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!
As the holidays draw to a close, I am concerned about changes I have recently witnessed in Whistle. My sister and her family visited during the Christmas holidays. Whistle was thrilled to spend some time with my niece and nephew and my nephew’s girlfriend. They are all college students with boundless energy and Whistle reveled in playing with them and falling asleep on the couch with them.
It did not occur to me until after they went home this week that Whistle wanted to remain in the holiday mood. I noticed that when we went out into public he was sniffing quite a lot, more than usual. I commanded him to heel but he was more interested in the crumbs on the floor. Overall, he seemed distracted and much more interested in smells and morsels of food in his immediate vicinity.
This was unusual behavior for Whistle. I began to wonder, “What happened to my usually attentive service dog?” His behavior had definitely changed and his responsiveness to me had diminished. He was clearly more interested in other things than working with me.
And then it dawned on me, he had been unharnessed most of the time they were visiting. He had romped and played with them all day and late into the evening. He had sniffed every yuletide aroma during all of the abnormal cooking and food preparation that occurred throughout their visit. He was a carefree dog for the entire week. Basically, he was on vacation and he was loving it.
Franz and I live alone with Whistle, my retired service dog, Morgan, and three kitties. Whistle was not used to this much activity around the house but he was clearly enjoying it. I don’t think he has any interest in returning to our normal routine.
So it begs the question, “How do we handle our service dogs during the holidays?” Do we let them overindulge like we do throughout the holiday season or should I be Ebenezer Scrooge and require him to keep working without any holiday revelry?
I learned this season that I need to be more aware of how Whistle spends his time during the holidays. Like all of us, I think he should have some holiday fun but in moderation. I allowed Whistle to overindulge in treats and youthful attention and afterward I have a young dog on my hands that had rather play than work.
Whistle and I have to get recertified in January as part of Paws With A Cause’s requirements for all working service dog teams. It is clear to me that Whistle and I have to get back into shape. We need to work on his commands and my overall expectations of him as a working dog.
Whistle and I both overindulged during the holidays and now, we have to get back in shape. We both must set and adhere to some strict New Year’s resolutions that include sharpening our obedience and public access skills. It’s almost New Year’s day and the party is definitely over for me and Whistle!
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.