Life With Someone Else’s Service Dog

Dr. Terry Portis is director of the Center on Aging at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) and teaches in the psychology department. He supervises 205 faculty and staff who serve 4,100 students each year. Dr. Portis  has presented dozens of workshops and written numerous articles on marketing, program design, psychology of disability and health, personal development and technology. Prior to coming to AACC, Dr. Portis was executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

Terry’s wife Denise has been a client at Fidos for Freedom since 2006.  Terry has served on the Board of Directors at Fidos For Freedom since 2011.

When a person is matched with a service dog they have to make adjustments in their life, and so do the people who are around them. This is especially true for the spouse or significant other who spends a lot of time with the person matched with the dog. You may think the service dog will only change the life of the person you love. However, there are changes you should try to anticipate as well.

Be prepared

There are a few negative issues that one has to deal with when a service dog enters your life. First, service dogs are very noticeable wherever you go. Most places we go I find people to be open and accepting. However, there are small, bitter people in the world who enjoy confrontation and have a “know it all” attitude. They may think they know the law because their third cousin has taken some classes in college. Having to occasionally deal with these unpleasant people in public can be very frustrating. It may also be difficult for you to let the person you love deal with these issues by themselves. Denise spent a lot of time in training and I suspect because of decades of advocacy work, it does not bother her to have to carefully explain the law to someone trying to deny access. At Fidos For Freedom, they spend a lot of time making sure the clients are prepared for these scenarios. Even though service dogs are not as unusual as they use to be, Denise will still occasionally enter an establishment that has never seen a service dog for hearing alerts and balance assist. Because I’m her husband, sometimes it is hard to stand by and let her stand up for herself. It certainly doesn’t hurt to make sure that family members are aware of the ADA allowances for people who mitigate their disability with a service dog. There have been times that Denise has been oblivious to someone trying to get her attention to ask her to leave the store with the dog. If I’m in the vicinity, I have spoken up and explained that Chloe is a service dog and can accompany Denise.

Another thing to be prepared for is the planning needed to make even small local trips. In the summer avoiding hot asphalt is always a consideration. Looking for parking spaces near grass is a challenge. We also think about which restaurants have the best seating for us. All of these things become second nature, and I find myself thinking about these things even when I am by myself.

Enjoy the experience

These few inconveniences though, are worth it for the value that a service dog brings into a person’s life. It is reassuring to have another set of eyes and ears to help protect and alert the person you love. Service dogs build confidence and help reduce feelings of isolation that people with disabilities often experience. If I know Denise is away from home teaching or running errands, I know I can call her phone and Chloe will let her know the phone is ringing. I know if she falls or drops things, Chloe is there to assist. I actually worry about Denise far less now that Chloe is a part of her life. According to Rintala, Matamoros, and Seitz (2008), service and hearing dog recipients reduced their dependence on other persons. As Denise became more independent, I worried less and also knew she was less dependent on me. As I knew how much she valued her independence, I fully supported her training and match with Chloe.

A service dog can be a very positive experience for everyone. You also have the opportunity to be an advocate, to tell people firsthand what you have experienced and learned. Dogs that have the intelligence and temperament to be service dogs are special, and the kind of dog most of us have never seen before.

Finally, a service dog becomes a part of the family. Chloe is like an extension of Denise, so she is around all the time. As a result, I’ve become her buddy as well. She is pretty excited about my coming home from work each night. It reminds me of when my children were little and were excited that “Daddy is home!” Having Chloe in our lives has been an easy adjustment for me. Chloe has fit seamlessly into our schedule and the peace of mind I have knowing how much she watches out for Denise is really worth the wet doggie kisses she gives when our alarms go off in the morning.

Rintala, D. H., Matamoros, R., & Seitz, L. L. (2008). Effects of assistance dogs on persons with mobility or hearing impairments: A pilot study. Journal Of Rehabilitation Research & Development, 45(4), 489-503.

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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Dissension in the Ranks?

We get along great – thank you very much!

