Service dogs in Ventura are amazing. They have been extensively trained, live strict but loved lives, and take care of their owners like truly no one else can. The dogs’ abilities to detect seizures, pick up dropped items, and even warn owners of impending stroke or heart attack make these dogs literally life savers.
With all the amazing things these animals can do, it’s no wonder we have learned to accept them in places we usually wouldn’t, like a restaurant or the office. But there is a growing cynicism towards service and support animals in general, and mostly because of misunderstanding, and I’ll admit that I used to be one of these people.
I was not raised in a house with pets, and I never could understand the “emotional support animal“. I could understand a seeing eye dog or a dog that assists with the hearing impaired, but these are obvious needs that a dog could help with. When I would see articles about an emotional support pig or bunny, I would roll my eyes.
The Best ESA Letter in Ventura
The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) legislation, enacted in 1990, is so vague that it has created two classes of service animals. The first is for animals that perform a specific task - Guide Dogs for the blind, wheelchair assistance, hearing dogs, and animals that can detect medical emergencies, like seizures, and summon help. These dogs have been specifically trained for their service mission.
The problem is the second classification - emotional support animals. All animals - lizards, chickens and snakes - can be designated service animals because they lend emotional support to the owner. In most cases they have no task-specific training. While this definition is currently under review, it has placed an enormous burden on those people who truly have a Service Animal.
Bringing your Service Dog into a restaurant, theater, or other public venue can also create some problems unless you can explain that your dog is allowed access under Federal law. Of course this means that you animal must be suited for crowded environments and trained to act properly around people. This is another case where a Service Dog ID Card will be of value.
Quick Aspects About Applying for an ESA Certificate
Don't Pet Me
It is my pleasure to introduce one and all to Hunter the service dog. He has invited me to be his voice for several important messages that he would like to share with you. First, he would like to direct your focus to the message that he wears printed on his vest when he is on duty in public, "Please Don't Pet Me, I'm Working".
I am a dog lover and I fell in love with Hunter on sight. I would have loved to pet and hug him on the spot like I might do with other dogs. But, I can read and I knew right away that touching Hunter was off limits and I resisted engaging him in any way other than taking pictures of him with permission. Believe me, that has taken a little bit of discipline for me because I have spent hours on different occasions with Hunter on and off duty. Also, with Bob, his spokesperson and "Handler", and his wife Linda, who needs a service animal. After each arranged meeting or social visit, that warm place in my heart for Hunter the service dog has enlarged.
Interestingly, Bob, told me that it is usually adults that will try to pet Hunter. He said, "children seem to know better". I am guessing that school age children have been taught dog etiquette somewhere along the way to not pet Service Dogs. Or, it may be that we usually teach our children not to pet strange dogs. That is a lesson we all need to review, especially as it applies to all Service Dogs that are trained to help people with disabilities, illnesses, or other medical conditions that may or may not be visible to us, but a dog's keen sense knows.
A Service Dog's Vest
As Bob and I were talking in a parking lot, Hunter stayed alert to everything around while laying or sitting on the ground, as well as standing at Bob's side. I could tell that this dog took his job seriously and didn't want to be distracted from active duty.
I saw a lady approach and could tell right off that she truly wanted to engage and love on this black and white Springer Spaniel on duty. Oh, but she did see the message on the service dog's red vest and resisted the urge using proper etiquette. I knew exactly how she felt, and I suspect the dog sensed it, too.
We all need to remember that Service Dogs that are out in the public eye to aide people, are not there to socialize with us. They are providing essential services for the people that they serve. They are at work.
You may be wondering how Hunter became a Service Dog. Well, you could say that he volunteered for service. When Hunter was only two years old, he took on the personal responsibility of looking after Linda, and of alerting her husband, Bob, if there were any concerns that needed attending to.
Bob brought their Springer Spaniel to a professional Service Dog trainer and Hunter went officially into training and service after passing an evaluation with flying colors. He is natural and is now 8 years old and has 6 years of service under his vest.
More Articles To Come
I am happy that I have been able to spend quality time getting to know Hunter the service dog on duty. I have been honored to get to know Hunter the family member in his home, along with Bob and Linda. The three of them together make a very loving family and their home a special place to visit.
I took this photo when I was able to join Bob, Linda and their service animal on a planned shopping trip to see the three of them in action together. What a joy it was!
Bob said, that he has had other Springer Spaniels, but that Hunter has stood out from all the rest. An exceptional dog does not come along every time, I know.
Hunter is ever at the ready at home to serve both Bob and Linda as the need for his special skills may arise. Many of the duties of a Service Dog actually do occur in the home. I notice Hunter keeping a watchful eye and checking in with both Bob and Linda. Alertness is a special trait that all service animals must possess.
When the vest comes off, Hunter is a different dog. He loves to be petted, and loves to play with toys, and entertain everyone who is around.
