Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Opinions Wanted, Please

Have you ever considered getting a service dog for your disability? If not, why not? What do you think of them, how they're perceived, how they affect perceptions of us?

Part of me wonders if people would often react positively toward the dog and whether those feelings would transfer to recognizing needs or whether people would be less likely to perceive those needs. A part of me says this doesn't matter as much as the very practical help they can give with basic tasks, help that can save energy or reduce pain and injury from movements such as picking up objects or opening heavy doors while seated, nudging chairs out of the way or pulling footrests, doing a number of tasks that it's awkward or difficult to ask people to do--because, as my sister was saying, people expect others to be self sufficient, the Western pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps and do-it-yourself attitude. This was one of the problems at work--there were many people who were willing to spare a moment to help with some quick small task, but others who were not--and help was not always available since people have meetings and other tasks.

For more on service dogs, see this post by Grace R. Young, occupational therapist: http://graceryoung.com/?p=51. I've been thinking, Grace.

10 comments:

yanub said...

Have I considered a service dog....?

Yes, when I was living alone. I thought it could be handy to have a dog that would notice if I fell down and alert people if I didn't get back up. Instead, I got a room mate, who doesn't need walkies and shares the bills. It's good, because, in general, I like people more than dogs. I like cats more than people, but they aren't all that good at getting you back up on your feet, and I'm allergic to them.

To the serious question of how other people perceive service animals: People have wildly different feelings about dogs, and the degree of understanding about service dogs varies a lot depending on where you live. And then the animals themselves are so variable. I had a co-worker who had seeing eye dogs, and he found the animals to be as different in temperament as people, and that greatly affected how they were received. His favorite dog was laid back, casual about day to day life, very mellow, and had an easy personal rapport with him. After he had to be replaced, the next dog turned out to be rather high-strung and prone to snap at "threats" or poke his nose into anything dog-interesting. My co-worker regarded this replacement dog as little more than a tool, because the two just weren't a personality match. And that made things more difficult in his daily life. He often left the dog in his office and took the arm of a person instead on the way to meetings because he didn't like the dog's interaction with other people.

I guess this is a long way of saying, get a service dog if you think it will make your life easier. But make sure that fits your life and that doesn't irritate you, because this critter will be with you nearly all the time.

william Peace said...

From a strictly social perspective a service dog can only enhance routine interaction. I have a friend with a service dog and he is is quite pleased. The vast majority of people he encounters have a positive reaction. To this I can add I have a black lab and often take her with me when I am out and about. While she is not a service dog, I find people are much more likely to talk to me when she is present. It is as though she increases my humanity.

FridaWrites said...

Yanub, what you write is a good reminder--I wouldn't want a dog that was touchy with people and would rather turn one down than have a bad match like that.

William, yes, I think sometimes people are afraid to engage in casual conversation with PWDs for some reason? I sense the tension and anxiety sometimes. But the more people interact with us, the more they'll continue to do so. I have a great dog, but his only flaw is enthusiastic leash pulling, so I can't take him out myself.

Donimo said...

I think assistance dogs are amazing. We have a great training and placement program here in the Vancouver area. I can't even get on the wait list here because it is so long. I volunteered with the organization (PADS) and learned a lot about the dogs. The seeing eye dog that was touchy seemed like it actually shouldn't have passed the certification. I don't think it would have here. The process they go through here involves a lot of careful matching of client to dog and a good amount of training of the client as well! I've walked around town with dogs in training (with their training vests on to identify them)and know first hand how they really open things up socially.

I think assistance dogs can do very concrete things to help people physically, socially and emotionally. If your State has good laws allowing certified dogs access to all buildings and you get a good organization placing the dog, then I think it can be an amazing, positive thing in your life!

FridaWrites said...

I'm definitely going to keep thinking about it. It may take a few years because of wait lists.

yanub said...

In fairness to the "touchy" dog, he probably would have been fine, even excellent, for a twenty-something in good health who could expend the energy to counter his hypervigilance. Not a bad dog, just the wrong dog for a sixty year old with heart problems who preferred more mellow dogs to begin with. Again, matching the dog to the person is important, and this match was done too fast. I think it does demonstrate the need for more dogs to be trained, since shortages force people to take the best match available rather than the best match possible.

Granny Annie said...

There is no question that most people with disabilities would benefit from owning a trained service dog. I'm sure the problem comes in with finding the right dog. Also, is the right dog available. I can't imagine that enough trained dogs are available for the persons who need them.

FridaWrites said...

Definitely--I'm just thinking of how many thousands of people there must be in our area who use wheelchairs--going to our state fair is an eye opener in that regard. It's very accessible, so you see a lot of wheels there.

Irishdoc said...

I think service dogs are amazing gifts. In the medical profession I am amazed a seizure dogs who ave the ability to smell sezures before they occur so the person can prepare and get some where safe. I am also impressed with cancer dogs who can smell melanoma on people. it just shows that as much as we think we know, there is still so much that is beyond us.

FridaWrites said...

They amaze me too. I'm not sure how seizure dogs learn to do what they do--I've tried to look up information about their training. These dogs can also help with passing out (which I can do), so a combo dog if that's possible might help if that continues. Thanks, Irishdoc.