Author: Michelle Wing

11Sep

Surprezzies

My wife and I love to give each other presents for no particular reason. It’s partially a by-product of the fact that we are both Christmas babies. She was born Christmas day, and I was born the day after. So, we figure, we have a lot of catching up to do. All those years when it felt like it was a two-fer. (As much as our parents tried to make it not that way – I’m not blaming them. It’s the curse of the holiday season.)

My last boss, Pat at the Calistoga Tribune, was also fond of spontaneous gift-giving. Just little things. She called them “sprezzies,” a term she had picked up from years at Girl Scout camps, first as a camper, later as a leader. “Sprezzies” is short for “surprise presents.” My favorite from Pat is a lapel pin, a single silver wing. At first I thought it was simply a reference to my last name – I wrote a column for the paper called “Wingin’ It.” But then she said, “Look closer.” On the cardboard backing, it said, “Left Wing.” Ha! Love it!

So Sabrina came into my writing studio this past week with a “sprezzie.” Like them? Dog slippers! Half a dog on the left foot, the other half on the right.

I couldn’t be more tickled.

20Jul

Caps & Gowns, Sits & Downs: A Dog Graduation

Summer is the time for graduations, and it’s only fitting that dogs should get their share of the celebratory spotlight. Ripley and I had the great pleasure this past Saturday of attending graduation ceremonies at Bergin University of Canine Studies in Rohnert Park.

Puppy Demo-sm

Duncan Bradley and puppy

The ceremony was mainly for the Summer 2015 graduates of the Service Dog Seminar, students who had come from all over to learn about how to train dogs, receiving both general service dog certificates and certificates from the Dogs Helping Veterans Program. We were treated to a wonderful slide show of their summer, spent surrounded by dogs, mastering the skills they will take from here forward.

Mimic-sm

Larry and Meghan Clark work on “mimic”

Some of the students gave demonstrations, to provide a sneak peek into what these dogs are capable of. Duncan Bradley brought out an adorable puppy, about four months old, who sat, laid down, rolled, and then did the most popular command, “Get into my lap.” The puppy was carried off the stage, and spent the remainder of the program being cuddled, coddled, and getting belly rubs, soaking up love from a puppy handler.

When it was time for more mature dogs to take the stage, Meghan Clark appeared with Larry. New research shows that dogs can actually follow a command such as “mimic me.” So Meghan did an unusual behavior (jumping in place), and then waited for Larry to respond. It took him a minute, but he got it, lifting his front legs off the ground in a little hop, much like his handler.

Down-sm

Kasey Nash and Jordan demonstrate reading skills

Then Kasey Nash came out with Jordan to show us that dogs can read! She had two signs, one that said “Sit” and one that said “Down.” Whether the dog is responding to the different lengths of the words or exactly what is going on is unclear, but Jordan was, after some initial stage fright, able to perform the appropriate response to the displayed sign.

We also heard an incredibly moving keynote speech from retired Army Colonel Roger Lintz, who talked about how his service dog, Nigel, had transformed his life. This big lab was so lovable looking, and so clearly devoted to Roger, that it was difficult to imagine that the two had ever NOT been together. I spoke to Roger after the ceremony, and we shared some stories about service dogs in hospital rooms, dealing with fake service dogs, and the unbreakable bond we have with these animals. A good, good man, who impressed me immeasurably.

Makenna & Ming-sm

Makenna & Ming

The highlight of the day, though, was the presentation of the service dog recipient. Young Makenna Enger had spent the last two weeks at the Bergin Institute getting to know her new forever-dog, Ming. Those at the institute weren’t sure Ming would connect, as he had had some trouble bonding before. But his attachment to Makenna was immediate. Makenna went up on the stage at the graduation, and said a few words, while Ming was kept off to the side with another handler. When he was finally brought to her, he was practically beside himself with joy. His tail wouldn’t stop wagging. He walked in circles all around her, then finally threw himself at her feet on his back, belly in the air.

Anthem-sm

Makenna sings the National Anthem with Ming by her side

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Makenna sang the National Anthem with Ming by her side, now looking every bit the distinguished service dog. These two are ready to face the world.