Hunter has some more important messages that he wants me to share by writing articles online. So! There will be more articles and photos to come in 2015 on HubPages. I could not be more delighted to be the voice of a service animal.
I think it must have been destiny for me to meet Hunter and his handler, Bob. I still distinctly remember how we met. I was at a Walmart and was heading for a door. I glanced to my left and saw this adorable black and white dog approaching me along with a man who seemed to have a contented smile on my face. I had my camera along and wanted to take a picture, but did not want to interact because of the message on the dogs vest. In my heart, I secretly made a wish to meet them.
I did not get my courage up and the moment seemed to be lost as I was greeted by an acquaintance. I thought, "Oh well", and visited for a few minutes before heading to the exit. What happened next seemed like a mini miracle.
As I stepped outside, the man with the dog was still there. I got brave and struck up a conversation with him that lasted at least a half hour or more. All that time, I noticed that Hunter only sniffed the air in my direction to check me out and made eye contact. That was it for interacting with me. He had his vest on and he seemed to be very proudly on duty. Bob allowed me to take some pictures and said I could use them online to tell their story and, more importantly, get some important messages out about how we all need to learn about appropriate etiquette when we see these dedicated workers on duty in public.
Service Dogs Need To Be Alert
Anything we do to distract a service dog while on duty, could prevent them from doing the tasks they are trained to do, to assist their people. It only takes one split-second for accidents to occur, and lives could possibly be in harm's way.
Why we should not pet service dogs on duty.
- They are watching.
- They are smelling.
- They are listening.
- They are sensing.
- They are thinking.
- They are ready for service.
A Socially Interactive Dog
I have mentioned that I have never engaged Hunter in any way when I have met him in public. It is important to note that Hunter does not engage me when he has his vest on. There just seems to be a formality about him and it is obvious that he takes his job very seriously. He knows I am there, but does not interact with me other than a quick sniff of the air and a glance in my direction.
On the other hand, Hunter is socially interactive at home. First, he alerts Bob and Linda that someone has arrived in the yard as he looks out a window and then heads to the door. He greets and interacts with guests in an appropriate and friendly manner. He is a very good host that makes visitors that he knows feel welcome.
In the video above the lady talks about reaching her hand out when someone tries to pet her service dog, they instead end up petting the back of her hand. Also, she has taught her dog the comment word "ignore". She will tell her dog to ignore, and keep repeating "good, ignore" and give her dog treats for obeying the command. Finally, people get the idea and stop petting.
Hunter is in training to assist Linda, who has disabilities and challenges related to having had a stroke several years ago. He is also in training to assist Bob, who has hearing loss. I think that is like doing double duty.
There are basically three different types of assistance dogs. You can read educational articles about them on Wikipedia from the links below.
- Guide dogs
- Hearing dogs
- Service dogs: "Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."
Start Seeing Service Dogs
This is another message the public needs to know, because they need to know the law.
Bob called: Linda stepped into eternity at 1:00 a.m. on September 19th, 2015. She was at home at her request, under the loving care of Bob and Hunter. The doctor at the hospital had asked her what she wanted to do on the previous Wednesday and she chose going home. The doctor did not think she would make it there, but arrangements were quickly made for a hospital bed, oxygen and care.
On Friday, Bob asked for a kiss and she puckered up, he asked for a second kiss and she puckered up again. When he asked for another one, she said, "Don't push it.", those were her last words. It was something that seemed to really bless Bob, probably a history on those words.
Service Animals, Emotional Support Animals, and Guide Dogs
World's Cutest Kitten Goes To Work.
Some animals have it, others don't. A service animal needs to be able to cope with the rigors of daily life for it's partner, because we can't do those things for ourselves. "A service animal is not a pet" is repeated a zillion times. That means, first and foremost you and your needs come first.
Willetta is five months old now. She's still a bit flighty for too much training, but I'm going to start her on the easier tasks. She needs three tasks that she can perform on command to be legal. They cannot be something a pet cat would do normally, they must relate specifically to my disabilities. She must be trained to behave well in public at all times, to walk on a leash and always be under control.
So far, she is harness and leash trained. She rides nicely in shopping cart baskets. If something frightens her, I just hold her and let her investigate from the safety of being held. Usually once does it. I purposely take her around noisy grasscutters, construction noises, what ever I can find, or what ever she looks startled at. She rides in the passenger side, and I'll be getting a safety seat for her soon.
The first thing I'll teach her is to be an obnoxious nag. She already knows how to do this, believe me! All I do is reinforce her natural tendencies to work for me. In the first case, to bug me to take my medications until I actually do. This may involve waking me up, getting my attention off the computer (much more difficult) or distracting me from whatever I am hyper-focused on. Not only will this be the easiest to train, but it's something I have a problem with that needs to be corrected as soon as possible. I need a more reliable timer, but I'll start with just my alarm clock.
