There are many different arguments as to what a service go should be considered. Some say they are strictly regarded as medical equipment, some say companion. I am somewhere in the middle.
Lera is my companion and my medical equipment, when on duty (vested) she knows the difference between playtime and work time. She is not allowed to seek attention, or whine. She must sit a certain way, act a certain way, and perform a certain way as to the standards set for public access.
When the vest is taken off, she's a completely different dog. She jumps and plays, licks me, whines, begs for attention and belly rubs. She is the biggest bed hog for being so tiny, but I've come to find that the only reason she hogs the bed is because she wants to lay as close to me as possible and then I end up scooting over and she moves with me until I'm on the edge of the bed. She has no sense of personal space, she will climb on top of my and lay her head next to mine. She wants love and in a way that's exactly what I need from her. At home I need that distraction to keep me from having a panic attack.
Now comes the medical part, vested or not, she knows when I'm going to have a panic attack before even I do. One of my biggest problems is I do not recognize my attack until it's too late to take the medicine to prevent it. She recognizes the littlest changes in my behavior right down to the tone of my voice. As I start showing little signs she first tries to play with me as I taught her to do, she jumps in my lap and licks my face trying to distract me. When the signs progress, or ignore her she "bothers" me, this is supposed to be a signal for "go get your medicine mom" trying to remind me now is the time. The final stage is retrieval, when I am laying on the ground crying and withering, she picks up my medicine bag and brings it to me. Another pouch is on her vest for cases when I am not at home. She may not be on duty at home, but she knows what her task is no matter what. Take care of me.
Training her is the hard part. She wasn't born into the life of a service dog that's for sure. She was a rescue pup that I adopted through fosters parents. The hard thing is, I have no solid information on her past and had to figure out things quickly to tell if she would be a good candidate. She had no previous training and at the time they were even feeding her table scraps which is a no no if I'm going to be brining her to eating establishments with me. For example, when I first adopted her I quickly found out that she didn't like it when men of a certain stature approached me, she was very protective at first she would stand in front of me a growl a little but then walk away. I quickly figured out that some time in her past a man similar had hurt her, if it had been severe I would have to search for a different dog but thankfully I desensitized her to it and she is friendly to everyone. Training is a perpetually ongoing process, she will never be done. I have such a hard time with it because my anxiety tells me she's not ready to go out, or the trainers helping me want to see what we have worked on and I get so scared I cancel the appointments. My anxiety stops me from training her to help my anxiety, can you see the conundrum there? But after some time she has come together with her training through time and effort.
Now back to growling, since that problem was extinguished there has been only one other instance she has growled. There is a lot of controversy surrounding how service dogs should act and that is one of them. But I believe she acted exactly how she should. To replay the scene, I was walking her in the little grass strip between my dorm and a raised parking lot (walls on either side) first problem, I'm claustrophobic. In this setting it wasn't that bad since we were just walking. Another college student who seemed to have some other sort of social disability saw me and came running towards me. He stopped at the entrance of the alley and started saying something about how dogs aren't allowed and dorms and what was I doing with a dog. I repeatedly told him to stay away and he started to move closer and closer, the claustrophobic feeling kicked in and I had a bit of a PTSD flashback and started to cry getting scared and hyperventilating. It was in this one circumstance that Lera stood in front of me and growled at the boy scaring him off. I'm sure he probably had no intentions of hurting me, but in a dark alley way in pajamas my only thoughts were that of what had happened to me before. In this case she protected me and helped my PTSD, its more likely in my episode I might have attacked him had he gotten any closer. I believe firmly that she did the right thing.
Now this all boils down to the attention she draws which isn't easy. Anywhere I go people want to pet her, or argue she isn't allowed. The latter can be solved by legal ruling which I have printed on cards for businesses to read and then there isn't a problem. Most places in the state of Texas have been familiarized with the legal standing of service dogs and their treatment (lest they be sued). The former problem is much harder. People constantly want to pet her and draw her attention and in a way I can't blame them, she is adorable. It's bad enough she doesn't exactly look like the standard service dog, some German shepherd or golden retriever, she's a stubby little corgi mix which is absolutely adorable. Giant service dogs usually are needed for severe cases (not always) like mobility and such where the dog must help a person up or pull a wheel chair. She is needed for PTSD, personal therapy, grounding, and medical retrieval. She's perfect for what I need, but she's also absolutely stinking cute on top of that she still looks like a puppy 😑. It's easy enough to say, please do not pet my service dog. And generally people understand, the hard one is little kids who don't understand at all. As a person who loves kids with every inch of my body, it's hard to tell them no. I generally take it as a learning opportunity with the ones who ask, I tell them she is a special dog that helps people and that she can't be pet because she needs to focus and usually answer their questions. Then there are the kids who's parents don't watch them, or care what they do that pet her when I'm not looking, or don't listen. In these circumstances there is no way to reason with the child, so I either ask their parent politely to inform their child not to play with my service dog (or pull her tail that happened when I wasn't looking once) or if this doesn't work I simply move away which can be difficult if I'm grocery shopping and needed something in that isle. I come back later because people sometimes cannot be reasoned with, I don't blame the children, they don't know any better I blame the parents for not caring enough to watch out for their children or tell them to stop. I mean that with no type of malice, People aren't perfect. The next problem is attention, since people can't pet her, they resort to staring, they whisper to each other when they think I can't hear, some are fine just about her being so cute, others get to me. Sometimes they whisper about how I don't look like I have a disability and must be faking, some whisper about how She can't be a real service dog since she's not one of the German shepherd or big service dogs. Usually I just make eye contact with these people and it embarrasses them enough to walk away. The nicest people I would say are the veterans generally, many have PTSD and also have similar service dogs to fit their needs. Every now and then I stumble on one who gets angry saying how can I have PTSD if I never fought in a war but usually it's just personal anger at the cards life has dealt them and I don't react. The constant stares used to make me anxious but I've realized it's never going to stop and they really are just interested so I got over it. Sometimes she attracts even worse attention such as when I was attacked by a schizophrenic woman in a Walmart (I'll tell you about it in my next post). She attracts a lot of attention but her service is worth it.
Another reason she is perfect for my needs is the task of caring for another creature. I cannot to be blunt, kill my self for the sake that I am responsible for her. If I did who would look after her? Who would feed her and care for her like I do? I know someone would but with that mind set it helps me a lot. On top of that it helps with my depression, I have a hard time getting motivated to get out of bed. She forces me out of bed to take her outside to pee and to feed her. The responsibility of having her alone is help to my condition.
My service dog is in a way medical equipment, I think people restrict themselves to that belief so that when their dog dies they won't hurt as much and be able to train another dog in its place, but I could never do that and emotionally not get attached. But she is also my best friend, she snuggles with me to keep me safe from my nightmares and help me fall asleep due to my insomnia. She plays with me and when I cry she tries and lick the tears away. In a sense that's what I need out of her most is the therapy. Her unconditional love is my therapy in a way. There is so much I could write about her and probably will but simply put….We are so similar in personality that we just fit each other perfectly, and I love her unconditionally back.
As I've written this whole thing, she has slept in the crook of my arm nuzzled against me.
Thank you Lera,