Gone Too Soon: Ed Eames and Joe White

October 28, 2009 · Posted in People, Service Dogs · 1 Comment 
Ed Eames

Ed Eames, Ph.D.

I was shocked and saddened to hear over the past couple of days that two strong voices in the assistance dog movement have been silenced. Ed Eames, Ph.D., the Co-Founder and President of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners and a tireless advocate on behalf of assistance dogs throughout the United States and beyond and Joe White, founder of K9 Veteran’s Day, have left us all too soon.

Each of these gentlemen proudly carried the torch for everyone who has ever worked with an assistance dog as either a human partner or as a puppy raiser. I had the privilege of interviewing both of these pioneers on Working Like Dogs at www.petliferadio.com. I got to hear firsthand their views and their passion for working dogs.

Ed Eames, Ph.D., has been one of the assistance dog movement’s greatest champions. He was a determined advocate for assistance dogs’ and their human partner’s rights. In 1993, Ed co-founded and lead a small organization of a few individuals and their assistance dog partners to an international organization that today boasts more than 2500 members. With his wife Toni at his side, along with both of their guide dogs, Ed traveled the world lecturing about the impact assistance dogs can have on their partners with disabilities. He was a distinguished writer, educator, and advocate who can never be replaced.

Joe White truly believed in all of the contributions made by K9 veterans. He demonstrated his love and adoration for these animals by working diligently to designate March 13 as K9 Veterans Day. Joe believed that all K9 veterans are heroes who have fought and who continue to fight tirelessly for our country and our freedom. He was so proud when Florida’s Governor Charlie Crist declared March 13 as K9 Veteran’s Day for the entire state of Florida. Joe said it best in an email I received from him back in February 2009, “Dogs have served with honor throughout the history of our Country’s birth and growth, and have served at many jobs in all of our wars. They, too, served, bled and died for our freedom.”

Although these two great leaders are no longer with us, both of these courageous men will have a lasting impact on the assistance dog field. We must sustain their legacies by picking up their torch and carrying it forward. Please take a moment to remember them and their families and to support their work through the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners and K9 Veteran’s Day.

Psychatric Service Dogs a Rare and Valuable Breed

October 18, 2009 · Posted in Public Interaction, Service Dogs, Training · Comment 

I had the opportunity to visit with Joan Esnayra, Ph.D., President and Founder of the Psychiatric Service Dog Society (http://www.psychdog.org). I have to admit, Dr. Esnayra enlightened me to the fact that all service dogs are not alike. Theoretically, I was aware of that fact. However, after talking with Dr. Esnayra, I became acutely aware of some of the significant differences between service dogs that assist people with physical disabilities and service dogs that assist individuals with psychiatric disabilities.

I have to confess that I secretly felt that the most qualified service dogs were trained by an agency or organization. I had asked Lynn Hoesktra, a former service dog trainer for Paws With A Cause and one of the trainers that I immediately refer to for my complex service dog training questions, how seizure dogs were actually trained? Lynn explained to me that they couldn’t really train seizure dogs to detect seizures. Instead, they tested dogs to see if they had the ability to detect when someone was going to have a seizure. Since that conversation, Lynn’s words have resonated with me, “We don’t train the dogs, we simply ask the dog if he or she has the ability to detect when an individual was going to have a seizure.”

And after talking with Dr. Esnayra, this approach seems to also apply to psychiatric service dogs. Dr. Esnayra explained to me that it is actually better for a person with a psychiatric disability to train their own dog. She described how the longer a dog lives with their partner with a psychiatric disability, the easier it is for the dog to detect when a psychiatric episode is about to occur. Furthermore, as the dog gets to know its person better over time, it can also predict how he or she might react during the episode. It makes perfect sense. Dr. Esnayra also raised the point that a multitude of breeds can assist individuals with psychiatric disorders and not just the breeds we typically think of such as service dogs—Labrador or Golden Retrievers.