The hardest part of any training is that I have to be consistent. Obviously, I have a problem with this, or I wouldn't need the service. It would be nice if I had an experienced trainer to help me, but the only one I know trains dogs and is allergic to cats, so she is an adviser only. Most the training guides out there are for dogs, but hey, Willetta and I are adaptable.
She will also be trained to let me know if someone is at the door, the phone rings, or she hears an emergency vehicle close by. To pat me if I am having an anxiety attack, the distraction and being able to hold her breaks the pattern. She will also fetch a small, special phone if I fall and it's not on me. I may get one that just dials 911 and teach her to call under the right circumstances. Now you see why I am starting with the easy tasks!
Training kids, training cats
I rarely leave the house anymore without one of the children asking if Willetta can come out for a walk. As I get further into Willetta's training, I'm less sure about letting the children walk her. But as I watched them gather around her today, each demanding politely a turn with her, I realized it wasn't just Willetta I am training.
These are a really remarkable bunch of children. I think the oldest is about 10, the youngest still not speaking in full sentences, but he can already skateboard. For the most part, they play happily together, watch out for each other and protect the youngest. Squabbles are short and made up quickly. No bullies in this part of the complex, and we all keep a sharp eye out for any that appear. There is always at least one parent in attendance, more as more children get home from school.
Some of the children have half siblings to Willetta, just a month older. One group doesn't have any animals because the Dad doesn't want them, and the little girls are kitten-starved, They come from seven families, and of course, quite varied situations. But when it comes to Willetta, they automatically take turns. Sometimes who's turn and how long is hotly disputed, and she always gets tired before every one gets a turn, but they are good about it.
Some of them are natural animal lovers. One small boy, not yet three, reached out and gently stroked her the first time he met her. There are no animals in his household. But there was the same rapt look in two pairs of blue eyes.
Today was beautiful. One of the neighbors had friends over for a barbecue. These uninitiated folks looked a little bemused when I re-emerged with a small white cat wearing a bright blue vest and walking on a multicolored leash. Children who had been playing all over the court suddenly converged on one spot. The adults looked a bit shocked, my neighbors are so used to it now that I don't think they explained for a few minutes what was going on. Some of my neighbors wandered over to say their own greetings to Willetta and chuck her under the chin. Even the dad who doesn't like animals forgot himself and tickled her and spoke to her like she is a person. He may be beginning to catch up to his childrens level of understanding some day.
I have to explain, usually every time because some of the children are so young, that Willetta has rules and must be walked in a certain way. No yanking on the leash. No screaming our shouting around her...that's actually for me. Only one child touching the leash at a time. Never, ever drag her. Respect her as a being all her own, and her status as my helper. The one child touching the leash at a time is a hard one for them. Willetta is often so surrounded by her fans that she really can't walk much. Today one toddler picked her up, he couldn't quite hold her properly and her eyes crossed a little bit more, but she never struggled. Before I could reach them, three little girls had rescued her.James, the little boy was quite offended. She may have been in a slightly awkward position, but he knows not to hold her too tight. He's a rough and tumble boy, big for his age, but he's gentle with Willetta. He may grab her tail and hold on, but he never pulls it. Again, the crowd of mini mamas rescue Willetta and sooth James frustration.
In time, Willetta was tired and wanted to come to mommy. At this point I get a lot of protests that they haven't had their turn, that she didn't walk for them, they hadn't gotten to hold her. I explain she is a child, just like they are, and she gets tired and needs to lay down. I get hugs and thank you's and the children scatter back to their games.
Now, I am one of them. They break off playing to come say hi or give me a hug. Oh, those hugs are sweet to someone who has no grandkids of her own. Today for the first time, my little redheaded boy came to me and took my hand and wanted to show me something. The "something" turned out to be two of the visiting children wildly riding one of those rides on a spring. They were totally delighted and totally delightful! I have no idea why he wanted to show me that, but he was right, I loved it. After a few more minutes of wild riding, the child on the back hopped off and offered Issac his seat. The happy yells of all three little boys mingled with the background noise of Tag! and My turn! and the smell of good barbecue.
Back inside, I collapsed on the couch, and Willetta sensibly collapsed in front of Moosie, who immediately began to groom her. Watching her look smugly ecstatic and seeing his look of rapt adoration, I think she got the better part of the deal. But then after all, she was the one entertaining a large group of children!
Adventures in Service Cat Training.
Hunter is looking you right in the eye for some straight talk because he would like to have a heart to heart conversation with you.
Hunter is pleading for your help to spread the word about an alarming issue.