Thank you, Bonnie Bergin, president of Bergin University, for the work that you do.

 

 

22Jun

Let Me Count the Ways: Math Handicap

It all started because I was looking for a cute t-shirt to give to my buddy Andrew for his birthday. Because he’s such a fan of Ripley’s, I thought he might like a shirt that celebrated service dogs. But when I began searching online for shirts, what I found right away were a bunch of t-shirts instead that I would love to wear. All those things I wish I could say to people who drive me crazy when I’m out in the world with Ripley and they are being clueless. Shirts that said, “Keep Your Paws Off My Service Dog” and “If You Can Read This Shirt, You Can Read the Patches On My Service Dog’s Vest.”

I giggled and guffawed as I commiserated over all the obvious frustration that countless other service dog handlers must be feeling. Otherwise, why would these t-shirts exist? Although they made me laugh, most were a bit too confrontational for me to actually consider wearing. But I finally did choose a couple of tees. One is very subtle. It is the outline of a dog, made up of words in rainbow colors. It represents service dogs who are for invisible disabilities, and the words include seizure, diabetes, support, illness, lifeline, calming, ADA, love, strength, mobility, heart, access, etc.

The other two shirts listed service dog manners: Never touch a service dog without permission. Don’t distract with noises or food. Service dogs are not pets, they are medically needed and are protected by Federal Law. Service dog handlers are not show and tell exhibits, and they may not wish to chat. Service dogs are allowed in all places open to the public. The two shirts contained similar language, with slight variances.

So the shirts came in the mail, and I decided to do a soft test first, wearing one of the service dog manners tees out to dinner with a large group of friends. The inscription was on the back of the shirt. I took off my sweatshirt and said, “See my new shirt?” One of my friends started to read, and said, “Where’s number two?”

“What?”

“The list. It goes from number one to number three. There’s no number two.”

Sure enough, when I got home that night, I took off my shirt and checked. Number two was AWOL. Since the shirt came from Zazzle, which custom prints each shirt, I thought maybe it was a printing error. But when I went to the website, it was wrong there, too. The list was ordered one, three, four, five, six, seven.

Now what’s the message there? Do I now have to divulge that I am mathematically handicapped as well?

Even Ripley can count to three. She knows she gets two spoonfuls of ice cream, and three small cookies, each at the appropriate time. And don’t even try to short change her.

I’ve written to Zazzle, but so far no response. Perhaps they are still adding things up in their accounting room. Which may not be going well, from the looks of things.

 

24May

Happy Birthday, Ripley! Ten Years Old

It's my party!

It’s my party!

Today is a big day in our household. Ripley, the caped wonder, is celebrating her tenth birthday.

We had to commemorate the occasion with something special. So earlier this week, I stopped by the Dollar Tree in Healdsburg and picked up candles and party hats. And today, we made a trip to the grocery store for ice cream. Of course, we needed to document the festivities. There was a bit of a bribery involved with dog biscuits as we tried to convince Malaki, Ripley’s brother, to tolerate the hat. He wasn’t too convinced. Several attempts were made. Finally, we managed to take a few photos. Ripley is much more tolerant of these situations, having put up with me for many more years. Then I placed two bowls of vanilla ice cream on the deck with candles in them – unlit. I didn’t want to push my luck. I figured, worse case scenario, a dog might eat some wax. But remarkably, both dogs remained in the sit and stay pose while I snapped a few more pictures, without lunging for the bowls.

Tongue-licking expectation

Tongue-licking expectation

Then I removed the candles, and let them go for it. Malaki wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first. Sabrina had to dip a cookie in to convince him that the bowl wasn’t poisoned. Ripley had no such qualms. I had made rather heaping portions for the photo op, and Sabrina’s wiser head prevailed; she stopped the dogs halfway through. We retired the remaining ice cream to a tupperware container for later consumption.

This is actually part of a longer tradition with Ripley. When I used to work in Calistoga at the newspaper, to celebrate on her birthday we would go to the frozen yogurt shop, and I would buy a kid-sized plain frozen yogurt cup just for her. Then we’d sit outside on the patio, where she was allowed to lick up the whole thing herself, much to the delight of the passing tourists. The Cloverdale grocery store didn’t have any frozen yogurt, so vanilla ice cream was my closest compromise.

