International Assistance Dog Week — August 7-13, 2011

NEADS graduation, spring 2011

Did you know that this week is International Assistance Dog Week? There are so many ways you can celebrate! Check out the website for International Assistance Dog Week for ideas on what YOU can do!

Here at NEADS, we celebrate assistance dogs every single day. We hope that by reading some of our clients’ stories on this blog, you’ve gotten to know what makes our dogs so special. If you haven’t, I encourage you to check out the stories below… and have some tissues handy!

Service Dogs for Adults with Mito: My Story — by Heidi Martin-Coleman
A story by Heidi Martin Coleman — who had never been a “dog person” — about her amazing connection with assistance dog Mercury

Flying with a Service Dog — By Edward Hull
Edward Hull describes his first time flying with his hearing dog Toffee

9 Years with My Service Dog — by Scott Maenpaa
Scott Maenpaa reminices about how wonderful the last 9 years have been with his service dog Alex, who he describes as his “child”

The Many Faces of Disability: How I fit in Society — By Crystle Chase
A story by Crystle Chase, who describes the challenges of having an “invisible” disability, and how she copes with peoples’ curiosity

The Many Faces of Disability: How I fit in Society — By Crystle Chase

Crystle gives Holly the command to sit.

I was coming out of the grocery store one day and I had just arrived at my car. I had the trunk open and was about to load the first bag, when I noticed the elderly woman next to me staring at me while she put her bags in her car.

I looked back, not offended, just curious, at why I appeared so interesting to her. She noticed my expression, and explained herself.

She told me, cautiously, that she had been sort of watching me in the grocery store, and that she could not, for the life of her, figure out what my disability was. I took this as a compliment, and figured that Holly and I had developed real grace together. She followed her statement up with a question, “are you training the dog,” she asked. I explained that I was not, and that Holly was my service dog. Rather astounded, and quite befuddled, she continued to ask questions.

If she was my dog, she inquired, what was disability? Why did I need her? What did she do for me? How long did I have her? How was she trained?

Patiently, and one by one, I answered her questions. I explained politely that I am disabled, and that Holly picks things up, helps me do the laundry, tells me when there is a knock at the door, and alerts me to smoke alarms. I followed this rather generic answer up with the usual comment, “and much much more!”

But the woman did not seem satisfied. She clearly did not mean to pry, and each question was asked with a tone of respect and genuine interest, so I continued to educate her and was glad to do so.

I told her the story everyone with a NEADS dog tells at least a few times in their partnership: Holly was trained in prison for a year; yes, she is friendly; no, sorry, you can’t pat her right now; you can’t pat her because she’s working, and so on, and so on.

When the woman ran out of questions she looked at me with awe. I had nothing left to tell her, so I waited for her explanation. She said, “You just look so healthy. You look beautiful.” She said this over and over, waiting for my reply.

Holly wearing her working gear.

People have questioned my having Holly before, but not like this. I know my disability is not usually visible, especially to people who aren’t familiar with disabilities, but this woman wanted to learn. She was fascinated with the concept that there could be something different, very different, with someone and you just could not see it. She was not accusing or doubtful of me, she was just astonished. All I could say was that there are many faces with disabilities, some you can notice, and others are invisible.

She thanked me for my time and patience, and moved on a little wiser. She was from a different generation; one which was not educated in diversity like the current generations have been. Still, without knowing appropriate social etiquette, she did not offend me one bit. I have to tip my hat to her.

Given her enthusiasm, I have to think that she told her friends or family about our chat. I had been in a rush, and she might have been as well, but her stopping and taking that moment to learn was, and will always be worth my time, and appreciation. In five minutes, her curiosity and my patience could have opened many minds; I know it opened hers.

For more information on the etiquette of petting a working service dog, click here.

For more information on the rights of people who have a service dog, click here.

People with Service Dogs Turned Away from Restaurant

"Thirteen people and six service dogs were turned away from the Dedham restaurant Sunday night" (Photo from CBSBoston.com)

There are so many benefits for people who use the assistance of a service dog. However, there are everyday challenges that the general public may not know about, and these difficulties stem from ignorance of the law. Recently, a group of people with service dogs was turned away from the Bamboo Gourmet Restaurant in Dedham, Mass. They were told to leave their dogs outside the restaurant. For people who depend upon service dogs, this kind of treatment is unacceptable — it’s also against the law.

The Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees that all people with disabilities have the legal right to use their assistance animal in all areas that are open to the general public. (For more information about the rights of people with service dogs, read the NEADS Disability Rights and Access Summary)

Click here to read the original article, “Disabled People With Service Dogs Turned Away From Dedham Restaurant

(Note: No NEADS dogs were involved in this incident. However, ignorance of the law impacts every person with a service dog, including NEADS clients.)