Today, Hunter wants to inform the public about a growing problem that is a big concern for all properly trained and registered Service Dogs, and their owners. They do not want to offend anyone or hurt anyone's feelings, but this is an important topic that must be shared. Hunter has actually heard about and seen with his very own brown eyes, dogs who are wearing a Service Dog vest that they have not earned with training or authentic registration. Hunter is shocked when he sees these fake Service Dogs that lack animal training are acting inappropriately in public. He knows at a glance that those dogs are not qualified to wear a real Service Dog vest. He does not blame the dogs, but he would like to speak directly to the people in charge of their pets.
Hunter is aware that it is not the dogs that are responsible for this counterfeit activity. It is the owners who have found a way to bring their pets into places that they would not be allowed otherwise. It seems that if there is anything legitimate, there is an illegitimate copy that can be found. Just like people who sometimes find a way to get fake I.D's for themselves, some are getting fake I.D.'s that look real for their dogs. Pet owners also are able to purchase "Service Dog" vests, which is not against the law. However, Hunter wants you to know it is very wrong to do.
You have already seen a photo of Hunter's vest, that he only wears when on duty in public. I am including a picture of his Service Dog Registration Of America I.D., which is attached to his vest at all times. Hunter's spokesperson and "Handler", Bob, wants to remain anonymous, so I removed his name. Bob wants all the attention to go to Hunter's message. Other legitimate Service Dogs may have certification from other registries.
Hunter understands that many people love their dogs and want to keep them with them whenever possible. He knows what it is to be loved like that. He also knows that it takes some particular character traits and training to be a real Service Dog. Hunter has earned the right to go where other dogs should not go, and he is true to the assistance animal's code of ethics.
I made mention that Hunter has eyeballed dogs with wannabe Service Dog vests on that display inappropriate behaviors which make them totally unsuitable for real dog assistance duties in the public. They can be insufferably annoying, because of their lack of obedience training at best or dogs PTSD. They may be doing regular dog stuff like sniffing people, jumping on people, barking or just being silly. They may be doing things that are of greater concern, such as running about, threatening with a growl or other behaviors, biting or even urinating on the floor of a business. They may create safety issues that put the public at risk. A well-trained guide dog would never do those things while on duty. A Service Dog "Handler" is responsible for keeping their dog focused and would not think of allowing their dog to be disruptive in any way. There are times when Hunter does bark, but it is for specific reasons to keep the people he serves safe.
These pretenders are making it more difficult for Hunter and other legitimate Service Dogs. Please, listen to Hunter when he says:
"Please Don't Make Your Dog Pretend To Be A Service Dog!"
He Is A Dog
Hunter the Service Dog likes to play in the snow when he and Bob go outside for chores. Hunter keeps an eye on Bob intermittently while taking time for himself to enjoy a little cool down in the snow. I watched and smiled as he would repeatedly stick his head in the snow with his rump up in the air. He was just so cute and it was plain to see that he was most definitely enjoying himself.
When this handsome hound goes to town in the winter, he often wears boots to protect his feet from the salt and other chemicals used on roads and parking lots. But, at home, Hunter prefers to go barefoot in the snow.
On a personal note, Hunter is one of those rare dogs that just naturally has chosen to “go” in the woods for his private duties. He is, however, still a dog and I noticed he did mark my tires. That made me smile too.
Hunter is trusted to have the run of the yard and lives in harmony with the birds, squirrels and even a deer that stopped by the yard. He sees everyone, but its Bob that he focuses on. It is easy to see that these guys are buddies and have a wonderful friendship, as well as a great working relationship.
Hunter Is Family
Once inside again, Hunter made his way quickly to Linda to make sure all was well with her.
Every greeting seems like its the first one of the day in this harmonious household.
It is a joy to visit this little family.
I am honored to have the opportunity to be a voice for Hunter, who has some serious things to talk about. He is living out his calling in life as a Service Dog, that he volunteered himself for, he is a natural. When he stepped up for the job, Bob and Linda decided to have Hunter become official. When that vest is on, this dog is on duty at full alert.
It is interesting that dogs know when there is going to be bad weather that could be dangerous, and Hunter is one of those furry friends that knows instinctively, and will warn his people before hand. They have learned to take his warning seriously. Hunter may have saved lives at a campground one summer. No storm was forecast, but out of nowhere a terrible storm came with strong winds and destroyed to campground knocking down most of the trees. The campers had been evacuated because of one smart dog.
The fight to have laws passed for people with special needs to be able to bring their service animals into public places with them was long. People's unruliness and unlawful behavior of bringing their pets places with them into public places should not be accepted, because they could potentially ruin it for people who by law have that privilege.
Linda has been having health problems that have either landed her in the hospital or in a nursing home. Bob and Hunter go to visit her everyday. When visiting the nursing home, Hunter does not wear his vest because the people who live there want to pet him. Hunter is trained to not allow himself to be petted while wearing the vest. So! He is being of service to many as a comfort dog or therapy dog.
The (Common) Sense Pet Professionals