This hat is ridiculous. Can we just eat?

This hat is ridiculous. Can we just eat?

Earlier today, Ripley and I attended the Healdsburg Literary Guild’s Graveside Readings at Oak Mound Cemetery in Healdsburg, an annual event for that group, where writers come together in the old part of the cemetery on Memorial Day Weekend to read verse. When we arrived, I announced Ripley’s birthday, and one friend said, “Wow, that makes her seventy years old!” I turned to Ripley and said, “Any retirement plans?” At that precise moment, she happened to vigorously shake her head side to side several times. Everyone laughed. Apparently, her answer is a resounding no.

It’s hard to believe it was ten years ago that I brought home that little fluff-ball blonde puppy, who over the first year in our household chewed up three of my flip-flops, a library book, and an inordinate number of items owned by Sabrina, among them her leather wallet, leather checkbook cover, and a belt. She was a gift from Sabrina, shortly after we moved in together – the first dog I had had since I was a child.

Our bond was instant and strong. A few years later, when I was having medical issues and began exploring the idea of having a service dog, I was faced with a choice: Should I seek out a new dog to
help me, or should I first see if the dog I have is capable of providing what I need? I decided to work with Ripley, to see if she would be able to transition from being a companion animal to becoming a service dog. With the assistance of some expert trainers and lots of support, I began working with her. She astounded me, over and over again. Everything I asked her to do, she did. It was as if she had just been waiting for the opportunity. We were meant to be a working team.

That's my ice cream!

That’s my ice cream!

And now here we are. Ten years together. She is still fit, still wanting to work, at least for now. I know the time will come sometime in the next few years that she really will need to retire. That’s going to be a hard one. I will get another service dog. But there will never be another Ripley. She’s always going to be the first, and the dearest.

Happy birthday, Ripley. Love you more than words can express.

P.S. Today is also the birthday of our good friend Andrew. He turned seven today. Ripley is thrilled to share a birthday with him. Sending dog kisses to Andrew from Ripley, and hugs from me.

4May

Service Dogs Welcome

Service Dog sign

Service Dog sign

I’m not sure what triggered the sudden appearance of these signs at all of the Starbucks stores, but they are now posted on bulletin boards everywhere – and it’s a nice feeling to have a big welcome when I go in to buy my coffee. Not only a welcome, but an explanation of what a service dog is. Thanks, Starbucks.

25Mar

Ripley Meets a Yeti

(This post is especially for Andrew Wing. He’s one of Ripley’s biggest fans and readers, and we feel terrible that we haven’t written in over a month. So we wanted you to know, Andrew, that we’re sorry, and we’ll try to be better in the future. Ripley would give you a big wet kiss if she could.)

As a service dog, Ripley attends the theater frequently. She has been to performances at 6th Street Playhouse, the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, Raven Theater, and productions at Calistoga and Cloverdale high schools. So she’s become pretty nonchalant about human beings acting a little bit crazy.

Her first night out was at Calistoga High, and in one of the three plays, “Words, Words, Words,” the kids were three chimpanzees named Kafka, Milton and Swift. The premise is that they are in a cage, with typewriters. A scientist has a theory that if they randomly hit keys, eventually they’ll come up with “Hamlet.”  Great play — but Ripley got a bit startled when the “chimpanzees” started screeching and rolling around all over the stage, throwing paper and typewriters around. What were these humans doing?

Soon, though, she came to realize that anything goes at the theater. I bring her blanket, lay it down on the floor at my feet, and she settles in for the duration of the show. Gunshots, hollering, people breaking out into song and dance, lights dazzling across the room, all became part of a regular routine. She waits patiently for the applause, then gets up, stretches, and knows it’s time either for intermission or to go home.

That is, until this last theater experience. In early March, we went to see the Raven Theater’s production of “On the Verge, or the Geography of Yearning.” The story is about three women explorers in the late 1800s who head out to Terra Incognita,  “lady travelers” who face all kinds of challenges and end up moving not only through space, but through time.

