Archive for September, 2010

Where can I get a vest like that? -or- Lies people tell to get their way

During my two years as a puppy raiser, I have been asked a lot of questions. How old is he? (10 months old, and he’s a her.) Can I pet your dog? (No honey. Not when she’s working.) Why is your dog wearing that thing? (Would your mom let you go to the grocery store NAKED?!) Would you like some help finding your seat? (Thank you for offering, but no. I can see just fine.) You don’t look blind; what’s your disability? (I am training this dog to help someone else. But now I feel compelled to let you know that your question was inappropriate. Would you like to talk about a kinder way to ask about a service dog and his partner?)

Believe it or not, this last question, even when asked in as condescending a tone as humanly possible, has not been the most offensive or upsetting or misinformed. No, I am most bothered by the many adults and teenagers who have asked, “Where can I get a vest like that?”

In all honesty, you can Google shopping results for “Service dog vest” and find more than 10 pages of results. In many places, you can even go to PetSmart and buy any ol’ outfit (the one on the link is a cow Halloween costume for your dog) and slap these letters on the back. A woman here in Sacramento has used this method and now takes her yappy, “ADA CERTIFIED” dog everywhere. It works. Especially if you are overweight. Or look funny. Or wear your sunglasses inside.

Here’s why it works: It is illegal and inappropriate to ask a person about his/her disability. It is uncomfortable, too. So able-bodied people keep their mouths shut. Even when they think a fast one is being pulled. I am ashamed to count myself among the able-bodied who have treated those with disabilities differently than I would treat other able-bodied people. I have held them to lower, and I realize, insulting, standards. After all, who wants to be the 24-year-old, (cute) young woman calling out the lady in the electric cart at Ikea for bringing her (poorly behaved) pet into the store. No one. That’s who.

So, yes, you can dress your pup in whatever clothing you like. Print out an ID or a letter from a “service organization” and carry it in your pocket. Voila. Your dog can go anywhere.

You can. But should you?

The easy answer is, “No.” But this issue isn’t easy, because Americans want what they want and often see no harm in taking their dogs to Ikea, the grocery store, a coffee shop, etc.

When you take your pet in public illegally, you are doing harm.

You hurt me, a puppy-raiser, by making my job much harder. It is difficult enough to teach a puppy (a four-month-old black lab, for example) to pay attention to her handler in public without dog distractions. But when your dog is there, pulling on his leash, barking at my dog or being pet by every passerby, my dog doesn’t understand why she should behave, remain quiet and be content with being ignored.

And your dog smells. I’m sorry, but he does. Even if your dog just came from the groomers, my dog can smell the dogginess on him. She will sniff the places your dog has been days later. She can’t help it. Your dog smells.

When I first moved to California, I loved that so many places allowed all dogs in. I loved going to The Naked Lounge at 15th and R streets downtown. Then my dog started sniffing the floor, the chairs, the table. She didn’t understand why the place smelled like a dog park. So she didn’t want to work. Of course, we have worked on her ability to stay focused around these dog smells, but all of us struggle with ignoring distractions and practice just isn’t enough. In our work environments, we often have the option of removing distractions altogether (turning off the TV, for example.) Our pups, and the working dogs they grow into, never have that option. It is up to humans to respect the work environment of these service animals. We do this and minimize distractions by leaving our pets at home and only taking them on trips to dog places (the pet store, the vet, the dog park).

Do I need to say that I stopped frequenting The Naked Lounge? My pups were just too young for me to compete with the dog smells they could detect (note: The Naked Lounge doesn’t smell like dog to me, but it does to my dog. Same with the poodle in your purse. This isn’t about my nose, it’s about Beale’s nose, and the noses of every working dog out there.)

And your dog acts like a dog. I have worked very hard to teach Beale that when her vest is on, she needs to behave. Your dog doesn’t know the rules.

I take my service-pup-in-training in public to teach her how to act like a human. I want her to walk quietly. In straight lines. And to follow directions given in English. I do not want her to ask for pets or to lick knees or to eat things off of the floor. Your dog does all of these things. How do I know your corgi hasn’t been trained to be in public? He strains at his leash. He jumps up on strangers. He licks the floor. He howls. These things are dog things. I leave Beale’s dog traits at home. Please leave your dog at home, too.

Passing your dog as a service dog harms legitimate service dogs and their partners.

I have heard that distracting a guide dog feels the same to its partner as grabbing the wheel while you’re driving would feel to you. Is having your dog with you at the grocery store worth the risk of making a person whose life is already a bit more difficult than yours feel this out of control? If you have answered yes, I urge you to talk to your best friends, your mother, your pastor or your parole officer. See if everyone in your life feels the same way. Discuss it in the comments section here. Because I truly can’t imagine a scenario in which this would be OK.

