Friday, September 25, 2009

More Stories from Around Town

Dear Readers,
I know I most be sounding like a broken record (or for those who have never used a record player an MP3 file with data errors),but things just keep happening while Shiloh and I are out working that highlight the state of "service dogs" where I live. These incidents are neither all good nor all bad, but certainly enough to give one reason to wonder what happened.

Yesterday,  I was, once again, in the library. I decided to get some lunch in the little cafe there. I spotted the perfect opportunity to use Shiloh's counter retrieve/ transfer. I gave her the money to pay for my purchase and she promptly did a ginger Paws Up and handed the money to the gentleman working the counter. He and everyone in line was very impressed. Since I was due change in both bills and coins I, then handed Shiloh my little pouch to allow the gentleman to place my money in and hand it back. Once again, everyone was impressed and told both me and Shiloh how wonderful she is.  The counter retrieve allows me to work with counters that are too high akwardly shaped to reach myself from my wheelchair, as well as in cases this week when my shoulder/neck pain have spiked so high as to make certain angles of reaching a near cookie tossing level of pain I can with Shiloh's help accomplish the transaction with minimal pain spiking movement.
Later that day still in the library Shiloh again impressed a security guard, the volunteer desk person, and a library patron by activation the automatic door button. The security guard exclaimed "Wow, a Service Dog that actually does something!" The lady library patron said "Finally, I see a service dog do something. That was wonderful!" I assured them I know how wonderful my girl is and went about my urgent business of getting to the bathroom. Shiloh assisted by Pulling my chair on the cue to Forward. By time we made it out of the bathroom word about the service dog that actually works had made the rounds and the staff manning the check out desk said "So that's the service dog that opened the door!" I responded proudly that indeed she was and allowed Shiloh the pleasure of a pet. Shiloh graciously accepted his homage and resumed assisting me across the foyer on cue Forward. She, then, dually impressed the staff person by activating the door button that is somewhat obstructed by the security detectors. 

I was dumbstruck today by a "service dog"and handler at the bus depot.Shiloh and I were exiting a bus and getting to the curb cut and out of the corner of my eye I see was looks to be a Border Collie in a blue vest about 15ft away. When they are still around ten feet away I see the handler jerk back on the leash HARD and scream at the dog in a gruff voice "No,Leave it!" She then proceeds to say in my general direction "He like to check out other dogs." It  is no wonder people in this town no longer see a service dog vest as a sign that both dog and handler have the skills and knowledge necessary for them to fee comfortable and safe with a "service dog's" presence. I will not go so far as to say Shiloh is perfect and never makes mistakes (she is a living, sentient being after all), but I believe how a team is perceived is a dual perception. The piece everyone thinks about is the dog's behavior.The biggest piece to people being comfortable around a team being in their space is the attitude of the human half of the team and how they communicate with their canine partner. Those who handling skills consists of hard (albeit ineffective usually) leash pops, swatting their dog, and or yelling and screaming "NO!" put everyone on edge and on notice that this team is not in control. Handlers who choose a lower volume for the few and far between verbal corrections and pay attention to the environment giving cues the dog can be rewarded instead produce a picture of a calm, cool, loving partnership that puts everyone at ease making being out in public less stress and more fun for the team. Handling a service dog in public is far from easy and garners attention at all times, whether a team wants to be noticed or not they will be and the image they present of teams good or bad in the eye of the beholder affects teams that follow.A handler has to find ways of dealing with this attention and the stress it produces with out allowing it to change how they interact with their partner. The swift, harsh, loud scenes I see on a regular basis do not instill confidence from the general public in service dog teams; though, I imagine the intent some handlers have in this behavior is to show they are powerful enough to handle this dog.  



Katie Dwyer said...

You and Shiloh are such an inspiration! I love seeing you two work together, and I'm so glad that people in the community get to see it, too.

I have also seen some service dog and human teams that don't seem to fit together, and it's always jarring after such a great experience with you. The Melissa/Shiloh, Leslie/Cammy, and Katie/Einstein pack is such a great example of what service dogs can be!

Melissa Mitchell said...

Thank you for the comment and compliments. They made my day! Keep reading!

Katie Dwyer said...

PS Will you do a service dog demmo at the Wesley Center sometime? I know Shiloh is a worker and not an actress, but it would be awesome to have everyone see what she and the other kids are capable of.

Melissa Mitchell said...

She do just about any thing for TREATS, thought she is definitely not the show boater my Bastien is. Couldn't possible be because I raised him could it???