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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