When we arrived at the theater, in the recently renovated space in Windsor, we discovered that the stage was set for theater in the round, meaning that the audience sits on all sides of the action. We chose a seat on the side, right on the floor of the stage. There was a space next to me with no chair, so I spread Ripley’s blanket there, thinking it gave her some protection from the main event.

When our intrepid explorers appeared, Mary (Christi Calson, a good friend), Fanny (Elizabeth Henry) and Alex (Sarah Bird Passemar), my first thought was, “Gaw! I hope Ripley doesn’t walk out onto the stage to say hi to Christi!” But no, she seemed to understand perfectly that this was theater, and greetings were for later.

It soon became clear we were in for some close encounters. The women, armed with machetes, spent a good deal of time walking in circles bushwhacking. Ripley seemed not to mind having the long rubber knives swinging down quite close to her nose. So far, so good. Then, in response to – what was it, a crocodile? the good ladies pulled out their trusty umbrellas. Standing in a circle in the center, they pumped their umbrellas open and closed, repeatedly, to scare off the beast. I placed my hand on Ripley, just to make sure. Again, she seemed remarkably relaxed, despite the proximity of the whooshing weapons.

There was one other cast member in the play, Steve Thorpe, who played a total of eight parts. You never knew what he’d show up as next. Just as all was getting rather comfortable, out came Thorpe from the back stage entrance as an abominable snowman. Simultaneously with his appearance, he launched a snowball – which sailed across the stage, and popped Ripley right in the behind. The whole audience gasped. She stood up, shook it off, turned around, and laid back down, as if to say, “Really? Snowballs?”

The snowballs were very light styrofoam, nothing that could cause harm, only startling. The actors continued without missing a beat, the yeti throwing his snowballs, Mary, Alex and Fanny getting into the fight, and we moved on to the next scene.

During intermission, people from the audience came up repeatedly to comment on the fact that Ripley had been so calm about the whole incident. They were simply amazed. Still, for Act II, we moved up one set of seats, so we weren’t quite so close to the action.

Following the show, our yeti, Thorpe, came up to apologize. Hey, it’s all in a night’s work for a service dog. Sometimes you help your human. Sometimes you meet the abominable snowman. Part of the job, Ripley seemed to say. On with the show.

21Feb

Little Dogs, Big Problem

I know you’ve seen them. The little dogs, tucked under the arms of their owner, or nestled in grocery carts, or with their heads popping out of a shoulder bag. Little dog owners seem to think that because their pets are small and easily transportable, they can go anywhere – into restaurants, food stores, health clinics, you name it. Although cute and tiny, those little dogs can be deceiving. Far too often, they are undisciplined and  out of control. Which leads to trouble for me.

Here are a couple of examples.

I went to Office Depot for a quick dash in-and-out, intent on picking up three items. Ripley and I entered the store, grabbed a hand basket, and walked up the main aisle. As we readied to turn towards our first destination, a man appeared pushing a cart. All of a sudden, there was a cacophany of yips and yapping. Yes, there she was. A little dog in the front seat of the cart, going crazy at the sight of Ripley. The man greeted us, and shushed his dog.

We headed down the pen aisle, picked up my favorite writing tools, then turned at the end, and entered the parallel aisle with envelopes. A woman stood next to me, puzzling over her selection. As I stood trying to decide which box to buy, we were assailed once again with a barrage of barking. The poor woman at my side was so startled she cried out. The owner of our charming little barker said, “Now, Princess, you’ve seen that dog before. You mustn’t bark.” The dog, of course, with that stern talking to, continued unabated.

Ripley and I had one more item to search out, and met up with the unwelcome couple one more time, again assaulted with a earful of dog yaps and snarls. Throughout all of this, Ripley made not a peep, simply stood at my side, wondering what all the hullaboo was about.

On another recent afternoon, the two of us went shopping at a fair trade store in Sebastopol. The store is not very big, and has fairly narrow walking paths throughout. As we stepped in, a woman with a little dog on a retractable leash saw us enter. She gave us the stink eye, and scooped up her precious Fifi, seeming to indicate that my vicious large dog might be some sort of threat. I ignored her, and began to look around the shop. We lost track of each other, and at some point, she again placed her dog on the floor. I was standing at the checkout counter, ready with my purchase, when her dog realized Ripley was just around the corner. The little dog lunged to the end of her retractable leash, snarling and yipping, doing everything in her power to try to get at us, until the woman was able to rein her in.

