What It Is Like Having A Service Dog

By: Joel Allen

Hello, folks! This month I wanted to share with everyone who is curious what it is like to have a service dog and some of the things we have to deal with daily when out in public.

My journey started with Zues. The picture seen in all my articles is Zues and me. He was a Great Dane and always alerted to my blood sugars going up or down. There was a day I was driving and he signaled to me by placing his paw on my arm. I thought it was him wanting my attention, and I shrugged it off until he became more persistent and I began to get the cold sweats and shakes. Along with that look he was giving me, I noticed my vision had become “tunnel vision.” I immediately pulled the car over and checked my blood sugar. Sure enough my meter read “LOW” which meant I was in danger of passing out or having a seizure. Lucky for myself I had some peanut butter crackers and ate them along with a soda. After waiting a bit and feeling better, I carried on with my trip. I know if it were not for Zues warning me, the situation could have ended badly.

There are many people out there who use service dogs, but to look at them, one would never know they needed one. There are many reasons for the use of a service dog. Let me give everyone some idea; there are service dogs for the blind, deaf, seizure alert, diabetes, physical assistance, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), to name a few.

So, what is it like to have a service dog? Let me say that it can be stressful at times because we, who legitimately use them, do not like to be seen as different. It cannot be helped that having a service dog draws attention to us, though we might wish it were otherwise. So much for stealth, eh? I know it is a hard thing to understand, but we train our dogs not to respond to others as much as possible. Partly, because they have a job to do, and because we know that not everyone likes dogs. Some people are scared of dogs and many of us who have service dogs try and accommodate those people who are. We have to deal with different people on a daily basis out in public. Sometimes it is nerve racking when parents do not control their children and let them run loose to the point they run straight for the service dog(s) because they are too young to know any better; and they love dogs. It is no worries for me because my service dog(s) know not to react. I teach them that children will not harm them. Houston will try and avoid children most of the time, though, by hiding behind me.

Then there are those who mutter things just barely audible for those of us to hear like, “I don’t see anything wrong with him/her. What do they need a service dog for?” Folks, when we hear someone say this, most of the time we ignore them unless they make it a spectacle, then there are other ways to handle it. Then there are the “AH-AHs!” which are people who are trying to catch me lying about having a service dog and why. There are times, LOL, where I want to “AH-AH” them back.

Having a service dog means having him/her with me twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. When I wake up, they are there. When I go to bed, they are there. We are a team, and our mission is to prevent me from becoming a casualty to my disease.

Yes, we deal with a variety of different people, and we do it well. From the people who don’t ask to pet our service dogs and do it anyway, to the stress of hearing people say things they should not, and then there are the people who are ignorant of the Americans with Disabilities Act altogether. I have to shake my head sometimes and wonder. I know it sounds like a lot of stress, but having a service dog is rewarding also.

Mine have awakened me when I have been asleep and my blood sugars were on their way to becoming dangerously low. I heard it said recently, that with all the technology out there, why use a service dog? Some reasons could be the fact that service dogs do not need batteries, they have the ability to alert their person way before a meter or machine can, and they carry our medicines, which can be many.

For those who have PTSD, their companionship is invaluable and keeps their human in touch with reality. The blind benefit by their service dog guiding them away or around obstacles and danger. The deaf are watched over by these angels when they cannot hear traffic coming or going. There are just so many benefits that still beat technology.

So, to those who still cannot fathom seeing a service dog and have nothing nice to say, just “Move out and draw fire!” as we say in the Army, and realize something else, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects those of us with service dogs. It is the law written by Congress and our Legislatures (State and Federal). Until next month folks!

By: Joel Allen