I’ve embarrassed myself a couple of times in Wal-mart recently. I’ve caught the HUGE smiles of people passing by or catch the gleam in their eye as I look up and around. You see? I talk to my dog. It’s not just because she’s an assistance dog either. I talk to all of our dogs. But Chloe is the only one I talk to in the middle of Wal-mart, for obvious reasons.
People have heard me ask, “Chloe do you think the guys will want french-style green beans this week or do you think I can sneak some fresh green beans into the menu?” Chloe cocks her head and wags her tail. For some reason I’m able to make a decision. It’s not that I interpreted her body language to mean, “I’d go with the French-style, Denise”, but it helps to talk to her.
I caught an actual chuckle when I exclaimed to Chloe, “Chloe! Look! Can you believe it? It’s an Elmo Christmas SNOW GLOBE! Hope Santa knows I’ve been very good!” Chloe bumps my hand and wags her tail again. She thinks I’ve been very good.
You might think I’m crazy. But actually… I’m helping Chloe keep her attention on me. If you look at a dog’s eye-level at Wal-mart, you will see things that aren’t as readily apparent to those who are taller than 3 feet. Stuffed animals, “Roll Back the Prices” price tags that Chloe thinks she really should swipe off the shelf and hand to me… all kinds of tempting things. By talking to Chloe, she pays attention to me. When I have a dizzy moment, I say, “Whoa….” and Chloe knows to take a step out of heel to make sure she can move if I actually fall. It’s important for Chloe to pay attention to me.
That’s why it is really not a great idea for people to “ooo and ahhh” over an assistance dog/service dog in public. You are getting the dog’s attention. They can’t help it. They KNOW they are beautiful/handsome and wonderful. Chloe’s vest actually has a tag on it that says, “Do not distract”. I realize people mean well, but if I’m having a bad balance day AND I don’t hear your “oh what a pretty dog” remark, I could fall just because Chloe wants to go and greet you.
What Distractions Can Do
I had this happen in Best Buy once. I was on my knee, balancing to see something lower, and someone got Chloe’s attention. She broke her heel to stand and WAG at them, and I fell right over. I laid there blinking up at the man whose eyes had widened in horror. “Gee, I’m sorry Miss. I can’t read, obviously”.
“Oh, that’s OK. I just wasn’t prepared”, I replied cheerfully from the FLOOR. I waved his hand away and said, “Actually she needs the brace practice, so no problem”. I had Chloe help me up, and the man again apologized. He even had tears in his eyes. I laid my hand on his arm and said, “Honestly, it’s no big deal. I sprawl at least once a day!” He wandered away unconvinced.
I do understand that seeing a well-behaved, dog identified as a “helper dog” can be really hard to just walk by for those of you who love dogs. I actually do not mind being stopped and asked about Chloe. However, it is really helpful if you talk to ME and not Chloe. Feel free to ask people with assistance dogs if you can pet their dog – because some people do not mind at all. I’m not those “some people” (grin). I will always (pleasantly) say, “I’m sorry she’s working and I’m trying to keep her from being distracted”. Be prepared for some people to say “no, I’m sorry”. They appreciate that you think their dog is “swell”, but it really doesn’t do the dog or the owner any good to constantly allow people to pet them in public. Many people use service dogs for disabilities that are invisible. It may not be easy to pick that up and asking to pet the dog might put the owner at risk.
If we meet someone we know real well, I actually do allow Chloe to say a quick “hello”. She is very good about giving quick kisses and then stepping back into heel. To do so is my choice though. Those who know me well, actually know not to ask on rainy days when they know my balance is going to be really bad. When Chloe sees someone she knows in public (usually folks from our small church, or close friends), she will do better to say a quick “hello”, so that she can get back to work. It is like identifying someone she knows from her “pack”.
By talking to Chloe in public, I let other people know she is there. Now that I’m completely independent and don’t have to worry about what I’m not hearing or dropping things I can’t pick up, I even head out on really busy shopping days. Not on purpose mind you! I’m not completely nuts! (grin) But I’ve been in a “crush” of people and talked to Chloe non-stop so that people would know she was there.
We made the mistake of going to Hershey’s Chocolate World the weekend after Thanksgiving this year. We go there a lot, but this was the first time it was literally wall-to-wall people. I couldn’t have fallen down if I had wanted too! I was completely surrounded by people! I talked to Chloe non-stop so that people would know she was down there. It’s hard to see someone 3 feet tall! I would even stick out my hand in a real “crush” and say rather loudly, “Excuse me… service dog coming through!” I was so intent on keeping Chloe safe by talking to her and watching where we were going that I mis-placed my daughter. I looked up and could see my husband in the distance, and my 6’3″ son was easy to spot… but where was Kyersten?
My heart was pounding and I held my arm out and just kind of plowed through to the nearest wall. I frantically searched for her little 5’3″ self and could not see her anywhere. I was scared spitless! I reached for my phone to see if I could send an S.O.S. text to her. Just then I felt a hand on my elbow. I whipped my head up and stared right into the smiling eyes of my daughter.
“Kyersten! I lost you!” I managed to sputter out. (It was hard, because I was spitless, remember?)
She rolled her eyes, and gave my shoulder a squeeze. “Mom. I’m 20-years-old. It’s not like I’m lost. If I lose track of you guys I’ll call. You are kind of hard to lose track of” and she gestured down to the red assistance dog complete with holiday jingle bell.
You may run into me in a store, restaurant, movie theater, post office, pharmacy or doctor’s office with Chloe. You may HEAR me before you see me. I talk to my dog. But you know something? It’s not ONLY because it helps her pay attention. For you see… Chloe is the reason I’m alone in a store, restaurant, movie theater, post office, pharmacy, or doctor’s office. Before being matched with Chloe, I rarely went out alone. Talking to Chloe is a reminder to me… I’m in public, enjoying life, and yup! I’m talking to my dog. Don’t you?
© 2010 Personal Hearing Loss Journal