Five Years!

Black and white pencil sketch of Uschi buried in the snow

There is so much I have been meaning to post about — and one thing in particular will likely happen very soon. But for now, I just wanted to acknowledge the fifth anniversary of being partnered with Uschi. Honestly, I can’t believe it’s been five years already because it has gone by incomprehensibly fast for me. And yet, even though I have fond memories of working my other girls, I feel almost as if I’ve never been without this wonderful and wacky guide dog.

Art & Stuff

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be more consistent with updating and at the risk of sounding like a broken record I made a few decisions that should help with that and I’m really excited about. Specifically, I’m going to utilize the different domains I have that are basically dormant and focus my posting. However, I also just started a new job and so presently most of my time has been spent either working or sleeping with occasional eating thrown in to keep me from keeling over unconscious. So, despite my enthusiasm to do so I’m opting not to fiddle around with websites for the time being.1

Instead, I wanted to share this wonderful drawing Dany Gonzalez did of me and the girls:

Graphic artwork of me practicing yoga with Yara, Uschi and Dolly playfully surrounding me

Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect piece of art to print and hang on my living room wall. The more I look at it the more things I notice. I really dig Dany’s style and I’m impressed by how faithfully each of the girls have been captured. But since this was a collaboration, there’s also a lot of history that’s showcased here from the girls’ reactions to me practicing yoga to Dolly stealing my harness.

  1. Except, of course, the few changes I already have made around here.

Service Dogs and Public Access

I don’t often cross-post things, but I recently replied to a Tumblr “rant” about service dogs in restaurants and I really wanted to share it here. Plus, it’s International Assistance Dog Week!

The original post, titled “A disservice to service dogs” begins:

Look, I get it. People around here love their dogs, more than children it seems. But do you know what? I do not enjoy dining where your furry friends have been joining you at the table. I mean it’s different if they’re chilling on the ground in the patio being well behaved, that’s different.

Just the other day I answered an ask that is very appropriate to this poster’s feelings about dogs in restaurants. It was about the time I got thrown out of a liquor store because, essentially, the owner didn’t want a dog in his shop despite my rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As I noted in my response on Tumblr, the personal feelings of whether or not a service dog should be in a public place are entirely irrelevant. In my original reply, I used the comparison example of having to share space on public transportation with others who perhaps don’t bathe themselves well enough. Unfortunately, I have to deal with it because they have just as much right to occupy space on a CDTA bus as I do.

The post continues:

Just the other day I was a popular San Clemente restaurant where dogs aren’t allowed, and all of a sudden I hear barking from several tables away! “That’s weird” we thought. The barking continued. We complained to the hostess. But because the dog had a “service dog” tag, they said they couldn’t do anything about it. First off, I could put a raccoon on a leash and it would be better trained than this dog. Second, what a tiny yorkie going to do for you? I  kinda get the idea of an emotional support animal but on a cool morning you could probably take your buddy out to the car if it’s acting up.

The 2010 revision of the ADA included a new definition for “service animals” and it is very clear on public access rights. Service animals are permitted wherever the public is and that includes inside restaurants. However, it is expected that the animal be under control of the handler at all times. Anyone who has ever eaten with me at a restaurant knows that my absolute favorite thing is when we get up to leave and I recall my guide dog from under the table to the surprise of staff and patrons. Why? Because that’s exactly what should happen; it proves she was doing her job the whole time and remained entirely unnoticed by everyone but me.

The service dog referenced was obviously not behaving properly and was causing a disruption to the other patrons. The hostess was incorrect in saying that the staff had to ignore the issues because it was a service dog and in fact they could and should have requested the handler leave.1

The rant continues:

Who am I kidding here; you and I both know this was no service dog. For just 79 dollars you can register any animal as a service animal and get to take your buddy anywhere you want, and those mean people who hate dogs can’t do anything about it. If you don’t want to “register” your dog, you can just buy a service dog ID on Amazon for $15.  It’s stuff like this that gives real service animals a bad name. This is what’s going to get the government to regulate service animals, making life difficult for people who really need them.  Knock it off people.

Actually, what makes it difficult for service animal handlers is misinformation about the law. There is no mandatory registration! And there is also no legal need to have an ID or other certification that your partner is in fact a service animal. Yes, that opens the door for people to waltz fake service animals through the doors of any public place, but if that dog is behaving itself like a real service animal then it’s hardly causing an issue for future handlers.

Additionally, there are many types of disabilities that are not readily apparent to the casual observer. Even as a blind person, which you might think would be terribly obvious to the public, I am constantly queried about what my guide dog does and how she specifically aids me. Likewise there are also many different tasks that service dogs perform. Perhaps this dog was trained to alert to an epileptic seizure or diabetic shock.

Or maybe, just maybe, it was a fake service dog. It’s honestly difficult to prove. And the law is fairly specific as to what is considered an acceptable line of questioning. However, that said, in my personal experience as a handler I find we’re generally pretty tolerant of being asked about our partners. If you aren’t rude or accusatory, you’ll likely have similar results.

  1. The law also stipulates that in such cases, the same goods and services should be provided in the absence of the service animal.

Seventeen Years Ago

Portrait of Dolly in harness

On this day back in 1998 a little black Labrador retriever literally bounded right into my lap and totally changed my life! It’s been several years since Dolly passed and even more since we worked as a team, but in some ways she’ll always be missed.


The question from the other day reminded me of another humorous story with Dolly that I thought I’d share here.

I can’t say for certain since I don’t have kids, but first working with a guide dog is a lot like dealing with a toddler. They don’t run shouting “no” at you constantly because wisely we don’t teach dogs how to speak, but the obstinate is there all the same.

One resounding memory I have from training school is the morning ride to our destination. It was filled with a chorus of “sit” as everyone battled their dogs in the ongoing fight against lying down. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with lying down in a vehicle — I’m always glad when my girls decide to because otherwise they’re just using me as a leaning post — it’s that there isn’t enough room for the whole group of dogs to lie down so no one gets to.

Dolly was one of the main offenders in this because she was just not a morning dog. And I think she took this demand to sit up on her own power as a personal affront because she was always a bit reluctant to do so when we were in public. One particular day I was in a restroom stall trying desperately to get her to sit because she was In The Way. She was having none of it despite my repeated and increasingly frustrated command to “sit!”

Her stubbornness made exiting the stall something of a production and was none too graceful. At the row of sinks a woman was watching us through the mirror and let out an audible sigh.

“This whole time I was wondering why you were telling me to sit,” she said. “I mean, I already was.”