do the final thing he needs me to do. I pick up after him, toss it in the trashcan and we head to the bus stop together. I drop my keys on the sidewalk and without missing a beat, Shiloh stops us both, turns himself around, picks up the keys and turns back to start pulling my chair again. A little faster, because now we’re late.
Boarding the bus can be a real adventure, depending on the driver and their comfort level with dogs. The worst time we ever had was when the driver didn’t know how to operate the lift properly; he nearly caught Shiloh’s tail in the mechanism and almost dropped us both. For the most part, everyone is great and loves Shiloh but occasionally a passenger is afraid of dogs and refuses to pass.
Around 7:30 am
Having arrived at school, time permitting we head to the snack bar where the woman keeps the crunchy treats Shiloh likes. This is usually where I have my breakfast. He helps by taking me around displays, stopping me when told and nosing things I can’t reach off shelves. If needed, he’ll move furniture, lie down in front or behind my chair so I don’t roll, pull it, stop it and turn it whichever direction I need. It’s at the snack bar, quad and cafeteria where Shiloh really does the most for the 20 year old me. It turns out, my dog is a natural flirt and any person who even likes dogs “a little” is drawn to comment or and ask to pet him. A thing I sometimes allow, especially when asked by members of the more desirable gender.
The rest of the school day often goes as school days do and once home, he helps make sure I do my exercises. He reminds me by bringing me the lighter pieces of equipment and giving me that look that says, “I am adorable and I love you, resistance is silly. Now just do it for both of us” (again he’s right).
Throughout the day, at home and out, he remains vigilant to whatever I need and will pick most things up, go get things and bring them to me. One time he even brought me a note from someone who thought I was almost as cute as he is. He’s only a medium-sized dog, but remarkably, he is strong and stable enough to be an extra anchor for me when I fall out of my wheelchair.
Later in the day, afternoon or evening depending on schedule, I try always to make a little “Shiloh Time”. I’ll take him to a local park or for a short walk around the block and a few minutes of ball in the yard. He likes it best when the neighbor’s dogs are home and they can play, a dog is a dog after all.
7:00 – 11:00 pm
Nighttime is dinner and study time. After dinner, I let Shiloh out one final time and we settle down for the night. We’ve developed our own routine. It’s become such a comfort to me, having him there watching, he checks all the doors each night, makes sure I’m well-tucked into bed, turns out the light and settles in a lump on his cushion at the end of my bed. A service dog’s life must be all right because within a few minutes I can hear a gentle rumble as he softly snores. I fall asleep knowing a service dog owner’s life is quite all right.
*Author’s Note – I lost Shiloh to cancer in 2009, after 16 years as my constant companion. I dedicate this story to his memory.