Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Day In the Service Dog / Advocate Life . . .

It's late Friday morning and we're rushing to Joanne's eye exam. She got to bed last night a bit late and overslept and we heard this morning that we're due for 6-10" of snow which will make our weekend plans to camp far less appealing -- so she's a bit distracted and tense and a lot hurried.

We rush into the building.  She doesn't do the okay-Maeve-you're-going-to-work-now ritual of having me sit before we go in and again as soon as we get in.  I figure this means I'm okay to socialize. The doctor comes out the moment we get into the waiting room and we notice each other right away.  I'm sure he wants to meet me so I head for him. Joanne is not on the same page. She notices that he appears to be descended from a ethnic group that may not be in favor of service dogs and she interprets the look on his face to be disapproving.  I disagree. We have a taut leash moment. Within moments he's not only asking about me, but also about details of Joanne's disability. She's not happy.

It turns out he's not anti-service dog, just a little inexperienced.  I back off and the eye exam proceeds with me lying on the floor next to the chair he's put Joanne in. He keeps looking at me and me at him, but it's clear Joanne's not in the mood for poodle public relations work, so I stay put. During the exam it comes out that he is close to someone with the same diagnosis as Joanne and he's interested in how I help her. So there, Joanne -- another instance where I read a human better than you. I stay on my best behavior just to keep Joanne from becoming agitated. I continue my perfectly behaved service dog routine as she looks at frames.  "Down please. . . . Follow. . . . Down please . . . Follow . . ."  It's repetitive and annoying. I can't do anything but I don't have time to fall asleep. While she orders her glasses I get a little cat nap.

On to Costco's. I do a lot of poodle public relations work every time we go there and it's one of the places that gets a Two Paws Up designation on my Business Honor Roll. We get lots of smiles and I get lots of compliments. When I'm good (and I was) I get to meet the people who ask about me while Joanne talks to them about service dogs and emotional support animals. I'm in the groove now -- lying under a table of pants while Joanne tries to find her size, lying down and looking at Joanne for permission before I greet an admirer, following her finger as she moves me from one side of the shopping cart to another, and lying at her feet in the checkout line. On the way out she succumbs to the urge for a hot dog. I follow her politely as she dispenses her fountain drink and pumps mustard and relish onto her hot dog while balancing her purchases.  At the table I instantly go "under and down" and get a cookie to eat while I wait. I charm children and their mothers with my good behavior and cute hairstyle. Joanne lets me meet one of the little girls I love.  Life is good!

In the car Joanne tries to figure out where we're going to stay during the Halloween snowstorm. She decides we'll have to be profligate and stay in a decent hotel instead of a nice but blustery campground. She mutters something about Murphy's Law and makes a reservation for three nights that will cost as much as three weeks of camping. We are at a pet store, replacing my lost Frisbee, when she gets a call from Freightliner. They've got the plates ready for the new Maevemobile.  This is good news, but reminds her that if we had the Maevemobile we could be comfy and warm for the weekend in it rather than spending the money on a hotel. She sighs and we head off in our minivan.

Freightliner is a very cool place. They love dogs and this was bring-your-dog-to-work day. You'd think they'd have a bunch of macho dogs. The ones we met were toy-sized dogs. I felt BIG!

At the hotel, I am on my best behavior. There's a line in the lobby and I lie down and people watch while we wait. Joanne gets nice comments about me from the other customers. We get to the counter and are told, "I'm sorry, you can't have a dog in here." Joanne picked this hotel, rather than a cheap chain motel, so she could relax and not get depressed.  She really wasn't in the mood to have to educate the staff, but she took a deep breath and calmly explained the law to him. Then we got to our room and it looked like the scene of a poltergeist's Halloween party.  The mattresses were standing up on their side and the furniture was in disarray.  The next room they tried for us was much the same. We ended up in an "upgraded" room that didn't have the two beds Joanne prefers. I could tell Joanne was struggling to keep her mood stable so I was extra good as we carried our stuff from the car to the room. Finally I was off duty and got to eat, drink, and play with a new toy.

In the morning we went out briefly so I could have a pit stop and then we went to the breakfast room.  Most of the people there really liked the idea of my being there and one couple had lots of questions for Joanne.  They were very polite and didn't really say much until Joanne told them she wouldn't mind answering questions. She spent a lot of time with them.  We had walked through the lobby on the way to breakfast, but I guess the lady behind the counter didn't see me.  When we were going back to our room she told us nicely that pets weren't allowed.  Joanne stopped to talk to her about service dogs too. Then it was poodle fun time!

We drove to one of our favorite play spots in Eastern Connecticut.  It has woods, a hayfield, and a river.  I jumped and ran and had a great time.  This is especially fun because it's both work and play.  Watching me move like this always improves Joanne's mood and I love it.

Next we were off to the grocery store.  It was mobbed with people stocking up before the storm hit.  There were so many people admiring me and asking about me.  We got to educate a lot of the customers and got the satisfaction of seeing that the staff at Stop and Shop were PERFECTLY behaved towards us.  It turns out they have a blind customer who uses a service dog and they've all learned appropriate etiquette as a result.  Another Stop and Shop goes on my honor roll!

Joanne wanted to go to her favorite restaurant for an early lunch before we became snowbound. We sat at the bar so Joanne could talk to other people.  She had a nice, relaxed conversation with another patron about service dogs. The staff are always wonderful here and they really like us. I, of course, was perfect.  I'm always at my best in restaurants.

What a nice way to end a busy 24 hours!

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Maeve is a psychiatric service dog for Joanne Shortell and mental health advocate for all people with psychiatric disabilities. Maeve's goal is to become the Johnny Appleseed of emotional support animals and psychiatric service dogs.

Copyright Joanne Shortell 2010-2011