One of the big arenas in which I connect with others struggling with some of the same issues as I do, is Facebook. It never ceases to amaze me some of the criticisms I read among not only the hearing loss community, but the disability community as a whole.

Take the word “disability” itself. Some people have a good ol’ fashioned hissy fit if someone uses the “D” word.

Others may get uptight if someone brags on the brand of hearing aid or cochlear implant they use. Some folks may get up in arms about who did the right thing by whether or not they owner trained an assistance dog, or trained for a “program” service dog. I actually saw a conversation about whether or not people who lose their hearing should – or should not – use ASL (American Sign Language).

At times I just want to throw up my hands and whine loudly, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Nothing Wrong with Being Proud

Pride is often vilified. The phrase “Pride goeth before a fall” is used frequently to remind us that a prideful (almost disdainful) attitude not only turns others off, but ultimately may cause a person to fail or not achieve their goals. Pride is often categorized as a negative trait. However, pride may also be a GOOD thing. We can be proud of our kids, our skills/talents, or of our affiliation with a group or organization. It may instill a sense of identity. Zia and Katzenbach (2010), suggest that a healthy sense of pride can potentially motivate an individual to doing good work for others; to serve, inspire, and ignite a passion to do your very best.

Sometimes I “rag on” my husband about being prideful. It is usually with an eye roll while inferring “we all know how you can be”. Men are often accused of being susceptible to a negative kind of pride and ego. But ya know something? One of the things I love most about my husband is his healthy sense of pride. He knows what he is good at and in that knowledge comes a sense of urgency to share those things. He recognizes his gifts, talents, and skills, and uses them to assist others. I’m reminded when I choose to give him a hard time about being cocky occasionally, that many of the things I love about him actually stem from his sense of pride.

Part of embracing who you are “now” may mean you begin to associate with a group or community of people. Chandler (2009) believes that people with chronic illness or visible and invisible disabilities should use disability pride to their advantage. This doesn’t mean we become our disability, but rather we embrace who we are despite our disability. “Fundamentally, Disability Pride represents a rejection of the notion that our difference from the non-disabled community is wrong or bad in any way and is a statement of our self-acceptance, dignity and pride. It signifies that we are coming out of the closet and are claiming our legitimate identity. It’s a public expression of our belief that our disability and identity are normal, healthy and right for us and is a validation of our experience” (Triano, 2009).

So Why Do We Criticize Others?

If you follow Hearing Elmo, you know that I get really excited about guest authors. (If you are interested in writing for Hearing Elmo, shoot me an email at denise.portis@gmail.com). I know there are experiences within the community that I do not understand because I do not live it. It is good to get other’s perspectives and thoughts about issues that relate to our community.

Being diagnosed with hearing loss can frustrate patient, family, audiologist, and doctors. It is not “one size fits all”. Causes, degrees, implications, and symptoms may be extremely varied. Having balance problems does not mean that we have similar experiences, or erm… all FALL THE SAME WAY. My life with hearing loss and the balance problems I have, may be completely different from someone who shares the same diagnosis. We are still individuals.

So why do people within our community argue, posture, and belittle someone else who chooses a different path? Through the Hearing Loss Association of America, I have heard the motto “whatever works”. This means that whatever a person chooses to mitigate their own challenges is supported by the community as a whole. Have a hearing loss but do not want to learn ASL? No problem. But don’t blast those who chose to embrace the Deaf community and use ASL as their primary means to communicate. Don’t criticize those who choose to use the language (or variations of) when batteries die, or environments are not conducive to communication. Love your hearing aid? I’m happy for you! But if someone else chooses not to use them or horror of horrors… chooses another brand, don’t verbally bash them!

The picture at the top of this post is a photo of some of my dear friends who I met as a result of my own hearing loss. Our hearing loss is as different as our appearances – and ACCENTS (grin). We struggle with different things and may have chosen various coping skills by which to live a victorious life despite our challenges. Yet, we celebrate our SAMENESS. (Hey! That is a word – – look it up!). Is it not hard enough to keep a positive attitude and strive to make a difference without cutting down those who have challenges of their own?