And one more thing. Your lies make me look like a liar, too.

At least once a month, I am forced to explain myself. I have to produce copies of Beale’s paperwork for the manager or owner of an establishment. I have to explain why I want to bring Beale into a new place. I have to explain why she should be allowed. This process wastes my time, wastes the time Beale would otherwise have for learning how to be a better assistance dog. And it’s annoying. Because I follow the rules. I have the papers. I know my rights and responsibilities and I work hard to make sure Beale is not causing a ruckus. But others, and their lies, have made some people suspicious of any able-bodied person bringing a dog into an establishment, even if the dog is wearing clothes.

It only takes one bad experience to make a person suspicious of all dogs. Your dog, dressed in a vest bought from, might plant that suspicion… cause that first bad experience.

Passing your pet as a service animal is illegal and it does harm. It harms me, it harms my dog. It harms everyone like me and my dog. And it adds further burden to the lives of people who rely on animals for support in their lives. Please, please. Leave your pet at home and stop asking me where you can get a vest like Beale’s. Unless, of course, you want a puppy like Beale (and the immense responsibility) to go with it. Then we can talk. Because you, you, I like.

Please ask yourself what lies you have told to get your way today, this week, this month, this year. Could you be hurting someone unknowingly, unintentionally and indirectly? Are you willing to take the risk that you are?
Some links for you:


September 12, 2010 at 10:55 am 13 comments

End of August puppy report.

We just sent our puppy report to KSDS, Inc. Here’s what it said:

August! During the month of August, Beale went to the east coast with her dad. She visited grandpa and her cousins (adults, children and dogs!) at the beach in Delaware. She also got to visit Washington, D.C., though she didn’t understand what all of the fuss about “the nation’s capitol” was for. It was just like any other place, she said. Beale met a horseshoe crab at the beach, but she wasn’t scared. Back home, Beale visited Occidental, California, and Sebastipol, California, where she went to a farmers’ market and an ice cream shop! There were so many dogs in both cities! Beale even down-and-undered at breakfast while a small dog trotted around the resturaunt. We were so proud! Speaking of farmers’ markets and being GREAT around other dogs, Beale went to two other farmers’ markets in August. At one of them, big signs told people that dogs were not allowed. However, there were at least six other dogs in attendance! A little girl was VERY upset that the dogs were breaking the rules. Beale,however, she said, was “OK because she’s working.” Beale has also been to a fabric store and thrift store shopping this month. Thrift stores are a challenge because of all the smells. However, she is getting better at accepting that the world smells weird. One more thing… Beale lost her “sister” this month. Our 14-year-old pappillon, Bella, died at the end of August. Beale seems fine, now, but did chew a table, a cord and a window sill right after Bella’s death. I chalk it up to grief… but we’ll see if it continues.

Love from Sacramento,

Becka and Beale

September 10, 2010 at 5:56 pm 2 comments

Beale’s July puppy report.

Did we post this in July? I am just now working on her September one (because I am the WORST at remembering to do this stuff!!!)

Beale spent half of June in Kansas! She was an assistant director at the Kansas Journalism Institute, a camp with more than 120 high school students held at the University of Kansas. For one week, Beale worked at KU ALL DAY LONG and slept at a hotel in Lawrence, Kansas. She was a good sport and had a lot of fun. It was exhausting for her, though!  While in Kansas, Beale also was able to attend the Old Shawnee Days parade with Mom, Lisa and Hosta. She had a good time and was mostly disinterested in the spectacle of the parade. The trip to Kansas was also Beale’s first time to the Lake of the Ozarks! She got to play with little kids in the water at the lake and swim for the first time. She took it all in stride and had a blast. This month Beale has also experienced fireworks, big parties at our house and a rock concert in Berkely. She is a very trusting, brave, confident dog. The only thing that gave her trouble was the bugs in Kansas. She had quite a rash on her tummy after her first time in Kansas grass. We don’t have bugs like that in Sacramento, so Beale didn’t know to watch out!

Love from Sacramento,

Becka and Beale

September 10, 2010 at 5:45 pm 2 comments

Beale’s trip to the east coast!

It has been more than a month since Beale returned from her trip out east with her papa! I can’t believe it took us this long to get an update on that up! There has been a lot going on at our house since then. Oh well. You can see all of the pictures from Beale’s trip on her dad’s Flickr account. Click here for a link!

Love from Sacramento,

Becka and Beale

September 6, 2010 at 3:15 pm 2 comments

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