Sunday, September 8, 2019

FAQ: Is It Hard Being A Service Dog?

So I get a lot of questions about being a service dog and this is the most common one.

My first response is always no, but that is probably not the right answer, because it really can be hard. I just don't think about it being hard I guess...

Think about it from my point of view. I have been trained to always be alert to my Mom's triggers so that I can help her either by a) making her aware of what is happening so she can help herself, b) making her sit or lye down and rest so the situation passes, or c) alerting people around us to call for help if she stays quiet to long.

For example, if my Mom is going to have a seizure, or I suspect her behavior is that of a possible seizure (or dizziness from her brain injury that can cause her to pass out), I will force her to sit down. I will either take her to a bench/chair that is in my vision (or I know is there from our many walks in that area), or I will stop and make her sit down right where she is.

Then I have to be aware of our environment, always watching and observing people (who don't always see me or are paying attention to what they are doing) and making sure we are going going to be safe. I also have to be aware of sounds and lights. If the sun is too bright I will stop my Mom to make sure she puts her special glasses on so she doesn't get really bad head pain. If there are loud noises (like music, traffic, construction, etc) I will direct her to go in the opposite direction and she will readjust how she is going to get where she needs to go. Sometimes we have to go very far out of our way to get where we eventually need to be.

Humans are not acutely aware of their surroundings like animals are, so this is a natural thing for me to be able to do. But it does get stressful. A day out, at this point in my service dog career, is exhausting. I've been at this for 6 years now, which is the average time in service dog standards (6-8 years is the norm depending on the breed and type of work we are trained to do). That's not taking in to consideration the stress placed on us. Some service dogs have a more physically demanding jobs, like those that are guide dogs for the blind and provide constant mobility assistance; they tend to only work 4 or 5 years at a time. I was a mobility assistance dog for a year while my Mom recovered from her hiking accident, but then a year after that she had those strokes all of sudden, that caused seizures for several years, and so I was trained to work as her Medical Alert Service Dog.

While working as a medical alert dog is not as physically challenging, it is still stressful being on the lookout all the time for things that can trigger to her. We've even had people who were supposed to be helping us harm us, causing my Mom to have seizures by their bad actions, so now I then I had to be aware of everyone. Anyway, even though the job changes, the stress doesn't. And just because you can't see how stressed we are when we are working for you, know that we are. We just show it differently.

After being with my Mom now for so many years, she's pretty alert to when I'm over stressed and gives me plenty of time to recharge my batteries. The nice part about my job though was that I could see my Mom getting better. She started taking this new medicine (cannabis paste) last year and slowly she's starting to get better. Those seizures finally stopped and her body pain is not making her stay in bed all the time anymore, and noises aren't bothering her like they used to. So this means I have less to do than I did last year (before retirement). That means I was able to start slowing down with my work and eventually get ready to retire and stay with my Mom as a pet. This is a really good thing, because not all of my service dog friends get to do that, and that's because their owner's medical issues are not fixable.

My Mom was told a lot of her medical problems were not fixable either, but she didn't believe that. She reads a lot and learns a lot about her health, and mine (!), and tries whatever she thinks could help. Some things only work a little bit, others work a whole lot. This new medicine even helps her think more clearly and have more energy so she can do things like help all my dog friends again!

She started back to working and I wasn't so sure that was a good idea because I know how sick she has gotten in the past from trying help people, but sure enough she' been OK so that makes me feel a whole lot better! That's another thing about being a service animal, we get to see the progress our human makes. Any day my Mom could go out of the apartment without me was a very good day. And we are having more and more of those days now that I'm retired.

If you are wondering when a service dog should retire, that is up to your human, the trainer and your doctor. We thought I was going to be able to retire much sooner than we did, but she got really sick from the place where were living (in the fall of 2017) and so she needed to recover from that. So we had to wait until this year before I could officially retire. Actually I have a new title now, Emotional Support Animal, cause my mom's therapist said I was already that and I didn't have to learn anything new.

I'll ask my Mom to do a post on my retirement process cause we were used to being together all the time when we would go out in public, so I had to learn that she will be OK if we aren't together. Someone called it separation anxiety, but that is when your pup is scared to be alone and needs to be with someone (something that can be corrected, or at the least minimized, if your are willing to put in the work). I like being alone and resting sometimes, it's just that I'm not completely used to it.

Sammy ~

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Working with the animals of the world is a remarkable gift. Not just what I can do for them, but what they do for us human beings. I use my medical intuitive ability, my naturopathic knowledge, my ability to communicate with and lay hands on animals, all so we can live harmoniously together with great health and well being. The articles on this site are for reference only. Please consult your veterinarian before making any changes to you pets wellness routine.

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