Now, let me be clear. Any dog can be a service dog, even a small dog. But service dogs exhibit certain types of behavior. If Ripley was barking in a store, she could be asked to leave. If she lunged after another dog or a customer in a store, she could be asked to leave. That is not acceptable behavior for a service dog. Yet often, when asked, the owners of these little dogs will claim that their dogs are service dogs. They will point to a tag on the dog’s collar, or simply say, “She’s a service dog.” Perhaps there might be some confusion. Some of these dogs may be emotional support animals. People can get notes from their doctors allowing emotional support animals, whose only job is to supply comfort. But an emotional support dog has only two privileges: to live in an apartment or home where dogs are not normally allowed, and to fly on an airplane with you. They are not allowed in restaurants, stores, movie theaters, hospitals, etc.

People who violate service dog rules make it more difficult for those of us who actually need a working dog. It means I am more likely to be challenged when I bring my dog into a business establishment. It makes business owners more leery, because they have dealt with nuisance dogs. Business owners should know, however, they can ask any person to leave who has a dog who is misbehaving.

Ann Hutchinson pix

Two poodles at a restaurant near Bodega Bay – one is actually sitting in a chair at the table.

Friends of mine who have learned about service dogs by spending time with me are now also on the lookout for all these posers, and frequently report back when they encounter them. Last weekend, my friend Ann went to a restaurant near Bodega Bay, and snapped this photo. Two women were in a restaurant, each with a small white dog. Not only were the dogs in the restaurant, but one of the women pulled up a chair for her dog, and the dog sat at the table for the whole meal. When Ann confronted her about it, the woman said the dog was a service animal. Really? Let me tell you – service dogs don’t sit on chairs at restaurants.

Having an undisciplined dog in a store or restaurant causes problems for a real service dog, because the undisciplined dog reacts when seeing the service dog. Nobody wants to hear the barking and carrying on – and it’s not the service dog’s fault.  In truth, it’s not the little dog’s fault, either. It’s the owner’s problem, because they are behaving like an over-indulgent parent, allowing his or her undisciplined child to run wild. Which does nobody any favors.

Being a service dog is more than simply having a slip of paper or a vest. A service dog works, has tasks that he or she performs. And on top of that, he or she exhibits a certain demeanor when out in public. Anyone should be able to tell at a glance whether or not your dog is a real working dog.

Don’t be afraid to call a fake when you see one.

 

26Jan

Geared Up! A Dog’s Duffel Bag

Ripley and I are always schlepping our gear around. One of the consequences of not being able to drive is that, unlike most people, we aren’t able to use a car as a big, traveling suitcase. If we want to have something with us, we need to be able to carry it. Since I have my own stuff on any given day (writerly things like notepads, pens, books, a laptop, a camera), adding Ripley’s gear to the mix can get cumbersome. So we have learned to be compact and plan well.

One way we do that is to have Ripley’s bag always packed. When our ride arrives, all I have to do is clip on her vest, and grab a leash and the Ripley bag, and we’re out the door. When with friends who have young children, I sometimes jokingly refer to this tote as my “diaper bag,” and they completely understand. Can’t leave home without it.

So what goes into a good dog’s duffel bag? First off, there’s the bag itself. I happen to be very partial to Timbuk2 bags. Timbuk2 is based in San Francisco. They got their start making bicycle messenger bags, and have since branched out to make duffel bags, laptop bags, etc. The one thing that stays the same is the tough durability, the high quality of the craftmanship, and the great design, plus fun colors. I own a bunch of them. So choosing a Tumbuk2 duffel bag for Ripley was an easy choice. It has outside pockets, D-rings on both ends for clip-on accessories, loop straps as well as a shoulder strap. It zips closed all the way down the top. Inside, it is roomy and open, but along each side there are individual cubbies for stashing things, some of which are pockets, some mesh, one with a long zipper. The entire bag is water resistant and easy to clean.

