Friday, April 24, 2015

Service dogs -- Diane Mettam

Like many ministers, I have a difficult time with self-care. I would rather be taking care of someone else than thinking about myself, and thats not a good thing.  And so I have Kirby, my service dog.  Kirby tells me if I need medication, if Im overly tired and need to lie down or go home, or if I need to get out of the sun.  He alerts on my arm or gives me a special bark.  We worked with a special trainer and my previous dog, Jake, helped him learn his job.  And nearly every time I am out, someone asks me where they can get a vest like Kirbys for their dog.

This is a problem.  Kirby has been trained for his job.  We take extra care to make sure he is healthy, because he is a working dog.  Of course he receives all his vaccinations, and flea, tick and heart worm medication.  He also receives medication for Cushings Disease, a malfunction of the adrenal gland, and is on a special diet.  And we are constantly reinforcing his training.  Hes not just a pet.

Our city and county have a medallion regulation for service dogs.  They are supposed to be registered either with the City of Eureka or Humboldt County, and this requires that they are licensed, that a physician certifies their medical service, and that the owner specifies what service they perform.  The medallion is free of charge once the requirements have been met.

Im glad for the medallion because it gives business owners the right to ask people to remove animals without medallions from stores and restaurants.  People in Humboldt County love their animals, and they want to bring them everywhere.  Its not unusual to see a chihuahua in a dress in a shopping cart (I hate to think of the sanitary aspects).  Weve been threatened by a pit bull with a studded collar, whose owner stated he was a service dog.  When we asked what the dogs service was, he stated protection.  Fortunately, the store manager made him leave. 

Too many people think a dog that makes them happy is a service animal, and that I should tell them where to get a vest so they can bring them shopping.  Ive tried explaining to them what makes a service animal, and been called some pretty awful names.  But now I just ask, Oh, does your dog have a medallion?  If they answer No, or dont know what Im talking about, I just tell them Im sorry I cant help them. 

I talk to many business owners about the dog problem, and find that most of them dont know about the medallions.  I only found out when I went to license my dogs when we moved here.  So now I make it my mission to let business owners know.  Most of them feel helpless because they believe they have to allow every dog in if the owner claims its a service dog.  When I tell them they can ask to see the dogs medallion and refuse admittance if the dog doesnt have one, they are relieved.  They are tired of dogs that urinate, defecate, menace other customers, and destroy property.   

Are bogus service animals a problem where you live?  I fear were coming to a place where national regulations might be enacted.  If so, I hope they will be common-sense, like the ones here in Humboldt County.

who teaches us more than the animals of the earth  Job 35:11

Dear Lord,  Thank you for the gift of animals who love us and care for us.  Help us to treat them with care and respect, and never ask more of them than they are capable of doing.  Great us wisdom and patience as we interact with our animals and with each other.  Amen.

Photo of Atlas, Eric Pridmore's service dog, a golden retriever.
Atlas -- Eric Pridmore's service dog. Atlas is also the Professor of Dogmatics at the UM Association of Ministers with Disabilities.

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