Does this mean we aren’t entitled to our own opinion? Of course not. However, there is a big difference between having an opinion and expressing your opinion. To do so and deliberately criticize or demean another is never the right thing to do. As a matter of fact, to insist “it is my way or the highway” makes you disabled instead of a person who happens to have a disability. ‘Course… that is just my opinion as well!

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Chandler, E. (2009). Pride and shame: Orienting towards a temporality of disability pride. Radical Psychology: A Journal Of Psychology, Politics & Radicalism, 8(1), 2.

Triano, S. (2009). What is disability pride? Retrieved June 30, 2009, from https://www.disabledandproud.com/power.htm    

Zia, K., & Katzenbach, J. (2010). Getting back on the fast track with pride. Leader To Leader, 2010(58), 33-38.

Attracting More Flies

Photo by Deborah Marcus, February 22, 2012, North Carolina

I just purchased a book through Amazon, Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack”. I’ve always enjoyed books like these and have seen a number of quotes from this book over the years.

One American proverb from this book that many people have heard has to do with honey.

and vinegar.

and flies.

 Benjamin Franklin, “Tart words make no friends; a spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar” (Franklin, 1980).

When I first heard this quote I remember thinking, “Well who in the heck wants to attract FLIES”? Having grown up on a farm in SE Colorado, I can tell you that flies were a problem. The animals hated them, farmers hated them, and children relegated to policing the house with fly swatter and tissue in hand hated them!

However, like many quotes, you have to look past the surface to get at the true meaning. Gee, had I known vinegar would have kept them away I may have started sprinkling it around and dabbing it behind my ears.

Ok. Maybe not.

We don’t need to go raid our friend’s hives for honey, either. This quote has to do with being tactful – on purpose.

You know what I’ve discovered? To be tactful, I DO have to be purposeful about it. It is super simple to be tactless. Especially when angry! I’ve learned that if I’m to be tactful, thereby attracting more attention with my “honey”, I have to set out with very real purpose ahead of time. It seems we were created to have a lot of excess vinegar on hand.

Tart Words

I think a lot of folks do not realize that the quote begins with, “Tart words make no friends”. Last week I received a lot of private responses about the post “A Special Kind of Stupid“. Some things people with disabilities shared with me made me very upset. You just would not believe some of the things that “normal” people say to folks with invisible illnesses or disabilities. Then again, if you follow “Hearing Elmo”, perhaps you would believe it as you likely have some connection to the disability or chronic illness communities.

Though it may be difficult, we really have to remember to put a cap on our – erm – vinegar when responding to some of the stupid things we hear in our day-to-day lives.

No, She Is Really Unhappy

Take an example from last week in “A Day in the Life with a Service Dog”. At Walmart, as per my usual mid-week major errand, Chloe and I ended up attracting some attention. As I outlined in an article for Gale Hannan at “Hearing Health Mattters“, if you don’t like attention then do not mitigate your disability with an assistance dog. You are going to attract attention. It becomes easy to ignore and if you are deaf like I am, you don’t even hear all the exclamations of surprise. However, sometimes I’m stopped. Dog-lovers like Walmart… or so it would seem. Most of the time I am very glad to stop and answer questions. I carry information about hearing dogs and balance-assist dogs with me for opportunities just like these. I’ve discovered, however, that if I stand around TOO LONG, folks begin to unplug their brains before asking questions. There is this “fine line” of how much time is “long enough”, prompting me to move on with my shopping. I evidently have not discovered that important timeframe yet. As I answered this lady’s reasonable questions, a lull occured in our conversation. That should have waved the red flags for me. Heck I’d take explosions in my underclothes if I could learn to pick up these cues.

But nope.

I stuck around too long.

“So does your beautiful service dog ever get to just be a dog? Does she ever get to play?”

