Service Dogs : standing by your side through thick and thin : Rick Morelan
What service dogs do is really the natural starting point and although their skills are high on the list, there is something more which is most amazing about them? Perhaps, what makes them really admirable is how they do things…in the most lovable and adorable fashion.
At one time or another, we all have needed help. About ten years ago, I fractured my leg and the doctors told me they were going to put my leg in a cast after the swelling had gone down. I was asked not to move at all for three days and since my parents lived 300 miles away, my brother vowed to help me through this time of need. After several requests of fetching simple things like a spoon, book, warmer coat, or glass of water, I learned to be careful how and when to make such requests. If he were asleep, watching his favorite show, or having a bad day, he would help me with a few grumblings or sighs below his breath. His help thus seemed conditional, but when you have a service dog, it is different.
What can service dogs do?
Well, these dogs have different aptitudes and depending on their training, they can be broadly classified into: guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility dogs and therapy dogs. Dogs that help the blind are referred to as “guide dogs.” These dogs are strong, smart, and assertive with good eyesight. As the name suggests, dogs that help the deaf people are called “hearing dogs.” Smaller dogs with great reactions, hearing, and a persistent knack of precision fit this role. Besides, mobility dogs are those who help people with disabilities in various ways like opening doors, picking up dropped items, or even preventing them from falling out of the wheel chair. Medium and large sized healthy dogs who like to retrieve items make great mobility dogs. Although not technically a service dog, therapy dogs visit places like orphanages and hospitals and turn lonely days into loving fun for everyone.
Because of their amazing ability to help people in need, service dogs have earned great freedom within our community in US. People are aware that service dogs are kept up to the highest qualities of training and hygienic care, so they are therefore permitted to help their owners ride the bus, attend sporting events, go to restaurants, libraries, and religious services. Thus, they are socially accepted almost everywhere.
I grew up with my Samoyed dog Strider and one thing that always amazed me was that anything important to Strider, like going for a walk, could be suggested anytime and it was always welcomed. Even when he was lying down in a deep sleep, a clicked leash clip sound from across the room produced an instantly awakened dog parading around, dancing with joy and barking with sheer excitement. I felt that if he could do something with me, it was always the right time.
Now picture this. Chris Blanchard walked for the last time 8 years ago after he fell off a high ladder at work. The use of his arms and legs are now just a memory from his wheelchair. But ever since Chris got his mobility service dog named Ben, Chris is not alone. According to Chris, “Ben is a great companion;
he is always willing to do for me. He even gets my lunch baggage when I eat out.” What is most amazing thing about the service dogs is not what they can do but how they do it. They are proud to pick up dropped keys for someone who can’t reach them on their own. They will bring them back to you irrespective of the number of times you drop them. The greatest gift service dogs bring to those in need is the same thing that all of us who have dogs understand. It is their enthusiastic desire to help and be a part of your life. As Christopher Morley puts it, “No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does.”
(Rick Morelan, in addition to being a member of the Board of Directors at Summit Assistance Dogs near Seattle Washington, is also a Microsoft employee. He has been involved with Service dogs since 2004. For more information, email at firstname.lastname@example.org)