Challenges of Life with and without My Assistance Dog
If someone asked me the one thing, I wish I knew before bringing a service dog into my life and how it would change my life, it is that my life is no longer my own. I am dependant on another being.
Molly had changed my life. With her by my side, I couldn’t imagine having to struggle through daily activities again. Life with my Assistance Dog was amazing. We were working together better than ever, and life had worked its way into a new normal for us both.
Our days were not without challenges though.
Being Denied Access
Because Assistance Dogs are a relatively new concept in Australia, we faced a lot of opposition. I was regularly told that I wasn’t allowed to have Molly in public places even though she wore her bright yellow service dog vest. I had problems with accommodation when I tried to go away for a long weekend. I had problems at tourist attractions that wouldn't allow us to come in.
On top of the regular access issues, there were snide comments from regular people. When I was first learning to trust my regained freedom with Molly, my psychologist challenged me to go to the supermarket on my own. I mustered up the courage to stop and get milk. As we were going through a self-serve checkout a staff member commented, "I think I'll get a vest for my dog so I can take it everywhere with me.” My dog is not a novelty I tote around for fun. She is my lifeline and a medical necessity. To think someone would fake a Service Dog so they can take it with them... This isn't a joke, this is my life. Those comments are hurtful and disrespectful.
At another venue someone commented "that's a funny looking Guide Dog" and there were many more.
Having a Non-Typical Assistance Dog
Assistance Dogs can come in different shapes and sizes, though there are some ‘preferred’ breeds. Molly’s size was an additional challenge. People could not always see her. She was regularly bumped into and almost stepped on. Onetime, a man carrying a heavy shopping bag swung around, accidentally slamming the bag into Molly's side. We got past all this and Molly was still happy by my side. With each problem we encountered, we found a way to work with it or around it despite some setbacks.
And Then There is the Day it All Came Crashing Down
After 12 months of training, Molly was finally ready for the public access test. A year of training, triumphs, and pitfalls, but we were now ready. She was going to be official.
My children were coming to visit me, and I had to go to the airport to meet them. There, I encountered a staff member who was denying Molly access. I knew my rights and insisted that we did not have to leave. The man was becoming more aggressive in his tone and mannerisms, insisting we had to leave. He made a grab at Molly, frightening us both. It was a devastating moment. Molly and I both suffered the shock of the incident in a terminal working capacity. Her confidence was shattered beyond repair. After that day, Molly was never the same again.
How a Single Moment Can Change Two Lives
After 2 months of intensive basic training and 12 months of public access training, Molly had to be retired. I had spent close to $1000 for what turned out to be nothing. In a single moment, irreparable damage had been done. We had come so far to toss in the towel and call it quits. But how do I continue without Molly?
When I made the decision to retire Molly, it was more than a decision to not take my dog out with me anymore. Without her, I could not go out on my own and I struggled to go out even when other people were with me. I tried a few times, but the embarrassment of having to stop, or to sit down on the floor was too much for me.
Moving on From Devastation
I deeply mourned the loss of having Molly as my Assistance Dog. My disability was once again beginning too overwhelming. I decided I needed to have another Assistance Dog. Enter Ronan.
Written by Bev Barry for Friendly Dog Collars
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