Water Bowl

collapsible water bowl

The most important item in the bag is, of course, water. I carry a metal water bottle that is just Ripley’s (paw prints to make it obvious) so I never mistakenly use it for something else and forget to put it back in the bag. It has a carabiner on the top, so it can be attached to the outside of the bag, or to my belt if needed. Along with the bottle, I have a small collapsible water dish. This is hands-down the best one on the market. I have tried at least half a dozen water dispensers, from collapsible cloth bowls (they take forever to dry) to a folding bottle with a tray (Ripley wouldn’t touch it). This simple little bowl is perfect. It holds a little over one cup of water; you can easily refill it if your dog needs more. It doesn’t tip over. When done, just flatten, tap on the ground to shake off the excess water, and then use the carabiner to hang it off the end of your bag (or clip to your belt loop). It also will wipe completely dry with a paper towel.

Treat Bag

Outward Hound treat bag

Ripley would say the next most important thing is the treat bag! I use one from Outward Hound, a small bag with a drawstring enclosure that has a belt clip on back. Should I actually need it, I can easily attach it to my back or side pocket and carry it along.

Of course, one must always have an extra stock of poop bags, too. Ripley keeps six or seven in her vest pocket, but I stash a whole roll in the dog bag. Especially as a service dog, it is exceedingly bad manners not to clean up after one’s messes. So, like good Girl Scouts, we are always prepared.

The largest item in our bag is the fleecy dog blanket. Now, you may think at first blush that it’s a bit luxurious for Ripley to travel around with her own cushy blanket. But it really does make sense, at so many levels.

We often go into private homes. People are very gracious, even when they have no pets of their own. Still, I like to minimize our impact. Yellow labs shed. By placing the blanket down next to my chair, Ripley not only has a comfortable “home base” for the duration of the visit, we also keep the blonde hairs in one spot.

If we go to public venues, such as movie theaters or concert halls, the floors may be concrete or wooden, or marble. Any of these can be cold and uncomfortable for her, especially now that she is getting older, so having the blanket makes a difference if she is expected to lie on the floor for a two or three hour performance. It also serves a second purpose – those same floors can cause the slightest sound to ricochet through the room. A dog’s toe nails on the floor in the middle of a concert – eek! So having the blanket allows Riley a safe place to curl up, and move slightly now and then without fear of creating an interruption in the program.

And finally, when in restaurants, the blanket is the perfect solution when the legs of the table are structured in such a way that there is no unobstructed place for Ripley to lie down. I put the blanket over the top of any table leg bases, and that’s enough of a signal for her. She happily snuggles in for the duration.

Dog Socks-Converse

Pawks dog socks

A couple final items: I carry a spare set of dog socks (the primary set is in Ripley’s vest), for use on slippery floors – mainly grocery stores; a small flashlight, for night-time potty breaks (remember, you have to be able to find it before you can put it in the bag!); an extra leash (because too often I have forgotten one in someone’s car); a dog comb; and a small shopping bag, which I clip to the outside of the duffel bag with a carabiner. I also have a Service Dog patch attached to the bag, along with an ID tag, so that anyone finding the bag will know whose it is, and will hopefully return it.

There you go! Ready to pack yours now?

13Jan

New Patches, Stronger Message

We received a package in the mail this week – a new service vest for Ripley. Now, her old service vest is still in great shape, despite being about three years old. It is sturdily made, wears well, and all it needs is an occasional washing to make it look sparkly again. So why invest in new clothes?

It’s about the message. When I chose the patches for the old vest, it was my first time outfitting a service dog. I had no experience being out in public as a handler, and definitely no clue what that was going to be like. Suffice it to say, I was ill prepared for the overwhelming amount of attention I found myself suddenly receiving. Everywhere we went, people wanted to say hello. Even though many folks have some clue that you’re supposed to be a bit reserved with service dogs, they simply can’t resist. Ripley’s small stature, the fact that she’s a yellow lab vs. a black lab or another breed of dog, and, on top of all that, she has a pink nose – god! People just can’t contain themselves! Then there’s the fascination with me. Because they can’t figure out what my disability is, since it’s not inherently obvious, they want to chat about that, in one way or another. Is this my dog? Am I a trainer? What does she do? Etc.

