Service Dog Series Part 3: A boy and his dog

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This is guest poster Gord Wallen’s final posting in a three-part series on service dogs and how his service dog has helped him deal with his Becker’s Muscular Dystrophy. Gord is a frequent commenter on this site and I am so glad to be sharing this post because I don’t have a service dog myself and always wondered about what the experience is like. Make sure to visit Gord on Facebook and read part one and part two if you haven’t yet. ~ Dan

Gord's service dog Halle

Is there a bond greater that a boy and his dog? Yes, a big boy and his service dog!

Upon receiving my Special Skills Dog Guide from Lions Foundation of Canada in October 2004, I soon realized my life would never be the same. I now have a companion who is always with me, even on the worst days.

In the previous post, I told you about the tasks and activities performed by Halle, now an 8 year old golden retriever. But I soon learned that Halle also provides many more “hidden” rewards.

  • My stress level has been reduced. I often worried about traveling alone getting stuck and needing help. Halle is there in my time of need. I now have a blond in the back seat (that’s not my wife) who does not tell me how to drive!
  • My wife’s stress level has been reduced. Patricia often worried when I traveled alone in my car or on my scooter. I’m not a dare devil but I have been know to roll my scooter a time or two.
  • Everyone likes Halle. Many people who are “not disabled” can feel awkward when approaching a person with a disability.  A beautiful golden retriever provides an opportunity to break the ice. If you’re single, Halle would be a perfect chick magnet. As my wife reminds me often, I’m always talking to women while waiting for Patricia. Not to worry, they are really only interested in my dog!
  • You know all the dogs in the neighbourhood. While out for our daily “roll n’ stroll” we meet others walking their dogs too. The conversation usually opens with “what’s your dog’s name”. Funny how we never exchange people names. When asked who I’ve met on our walks it goes something like “I spoke with Rover’s owner. Oh, I don’t know the owners name, but she lives at number 34.”
  • You never know who you will meet at 11pm and 6am. Always remember to wear clothing or at least cover up your private parts when the dog is out for her “business”. If you sneak out in your underwear, it soon becomes everyone’s business when suddenly your neighbour across the street appears out of the dark to say hello.
  • You never go anywhere fast. When travelling with a service dog people always have questions. What does your dog do for you? My uncle has a dog that detects cancer, can your dog? Does your dog see for you? etc. I usually answer their questions, especially from children but sometimes you have to look forward and not make eye contact. I guess that’s why they may think I’m blind!
Some people assume that if you have a service dog your must be visually impaired. I guess it’s natural as guide dogs have been around since 1917 and service dogs in just the last 25 years or so. Here are a couple situations I’ve encountered:

  • Upon exiting my car with Halle, an elderly lady asked, “How long have you been blind?” The last time I checked they were still not issuing divers licenses to people who are visually impaired!
  • As I waited to be seated at a chain restaurant, the manager was running around and looking under the podium. He finally found what he was looking for – a Braille menu. He apologized that he could not find a copy of the fall menu, but they would happily let me choose from the spring menu. I almost wished I could read Braille after all the effort!
  • At another restaurant everything went according to plan until the manager, who was helping with service rearranged the table including moving my drink. Very strange but not a word was said and I moved everything back. When he came with our meal he again rearranged the table and began telling me the clock position of the food. “Your potatoes are at 2 o’clock, your meat is at 6 o’clock etc.” I think he could have crawled under the table with Halle when I told him I could see perfectly fine!
  • As I’m rolling through the mall on my scooter, I can hear a mother say to her child, “Don’t touch that dog dear, it’s helping that man steer his scooter.” Sometimes I’d like to run over their toes just to see their reaction!
  • A young boy, who assumes I’m blind asks, “How do you pick up the dog’s poop?” Just follow the smell I tell him!

Thanks again to Gord for all his insights about service dogs!

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