Updated: Sep 6, 2020
When I started looking into getting a service dog in 2012 and then started my active pursuit of getting a service dog back in 2015, there was NOWHERE near as much info out there as there is now. While I did do thorough research, there have been things that have come along with a having a service dog that I NEVER could've anticipated until I got Paddington(my now retired service dog).
If you or someone you know are looking into getting a service dog or you're just looking for some info on what it is like to have a service dog, PLEASE read on..this post is for YOU!
1. Find a local(provincial or state) service dog community(offline or online). Ask lots of questions. Ask about experiences people have had with trainers or schools, any laws you may not be able to find clarity on etc. These groups can be VERY helpful in pointing people in the right direction.
2. IF you are choosing a trainer/ training facility/ school DO NOT be pressured into acting / signing a contract immediately, even if someone claims they only have a few spots open. I also recommend consulting a legal professional before signing anything.
3. If you choose to do a board and train, INSIST on an extensive facility tour. After all, you're leaving your potential lifeline with them!
4. When you have a service dog, you no longer have the luxury of being inconspicuous. Say goodbye to the days of running into the grocery store and being in and out in 10 minutes! This also goes for going anywhere with your service dog. You will be stopped by people.. probably more than once because you have a dog at your side. And they will ask you all sorts of random and inappropriate questions.
5. ALL social boundaries go out the window. People seem to assume that because you have a service dog that it is OK to ask you personal information. In my experience this usually pertains to my health. While I am open about having a rare disease, thus this website, it is NOT okay to ask a total stranger why they need a service dog. People also seem to think it is OK to take photos of your service dog without permission. While this technically isn't illegal, it is EXTREMELY rude and invasive. A lot of service dogs have their handlers identifying info on them including names and phone numbers. In fact, when I asked a group of my followers on intsagram most said that strangers asking them about their medical condition(s) and strangers taking photos of their service dog without permission were the things they dislike most about having a service dog. Service dogs, while cute, should be treated like any other piece of medical equipment(walker, wheelchair etc.) and ideally should be completely ignored. Lastly, if you see a service dog and can't control your urge to take a photo of it, PLEASE ask the handler if you can take a photo. Often times they will say yes, but should they say no, please do not take offence.
6. How rude people can be. In my experience, it often seems like a lose lose battle when I have to ask people to not interfere with my service dog. I doesn't seem to matter how polite I am when asking them, I always come across as the bad guy. I have had people call me the C word for asking them to not distract my dog(shoutout to that lady from costco... stay classy, girl!). I have had someone call me a useless piece of Sh*t and have even had someone try to spit on me.. all because I was ensuring my dog could do his job to the best of his ability and could keep me safe.
*talking to, petting, staring, whistling, making kissy noises and barking at a service dog..yes people do bark at service dogs, weird, I know.. are all things that constitute interfering and distracting a service dog and could potentially cost someone their life and is also against the law in most places.
7. The cost! Having any animal is NOT cheap; however Service Dogs need to be kept in tip top ship shape.. ALWAYS. From the cost of food to unexpected vet visits(we personally have insurance so add that cost too if you choose that as well) to gear(vest, collars, leashes etc.) and grooming. Things add up quickly and you could easily be looking at upwards of $2000 a year not including training costs if you have those too!
8. ACCESS ISSUES. I thankfully do not experience this often, but whenever I do it shakes me to my core and makes me anxious even though there is no need to be. Unfortunately, despite businesses needing to know and be up to date on laws pertaining to service animals and accessibility (here in Ontario we have the AODA and human rights code and in the states it is the ADA to my knowledge) there are still some who are not and even when presented with the laws still attempt to deny persons with disabilities requiring service dogs access. These encounters are not only, like I mentioned, anxiety provoking, but are often humiliating as well. You would be surprised by how many people will just walk away or ignore what is happening rather than step in and stand up for you. Sometimes I like to think, maybe Im on "What Would You Do" and John Quiñones will come out with a camera crew and ask people why they didn't step in to help.. so far he hasn't shown up, but I have however learnt a staggering array of advocacy skills in his absence.
9. Your day revolving around whether or not your service dog has pooped. I definitely didn't realise this until I had Paddington. Not sure if everyone does things this way, but I don't go anywhere until Paddington has pooped in the morning. When Paddington was little, he pooped in a grocery store. I had no idea he had done it and was mortified and stood there in tears when I realised what had happened. Thankfully, some very kind people stepped in and helped me and these rest is history... please note I avoided this store for multiple years after that happened out of shame and fear. I have come to learn these things occasionally can happen. Dogs get sick etc. it happens, you clean up, apologise if need be and carry on/ leave. I will say I truly think that grocery store accident was my fault and was because Paddington didn't poop before we left. So yeah, now my day is dictated by my dogs poop.
10. The incredible difference a service dog would make in my life. While a service dog may not be for everyone, and I personally think they should be a last resort, I cannot imagine my life without one now. The bond Paddington & I share is like no other. Its as if we were always meant to be together. We can often tell what the other is thinking before we do anything and Paddington's intuition is absolutely incredible(he has picked up on seizures and cancer on other people and just seems to know when something is wrong with anyone). While I had a specific set of tasks outlined that I wanted Paddington to learn to assist me, he has gone above and beyond and has done things I never imagined possible. He managed to do what doctors were unable to do-- Heal wounds on my foot that I had, had for well over a decade. He is something constant when nothing else in my world is. He helps me get out of bed and out of the house every day no matter how crappy I may be feeling. And is always there waiting to save my day should my body decide to throw me a curve ball. He has even made it possible for me to pursue public speaking and has enabled me to travel across the country and internationally independently.. something I didn't know was possible. While, Murphy is not Paddington, I look forward to welcoming with open arms and continuing to grow our bond and becoming an amazing team.
I can think of many more things I have learnt, but will leave you with these 10 things for now. Thanks to members of the service dog community on instagram for helping me out with this!
Thanks for reading and please feel free to reach out!
You can find me on facebook, instagram and twitter!