When I made the decision to get a service dog, I was thinking about my own health and welfare. I knew that a service dog was the best choice for myself, and I was confident in my abilities to take care of any situation that might arise. I knew that I had a responsibility to feed and care for my dog, to continue his training and to ensure that he was a glowing example of a service dog. What I didn’t stop to realize-until quite recently-is how owning a service dog has impacted my family and friends.
First, it has greatly impacted my family. My parents have embraced whole-heartedly my decision, but it was also a huge leap of faith on their part. They had to trust that I had throughly researched my choice, that I was going to follow through on my promise to take care of Rally and that I wasn’t going through a fad. In supporting me in training a dog to become a service animal, they were silently accepting the newest addition to the family who would accompany us everywhere. They were accepting dog hair in the car and nail scratches in the hardwood. They were agreeing that I would have a new shadow, and that their daughter had a disability that required aid in a form that they could not provide. Without my parent’s support, I would never have been able to have Rally. They are my strength.
My decision to get a service dog has also impacted my best friend and boyfriend, Alex. He knew me prior to having a service dog, and he had to get used to Rally when I got him. Suddenly, there was dog hair in the car and on his clean clothes. There were dog treats in his coat pocket and poo bags stuffed into the corners of the car. When we went for a walk or drove into town, my attention was divided; part on him, part on Rally. When we sit down to eat our first concern is finding a quiet table away from prying, curious onlookers. We notice if the floor is tile or carpet-and he carries Rally’s bed roll if the ground is cold. He shares my bed with Rally, often pushed to the outer corner when Rally wiggles between us. He sacrifices “us time” when I am too busy training Rally or attending to his needs, and he has listened patiently as I rant about individuals who fake service dogs. Alex can easily rattle off a list of the laws regarding disabilities and service animals. He is well versed in our accessibility rights and nods politely when I repeat them to him for the thousandth time. He is my rock.
Then, there are those wonderful, uplifting individuals who are involved in helping you get your service dog. As a part of the rescue organization where I got Rally from, the home inspection team, the trainers and the housing staff, they make a huge difference in my life by listening to my dream of turning a dog into a service animal. They didn’t laugh or hang up the phone, or tell me that it was impossible. They listened, nodded and offered sage advice. I know they are but a phone call away, and that if I ever needed anything, they would help.
Last but not least are the strangers that I pass every single day, who look at Rally and smile. They are happy and uplifted to see a dog working in an alien environment, riding the escalator or plane, walking through the mall or browsing at the super market. They might not even say anything, but their warmth helps to remind me that for every raised eyebrow and scowl, there are a dozen more smiles and praises.
My point is, without a support group, owning a service dog can be very difficult. I honestly don’t think that I would be able to live with Rally and go through day to day life without the unconditional love and strength of my family and friends. When someone makes a mean comment or a snide remark, they are the first to check that I am okay-then turn and kick ass. When I need a shoulder to cry on or someone to cheer me up, they are the first to step up to the plate. They are the first to accept me and Rally as a team. So, if you are thinking of getting a service dog-or already own one-remember to thank the individuals in your life who are there for you. Their support makes the biggest difference in your life.