Medical Alert

Medical Alert Dog patch with caduceus symbol

Ripley’s old vest has three patches – one on the top (on her back) and one on each side. On her right side is a white patch with her name. We duplicated that on the new vest. On the top on the old vest is a white patch with a caduceus symbol, over the words “Medical Alert Dog.” When Ripley and I first began working together, this seemed like a logical choice, because I believed what I was suffering from, primarily, was a seizure disorder. They have “seizure dog” patches, but that seemed sort of personal; I wasn’t sure I wanted to give out that much information. So I opted for this patch instead. Little did I know what it would bode for me…an unending stream of questions. Because people don’t know what “medical alert dog” means. When they see the patch, it is an open invitation for inquiry.

Please Ask

Working: Please Ask Before Petting patch

I don’t mind answering questions about service dogs and what they do. I love my relationship with Ripley, and I love talking to people about all the wonderful things that are part of the lives of service dog/handler teams. But I like to be able to choose those moments. When it’s impossible to even grab a quick item at the grocery store, or walk through the lobby of the theater during intermission to go use the bathroom, because you are stopped by half a dozen people wanting to ask whether your dog can detect cancer, or if it goes to hospitals to visit sick kids, it can get frustrating.

On the old vest, the patch on the left said said, “Working: Please Ask Before Petting.” This felt perfect to me when I was first starting out. I figured that way people would respect our space, but could still say hello, within reason. Again, I wasn’t prepared for how often I would have to deal with this. When we are out in public, we are inundated with requests for greetings. At a large event, people are reaching out for Ripley one after another. It makes it absolutely impossible for her to focus on her job. It’s very difficult for me, because when I try to stand up for her, and set limits, it makes me feel rude. Which is crazy, I know, because she’s a service dog, and I shouldn’t have to feel bad about asking people not to distract her from her job. But I do.

Working

Working Dog: Do Not Disturb patch

So we decided, let’s try an experiment. What about a new vest, with different patches, sending stronger messages? Maybe that will help the people we run into see that there is a boundary here. For the top patch, to eliminate that “what does it mean?” problem, I chose a symbol of a dog with the words “Working Dog: Do Not Disturb.” There is no longer the confusing medical symbol, no “medical alert dog” status. And there is the added language right there in plain view on top asking people not to distract Ripley because she’s on the job.

For the left side, I selected something bold and hard to miss – a red patch in the shape of a stop sign. It reads “STOP” in big white letters, then “Please Do Not Pet. I’m Working.” This retains some of that friendliness, by using the first person as if the dog is speaking, but still sets a clear, strong limit, saying, hey, I’ve got responsibilities.

Have to say, it’s a beautiful vest. Brand spanking new, the fabric almost stiff, the whites practically glowing. And I love the look of the new patches. But will they work, in the way I hope? May be wishful thinking. I might just have to step in and assist, learning how to stand up for those boundaries with or without red stop signs.

9Jan

Coffee with a Canine

Hey, Ripley and I are getting out in the world! The blogosphere, that is. A few months ago, I was contacted by Marshal Zeringue, the host of a blog called Coffee with a Canine. He found me and Ripley through our Canine Bodhisattva postings, and invited us to be guests on his site. Eternally busy, it took me a while to get back to him, but I finally did. Marshal explained the rules – you take your dog out for a coffee date (to a cafe, or a park, or wherever), snap a few photos, and when you return, answer the questions that have been provided ahead of time. You got it, I said. We’re game!

Ripley and I are the featured pair on the Coffee with the Canine website on Jan. 8, visiting our favorite Cloverdale hangout, Plank Coffee – click here to read our interview. The participants (human) on Coffee with a Canine seem to all have some literary connection – writers, freelancers, bloggers, or artists such as photographers or children’s book illustrators. You can search through the archives by dog breed, with dozens and dozens of dogs to choose from.

It’s a fun place to pop in for a morning cuppa, meet a friend and revel in dog stories.

Here’s the main site link: Coffee with a Canine.

Grab some hot coffee and enjoy!

 

 

Michelle Wing © Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved
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