I am ashamed to admit it, but I did have some biases and false beliefs that a dog needed to be trained by a service dog agency or organization to be a qualified service dog. I know there are some people with dog training experience who might be able to train their own dog, but I was admittedly skeptical about the average person, such as myself, with no previous dog training experience. Training a service dog takes diligence, patience, and time. I especially referred to this false belief after two of my service dogs were attacked in public by other dogs whose owners claimed they were trained service dogs. In reality, these dogs were simply pets and they lacked the basic obedience skills necessary for public access. This has always concerned me because I worried that dogs who do not behave appropriately in public jeopardize public access for the rest of us whose dogs are trained and who do act appropriately.

Dr. Esnayra explained to me how the Psychiatric Service Dog Society works with its members to strengthen their public access skills and to ensure that their members’ dogs do behave appropriately in public while providing the vital support that their human partners require. Dr. Esnayra opened my eyes to another type of service dog and she also educated me about individuals with psychiatric disabilities and their specific needs. I am always amazed to learn about new ways our canine friends are coming to our aid such as: dogs who detect peanuts for people with severe allergies, dogs who assist people with autism, and countless other ways in which our canine friends demonstrate their unwavering love for humankind. Dr. Esnayra reminded me that I need to be open-minded to how these dogs are trained and how they assist their human partners. For more information and to hear my conversation with Dr. Esnayra, tune in to Working Like Dogs at www.petliferadio.com.

Traveling with a Service Dog

October 16, 2009 · Posted in Public Interaction, Service Dogs · 4 Comments 

Whistle on doggie rest area

Traveling with a disability has always been an adventure but adding a service dog to the equation can create additional needs and experiences. I don’t know about you but I have had some pretty close calls trying to find a place to toilet my dog in places such as busy airports during long distance national and international travels and in urban cities that have little or no vegetation. On a recent trip to Denver, Colorado I had a similar experience.

I was a member of a conference planning team that was planning to hold a national conference in downtown Denver. We found the perfect hotel. Well, almost perfect. The hotel had no available toilet relief area for my service dog or for any assistance dog that might be attending the conference with his or her human partner. The hotel was located directly across from Denver’s Convention Center. Denver is a modern, western city. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to visit Denver’s Convention Center? Along with an incredible 40 feet tall steel blue bear that was created by the artist Lawrence Argent and peers inside the Convention Center’s glass windows is a sign that simply states “no dogs allowed on the grass”.

Well, we all know what that means. Here we were gazing at this beautifully landscaped green grassy area that no service dog, or any other dogs for that matter, can access. Instead, we had to travel by foot quite a distance through some downtown areas that felt a little insecure to the only available toileting area. This was not acceptable and was a potential deal breaker for this hotel to secure the contract.

I spoke with the hotel administrators about it and they vowed to solve this problem in order to win the contract to hold the conference at their hotel. We were all skeptical and a little nervous about this issue. As the months went by and the conference date rapidly approached, I would periodically call the hotel and ask how they were progressing toward a remedy for the relief area dilemma. I was always assured not to worry that the problem would be solved.

When the conference finally rolled around Whistle and I traveled to the hotel. We arrived after a six hour drive and Whistle had refused the opportunity to toilet when we stopped for gas. We both were delighted to see that the hotel staff had indeed remedied the situation. As we pulled into the parking garage, the valet proudly informed us that the a doggie relief area had been created within the parking garage. To Whistle’s relief (in more ways than one) we saw the doggie relief area as soon as we pulled into the accessible parking space. It appeared that the hotel maintenance staff had made a square area by strapping together the ends of 4” x 4” 8 foot long, pre-treated boards. I am guessing they used two 4’ x 8’ plywood sheets underneath to support the sod that was laid neatly on top.

Perhaps the best part of this grassy relief area was the red, wood fire hydrant that had been crafted and placed in the middle of the relief area. Also in the immediate vicinity was a stand that housed plastic bags for disposing of waste, paper towels, and a bottle of hand sanitizer. The hotel had indeed solved the problem and provided a safer, discreet, and much more readily accessible venue for assistance dogs and other canine guests to safely toilet. They had also strategically placed the structure in an area that allowed for both adequate wheelchair access around the structure and easy access to the structure from the garage elevators. This was a win, win situation for everyone involved and it gave me another story to share with my friends about the adventures of traveling with a service dog.