Is your holiday party going to the dogs?

December 5, 2013 · Posted in Assistance Dogs, Guide Dogs, People, Public Interaction, Service Dogs · Comment 
Older man and his dogWhistle likes the holidays but isn’t sure about the reindeer antlers he’s wearing right now

As the holidays roll around again, many of us are preparing to host an annual holiday party. As you prepare your guest list, does it include someone partnered with an assistance dog? And if so, do you know how to make sure all your guests, both human and canine, feel welcome?

While most people are familiar with guide dogs that assist individuals who are blind or have partial vision loss, there are a variety of assistance dogs trained to help people impacted by spinal cord injury, hearing loss, post traumatic stress disorders, diabetes, or some other medical need.

More and more people with medical and physical limitations are discovering how assistance dogs can enhance their daily lives. There are multiple types of assistance dogs that provide an array of physical and mental support to their human partners.

Service dogs assist their human partners by carrying or retrieving items, pushing buttons (for example, on an elevator), opening and closing drawers, providing assistance with balance while dressing, helping with household chores and much more.

Hearing alert dogs alert individuals with hearing loss to specific sounds, including phones, doorbells, sirens, smoke alarms, crying babies and other humans.

Medical alert dogs respond to various types of medical events such as epileptic seizures, changes in blood sugar, heart attack, stroke, cancer and other potential medical emergencies. These dogs may be trained to alert their owner of an approaching medical event, pull an emergency cord, lick their owner’s face to notify him/her, or even retrieve the phone for a 911 call. Some dogs possess the ability to predict a medical event and will become restless or push against their partners to warn them.

When you invite someone who is partnered with an assistance dog into your home for a social gathering, there are some things that you need to be aware of in order to ensure that all your guests feel welcome. People are often confused about how they should behave around a working dog. After all, who can resist a gorgeous working dog, especially at a festive event?

It is important to recognize that although this is a social event and your guest is attending as a partygoer, their assistance dog is on the job and not in party mode. Your guest is dependent on their assistance dog for one or more medical needs. It is important not to distract their assistance dog. You should never speak directly to the dog or offer any type of food without first seeking the owner’s permission.

I often refer to assistance dogs as highly trained Olympic athletes who may be on special diets with strict feeding schedules. Unsolicited attention and food can be distracting to the dog and could be detrimental to their human partner’s safety and independence.

If you are aware your guest is partnered with an assistance dog, check in with him or her ahead of time and ask if there is anything you can do to accommodate him and his assistance dog while they are at the party. Share with him the best place to toilet his canine partner and ask if you can provide any water or snacks while the dog is at the party.

If you are hosting the party at your home and you have pets, consider placing your pets in a comfortable area away from the assistance dog and his human partner. Your family pets may not understand why a strange dog has entered their home and territory. Segregating the animals provides a safer environment and can reduce unnecessary stress.

When you are preparing the party area and placing chairs and other décor, consider allowing ample space for your guest and her assistance dog. You don’t want to isolate them but, you want to provide enough access area for the team to easily negotiate the area and mingle with other guests.

If you are really striving to be the “hostess with the mostess,” you may want to be aware of how other party goers are interacting with the working dog. Are they fearful of the dog or are they paying too much attention to the working dog? If so, you may need to provide some gentle reminders that this is a working dog and guests should not be touching or addressing the dog directly. You and your guests should always speak directly to the individual partnered with the dog. And, no one should pet the working dog without asking permission from their human partner.

Some of your other guests may be anxious or nervous about an assistance dog at the party. Don’t be afraid to reassure them that assistance dogs are highly trained to provide a variety of critical services to their human partner. Party goers with assistance dogs deserve the same respect as other party goers. That being said, you do have the right to ask the dog to leave if it is not behaving appropriately and jeopardizes the safety of other guests.

Keep it simple and remember these tips to ensure that everyone remains in the holiday spirit whenever they are meeting or approaching a working assistance dog and his or her human partner:

  • Do not touch the Assistance Dog, or the person it assists, without permission.
  • Do not make noises at the Assistance Dog; it may distract the animal from doing its job.
  • Do not feed the Assistance Dog; it may disrupt his/her schedule and diet.
  • Do not be offended if the person does not feel like discussing his/her disability or the assistance the dog provides. Not everyone wants to be a walking-talking “show and tell” exhibit.

Remember, it’s the holidays and everyone just wants to relax and enjoy the doggone party!!

What if your assistance dog outlives you?