Vinegar began pooling under my tongue. Chalk it up to living with a house full of very sarcastic people. I wanted to say, “You know? As a service dog she needs to earn her keep. The vest comes off at night and she is allowed to finally rest. She’s a working dog – not a playing dog. It wouldn’t do me any good for her to go around thinking she could ever play, right?” (said with saccharin sweetness).

Tactful Responses Ultimately Educate

Instead I swallowed the vinegar (grimace) and plastered on my best “WHAT A TERRIFIC QUESTION” face and replied, “Well she is a dog! She is a beloved member of our family. She gets play breaks at work and doesn’t actually wear her vest at home. She still does alerts and helps while at home, but she is off duty more than she is “on”. A healthy service dog is allowed to just be a dog. That is why she loves working for me. I set very realistic boundaries and expectations”.

Being tactful and pleasant is important if I’m to hope that I play even some small part in helping to educate others about hearing loss, balance disorders, and service dogs. If I’m angry and belligerent, I’m not going to “win friends nor influence people”.

And neither will you.

However…

Is It Ever OK to “Let ‘er Rip”?

I have lived with hearing loss and balance issues more than half of my life now. That means I have some experience. That does not mean that I do everything right. Folks ask me from time to time when it is OK to put others in their place.

We can’t exactly take out a megaphone and announce to everyone within earshot, “This person just said something STUPID”.

To demean others is never the right way to go. For one thing, it only makes US look bad. You certainly won’t promote education, compassion, or understanding in others if you deliberately embarrass or fuss at them. Having said that, I do believe that there are times that responding with sweetness and “honey” may not be the right answer. After all, it may be that you no longer WANT to attract that particular person who simply cannot and WILL not treat you like a normal human being. I believe the right time to load your water pistol with vinegar occurs when:

1. You’ve responded the right way over, and OVER again.

Maybe it is a family member that thinks their comments are funny. Maybe it is a co-worker whose remarks border on the unkind. At some point you may discover that the only way to educate someone is to be a little more FRANK – pardon the pun Benjamin Franklin!

Tired of the eye rolls and deliberate condescending response at a dinner table of “I’ll tell you later” after asking for a second repeat of what someone said? Perhaps it is time you gently laid your hand on their arm and said in a normal tone (for they likely do NOT have a hearing loss), “You know? It hurts my feelings when you say that and sigh and roll your eyes. I only want to hear what you said. You never actually remember to tell me later what it was. Don’t blow me off. What was funny? I want to participate in your life. I care about these moments and we will never re-live them or have them as “do overs”. I want to know what you said because I love you”. Others at the table may have grown quiet at this calm announcement. But that can work in your favor too. Sometimes educating others occurs by observing someone else getting educated. You may have let a little vinegar taint what you said. A little “sting” may be necessary to get through to calloused hearts.

2. You respond in defense of others.

Sometimes you may need to put up the honey aside and gear up with vinegar in order to stick up for someone else. I’m much quicker to speak up to a bully when the person being picked on is NOT ME. This has to be done carefully, however, as you do not want to take away an opportunity for someone else to stand up for themselves. When you live with disability, chronic illness, or invisible differences, you need to learn to be as independent as you can. It is healthy. You may need assistance in technology, puppy power, or by swallowing your pride and learning to ask for help.

However, there are times I believe, that we should step up and even figuratively lock arms with another who is being misunderstood to let them know they are not alone, and let a bully know they are being irrational – or STUPID.

We Won’t Always Do it Right

I can be a sour puss. Vinegar is more likely to run through my veins than honey. I’m allergic to bee stings.

Sometimes I blow it. I respond as if I don’t care if someone better understands disability and hearing loss. As a person of faith, I know this dishonors not only me, but also God. I have learned to say “I’m sorry” – and really mean it. Acknowledging that you aren’t feeling well today and mis-spoke or are feeling belligerent and should have kept your mouth shut shows maturity. Did you blow it? Well make it right. You know what to do.

Franklin, B. (2007). “Poor Richard’s Almanack”. Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. New York : New York, p. 44.

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal