Out and About

Well Judah and I don’t get out as much as I would like us to.  We live out in the middle of no where, I’m unemployed and I don’t own a vehicle- this obviously limits our public exposure time.  We don’t live anywhere near anything, I can’t walk to any active location from where we live.  So Judah and I spend a lot of time at home or in the woods, this is great bonding for us but it doesn’t do much in the way of keeping Judah up on his public access.  What I also run into is that often when we do happen to go out to the store with Marshall or someone else, we’ve usually just finished an adventure and Judah is in no condition to be entering any business.  It’s not that Judah isn’t in the right state of mind or anything, he is just filthy.  It is important to me that we are a shining example of what a service dog is supposed be, both in behavior and grooming.  Judah is a husky mix, that’s a lot of  fur, in a lot of layers, attached to a very high energy dog, who loves to be dirty.

Judah loves to run.  On the road, in the woods or simply in circles in the yard, he just wants to run as fast as he can for as long as he can.  Well, we also have a five month old puppy.  This lends itself to lots of wrestling in the dirt, mud, poop (yes, the puppy is regularly pummeled through poo piles), and whatever else happens to be in their path.  Though Judah may not look dirty, he probably is.  I am so totally committed to making sure that Judah is totally compliant with the ADA and I take it very seriously.  Often when Marshall and I stop by the store I will stay in the car because Judah isn’t clean enough to go in and I know that every time I go someplace without him the likely hood of being hassled when I do have him goes way up.  The truth is that I live in a small enough area people know me, recognize me and will remember me- so the more they see me without him the more likely I’ll get hassled when I have him.  Would it kill me to run into the store quickly without my service dog?  No, certainly not.  Truth be told it would be easier to do some things without him, but that’s not the deal- that’s not how we work.

Judah and I are a unit and by making this commitment to each other I made a promise.  He earned the right to do his job and I honestly believe that I owe it to him to respect that.  It has come up several times during my job search that perhaps I should find a job without Judah and then continue looking for a better job that would accommodate him.  The truth is the thought of this brings me to tears, every time.  He took it upon himself to look out for me in a way that no one else in my life could do, I chose to recognize that and respect it.  To me, getting a job without him is not even an option.  An employer couldn’t tell me to leave my insulin at home or my meter, so why should it matter that the tool I have that does the best work is a little different than what people are used to.  (I have gotten a little off topic here…)

The real purpose of this post was to talk about how it is hard for us to go out as a team these days and keep our skills sharp.  This always concerns me because often we don’t go out a lot and then when we do it’s an event of some kind where behavior needs to be above everyone’s expectations.  I know that my state of mind is key to Judah’s behavior and the one interview that I have had was nerve racking for me and Judah was feeling it.  In all fairness the interview was conducted in the stairwell that was full of boxes, not exactly conducive to perfect behavior in a dog with a very nervous handler.  If I had a car it would be much easier for us to get out and about as a team regularly but, I have to work with what I’ve got!  Yesterday Marshall and I decided to go to the store to get some “football food” (wings, chips, salsa, etc.) and after brushing Judah, I suited him up and we headed to the car.  Marshall looked up from what he was doing, “Are you coming in?!”  I couldn’t help but be a little startled by his surprise.

After thinking about it for a second I realized that it has been literally months since I had been in the grocery store.  Wow, weird.  So I replied, “Yeah, I was going to.  Is that alright?”  I was suddenly feeling a little self conscious.

“Yeah, you should come in.  You just don’t usually, that’s all.”

Now, the weather was less than ideal so of course I brought a towel with me to wipe the snow/rain and mud off of his glorious husky fur.  As we climbed out of the car and made our way to the store I began to hear the familiar “Ooo look at that dog!”, “Look, that dog is going into the store.”, and of course some great parents explaining to their kids about service dogs and what they do- as always they tell their kids that he must be in training for someone with disabilities.  I am very used to hearing, “Oh he’s cute, is he in training?”- I have to be honest part of me often wants to reply, “His vest doesn’t say ‘in training’ does it?”  But I am perfectly aware that the frustration I feel shouldn’t be taken out on people who are just making an observation, the same one I probably would have made years ago.  I always have had a policy of not asking about service dogs when I see them.  Usually I would try to catch the handlers eye and smile, occasionally whisper “Beautiful dog” and I would leave it at that.  Now, I’m realizing even that can be a little invasive for someone who is constantly being watched and questioned already.

Well our little excursion yesterday was pretty successful.  Judah did great and with the exception of a few times of looking when people would coo or call out and his nose seemed to be working a little too much.  Of course people point him out, talk to him, talk about him (and me), and all the normal stuff.  I have learned that if I don’t feel like explaining what he does, or talking about my diabetes to strangers I can keep my eyes down and not make eye contact with anyone and this usually keeps people from stopping me (this is not fool proof, but it certainly helps).  I did however talk to one couple while we were in the store.  I went up to the dairy case (needed cream cheese for my awesome dip) and there was a woman standing right where I needed to go.  So Judah and I stepped around her and waited.  It was super busy in the store so I put Judah in front of me and had him lay down up against the case.  Eventually she moved off almost out of my way so I said, “Excuse me” and she graciously moved over.  I could see her and her husband (I’m assuming that it was her husband) watching and finally she asked, “Is he in training?”

“No he’s mine.”  I could see the familiar look of confusion so I continued (seeing as how it was obvious they had no intention of prying), “I”m diabetic and he tracks my blood sugar, he alerts when it’s too high or too low.”

The husband replied, “Yeah, we know what you mean.  We know not to distract him that’s why we are talking to you.”  I thanked them for doing that, addressing me instead of my dog.  Then we said good bye and parted ways.  All and all it really was a fine trip and Judah didn’t need any correcting really, just the occasional “with me” and he was right back on track.

Judah is definitely a special guy, he’s hasn’t been out working in public in literally a month, easily.  So for him to walk out and do everything like he’s been doing it everyday is something to be recognized.  That being said, I can’t wait until I have a car because if he is working all the time I can’t even imagine how incredible he will be!  Love my boy!

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