August 19, 2013 · Posted in Assistance Dogs, People, Service Dogs · Comment 
Older man and his dogAn older man and his dog

We don’t always think about what will happen if our assistance dog outlives us. Usually our focus is on the grief we’ll feel when our beloved dog goes before us, since dogs usually have a short lifespan.

But planning ahead to make sure your assistance dog is cared for if you die before they do is important. A pet trust is a legal mechanism recognized in most states. It allows you to plan for the care of your dog, including providing the financial means to do so.

First, if you got your assistance dog from an agency, you have to determine whether or not you own your dog. Some agencies retain ownership while some agencies turn over ownership to the recipient. This is an important question to answer before you proceed.

You may think that a provision in your will covers the care of your dog, but it offers no guarantee. A pet trust, a type of “honorary trust,” must be established for your wishes to be enforceable. Cornell’s “DOGWatch” newsletter recently took on this topic in detail, and here are some of the points they raised.

Since dogs are considered property by law, and can’t directly receive an inheritance, a trustee and caregiver are needed for a pet trust. The trustee is the person who manages the funds of the trust and the caregiver, who may or may not be the same person as the trustee, is the one actually taking care of the dog. Naming more than one caregiver is wise. You are the settler or grantor of the trust, the person who creates it. The beneficiary of the trust is your dog.

Whether you find the forms for your pet trust online or hire an attorney, the main thing is getting the trust set up so you know your assistance dog will be cared for in the manner you feel is important. As long as the details you spell out are not considered by the court to be “capricious,” and the amount of money is not considered excessive (like the $12 million Leona Helmsley left for her dog), the trust should be enforceable.

To make sure your wishes are carried out, you will not only have to set up the trust, but also take additional steps including:

  • Talk to your caregiver(s) and make sure they’re willing to take on the responsibility.
  • Spell out specific details of care for your dog.
  • Make sure enough money is set aside for your dog’s care over his expected lifetime, plus something for the caregiver’s time.
  • Give copies of the trust to the trustee and caregiver(s).

To you, your assistance dog is a partner and family member. In the eyes of the law, he or she is just a piece of property. I want to make sure that Whistle has the best care possible if I die before him. Plan ahead with a pet trust to ensure your assistance dog is cared for, even if they outlive you.

Image courtesy of africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Happy Birthday Betty White!

January 17, 2011 · Posted in People · Comment 
Betty White

Actress-comedian and assistance dog champion, Betty White celebrates her 89th birthday today! What a role model and tireless advocate for assistance dogs and all animals everywhere.

We can all take a lesson in life from this bubbly, vivacious, hard-working, and dedicated individual. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to visit with Betty on a couple of occasions and she is one of the most delightful, upbeat women I have had the chance to meet. Most recently she visited with me on Working Like Dogs on Pet Life Radio in celebration of National Assistance Dog Week. And she was the first person we thought of to write the foreword to Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebook. Betty can teach us so much about how to succeed in life and how to be true to ourselves and our causes.

Betty is truly passionate about animals and she has a special place in her heart for assistance animals. Perhaps that is due to her beloved golden retriever, Dinah, who Betty adopted when Dinah could no longer work as Tom Sullivan’s guide dog. Ironically, Dinah lost her vision and she could not perform the tasks that Tom depended on for his daily activities. Betty stepped in and welcomed Dinah into her home. She provided the love and support to both Tom and Dinah that enabled each of them to move forward to the next chapter of their lives. If you’re interested in a good read, check out Betty and Tom story about their experience in The Leading Lady: Dinah’s Story.

Betty is a renowned actress and animal activist. Happy Birthday to you dear one, and thank you for all the laughs you continue to give us and for all that you have done and continue to do for animals AND for individuals with disabilities. The world is truly a better place because you are in it!

Others Can Be Integral Parts of a Service Dog Team

March 2, 2010 · Posted in People, Service Dogs, Training · Comment 
Franz and Whistle at Yellowstone

I am always amazed at how respectful my husband, Franz, is regarding my relationship with my service dogs. He always has been. From the moment I received my first service dog and for the last seventeen years as I am now working with my third dog.

When I got my first dog, Ramona, he was instructed not to interact with her. For the first month, he was not even supposed to have any eye contact with her. I will never forget when I brought Ramona home. What a proud moment. And Franz was so supportive. He followed all the rules until one morning when I got out of the shower and found Franz and Ramona rolling around the living room floor playing together. They both looked at me as if to say, “We just couldn’t take it any longer.”

From the moment I received my first dog, Franz has never overridden or even tried to override a command that I have given. Quite the opposite, he remains silent whenever I need to communicate with my canine partner. And somehow he manages to do this in spite of the fact that each dog I’ve had completely adores him. They love nothing better than to play rough house with Franz when he comes home at the end of the day.

I have often wondered what my service dogs think about Franz? Is he another dog? Is he a member of their pack? Is he one of the pack leaders?

He is definitely the second most important person in their life. Whenever I am sick or unable to meet their immediate needs, Franz steps in for me. He knows all of their commands and fluently speaks their language and yet, he acquiesces to me each and every time when needed.

I view Franz as a secondary member of our service dog team. He is the unsung hero who gets up in the middle of the night to take my dog out. He cleans up our yard. He goes to the emergency vet with us in the middle of the night when my service dog is sick.

There are so many people out their like Franz who provide unwavering support to working dog teams. Through their dedication and support, we are enabled to function and to flourish as a successful working team. We often talk about puppyraisers and their contributions to creating these amazing service animals. Rarely, however, do we talk about these unsung heroes who help to maintain healthy and highly functional teams.

These individuals are our family members, spouses, attendants, friends, etc. who quietly stay in the shadows offering their support in times of need and with the mundane daily tasks that might not be too fun or glamorous. I want to take a moment to say thank you to these integral secondary team members for all that they do to support the success of working dogs and their human partners. Whistle and I salute you!

The Influence of Bacon

February 28, 2010 · Posted in People, Public Interaction, Service Dogs, Training · 5 Comments 
Marcie Davis accepting Women of Influence award

Recently, I was honored as a “Women of Influence” by the New Mexico Business Weekly. Over 550 people attended the sold-out luncheon that honored 30 women for their contributions to New Mexico’s economy and community.

During the luncheon, each honoree was to take the stage, share five things about herself that no one knew, and exit the stage for a photo with two prominent female business leaders.

Several of my dearest friends and clients attended the luncheon with me. We dined on a chef salad and other assorted treats. As a woman with a disability, I have limited balance, and the thought of eating a chef salad while wearing a business suit and anticipating my turn on stage, was a little nerve racking.

As I lifted the fork to my mouth, bits of bacon immediately fell from the fork and came to rest down my shirt. As I looked around at the crowded room, I dared not to try and retrieve it. I thought I would just live with it and remove it once we were loaded safely in my van for the drive home.

Whistle was tucked nicely under the table and my husband, Franz, and I visited with the attendees and cheered as each honoree took the stage for her five minutes of recognition. Before I knew it, it was my turn. As the hostess, local award-winning journalist Augusta Meyers, called my name and read my bio, Whistle and I made our way to the stage.

Augusta greeted me on the accessible stage and I boldly shared five things about myself that weren’t too embarrassing, but would hopefully give the audience a glimpse into who I am as a person. As I left the stage, Whistle and I made our way to the foot of the ramp where the two prominent community leaders presented me with various swag including a bottle of wine, flowers and a gift certificate to a local jewelry store. I felt like a runner-up to Ms. America.

Trying to juggle all this stuff in a wheelchair, things were starting to get a little precarious. I was trying to hold the plaque, the flowers, a bottle of wine, and the other gift items, when I caught a twinkle in Whistle’s eye.

Lo and behold, as I was positioning my wheelchair for the photo, Whistle had caught the scent of bacon. It was nothing short of the television commercial where the dog is chanting, “bacon, bacon, bacon”.

Whistle was obsessed with getting the bacon that was down my shirt. He jumped in my lap and proceeded to stick his nose down my shirt. I was mortified as I could hear the two women saying, “Oh, how sweet. He loves you so much.” And I’m thinking, “Are you kidding me? He loves bacon!”

As the photographer tried to get Whistle to look toward the camera for the photo, Whistle was fixated on my chest. He was staring right at my chest with a look of sheer determination.

I just chuckled to myself and told the photographer not to worry and to just get the best shot he could. As Whistle and I made it back to our assigned table, I had to laugh at the situation. When you’re at your zenith, there’s nothing like a dog to give you a lesson in humility and reality.

The next day, I received an email from the New Mexico Business Weekly announcing the honorees and celebrating the event. Wouldn’t you know it, there’s a photo of me with the two community leaders and Whistle is positioned next to me staring intensely at my chest. I had to chuckle once again.

I was so honored to be recognized as a “Woman of Influence” among my peers. And, I believe I am the luckiest girl in the world to have a service dog. Whistle provides me with the independence to get out into the world alone and he also makes each day an adventure and a lesson in what’s really important!

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