Running Color Me Rad Race with a Service Dog

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Last year, when I participated in the Color Me Rad race in Reno, NV, I didn’t have Rally yet, and was still a few months from adopting him. I completed the race without a dog leashed to my hip, and had such a blast that this year, when the race came once again to Reno I was excited to run again. 10702240_759762854081766_5028325353195193516_n

Running with Rally in the Color Me Rad race was a breeze. First, I contacted the folks via their webpage to ensure that Rally would be welcome. I explained that he was a medical alert service dog, and added that he would be wearing his vest and ID card at the time of the race. The Color Me Rad folks were amazing, and promptly welcomed us to the race.

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I then got Rally ready to run; although it was only a 5K, with his bad hip and arthritis, I didn’t want to cause Rally more discomfort than necessary, so I decided to walk the distance. In addition, aware that it would be a hot day and the asphalt would be sizzling, I had Rally wear his booties. The color dye gets everywhere and even though it washes out of fabric with relative ease, I used Rally’s light, mesh vest instead of his heavy-duty, multi-layered every day one. Lastly, I set out our usual leash which clips around my waist, leaving my hands free.

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I knew that the race would be very crowded and that there would be a ton of people stomping, running, throwing dye into the air and shouting. It’s very important that your dog be unruffled by loud noises, feet slamming down by next to him, or colored powder being dumped onto his head. Children also will want to run up unexpectedly from behind and say hi, so your service dog should be completely calm and well mannered. Just be aware of this.

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On the day of the race I got Rally all dressed in his booties, light, mesh vest and leash. In the spirit of the occasion, I also added a tutu to Rally’s uniform. Before we left I made sure he drank water, relieved himself and ate a good breakfast.

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We walked the 5K with two good friends, Alex and Morgan, who were lifesavers throughout the race, keeping an eye on Rally and making sure that he wasn’t being stepped on and that all four of his boots were firmly strapped to his paws. Rally, in his tutu and vest, drew many grins and questions, and we completed the race feeling happy and satisfied. Walking home, with a very pink and yellow and blue dog at my side, I couldn’t wait until next year when we could complete the Color Me Rad race again.

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Now, Rally is back to his usual white and brown colors. It took two washes (once on the lawn with cupfuls of water and then again in my bathtub with shampoo and generous scrubbing) to get most of the dye from his fur. He still has some faintly pink spots on his shoulder and flank, but I don’t mind. I still have his tutu, which is currently folded in my closet and I think I’ll use it for Halloween. (: So many possibilities!

The importance of standing up for yourself:

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So I usually write about service dogs and my experiences with them, but today, I’m going to write about something equally important; standing up for yourself and for your canine companion. 

It happens. People are bullies. They can be mean. While the vast majority of humanity has a great capacity for kindness, the rest of the unfortunate lot has a passion for preying on the weak, and they often choose those with disabilities as their targets.  If you have a service dog, if you are thinking of getting a service dog, or if you know someone with a service dog, then you should keep a wary eye out for these individuals. 

 I am accustomed to my classmates being intrigued by Rally’s presence, and thought nothing of it when a particularly chatty, rather clingy young woman sat down besides me and launched into stories about her own dogs at home, how they were funny and cute and how well trained they were. She admired Rally for his good behavior, but seemed to grow increasingly aggressive and nagging when my attention was directed towards answering other questions. For the next week, as I would arrive to class, she was quick to jump into overly friendly banter, and I would humor her in amusement; she seemed lonely and enamored with Rally, so I saw no harm in continuing our friendship.

Then, at the end of the week when leaving the class, I saw her waiting for Rally and I outside. We paused to wish her a good night. There was a barbecue on campus, and Rally was sniffing the air in anticipation of his own waiting bowl of kibble.  She said abruptly, in a snide tone, “If it wasn’t for the vest, Rally would be rather pathetic, wouldn’t he?”

I was so taken aback that I just stared at her.

“He’d be rather pathetic, wouldn’t he?” She pressed, and laughed.

To my shame, I couldn’t answer her. I had answers ready in my head; “How is he pathetic?” “Why would you think or say something like that?” But the thought of all the hard work and effort gone into training Rally, all the time and energy and effort spent to mold him into the patiently waiting dog sitting at my feet, all dismissed by the smirking blond-haired girl, drained the voice from my lips.

“Pathetic.” She repeated, and walked away. 

Rally and I walked home, and later, fighting sudden tears, I told Alex about the girl’s comment. My frustration and shame at my own inaction, my anger at her careless, hurtful comment and my humiliation that I, a strong, independent woman had been rendered mute by a bully, came seeping out of me, and he listened in sympathy. I resolved never again to be in that same position. If she ever tried to make me feel small again, we were going to have words. 

The next day, we went back to class, and took our seats, The girl was there, but perhaps she sensed that I was not about to put up with any kind of similar remarks about Rally, because she merely glanced at me and resumed scrolling busily on her phone. The class proceeded-and has proceeded ever since-without her approaching us again, but if she does or attempts to bully either of us, I will not be so meek or taken aback. 

I am telling this story not to garner sympathy from my readers or to rant about a comment in the past–but to raise awareness; bullies come in all guises, and even those of us who have prepared ourselves against them can be caught on unawares. Individuals with disabilities are particularly vulnerable; leash a service dog to their hip and you might as well wave a red flag advertising that they are different.

So, the next time you see someone-anyone-who is being made to feel like their hard work is “pathetic”, stand up for them if they cannot. Be that amazing, wonderful person to stride over and support whoever is being bullied. I could have used someone like that last week, to dislodge the words from my throat, but from now on, I’ve resolved to be that person to anyone who needs me! (: 

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How to Work Out with a Service Dog Leashed to Your Life

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Living life with a service dog can feel suffocating at times. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love Rally. I fully and completely owe my sanity and health to the four-legged, shedding, snoring buddy. He saves my butt on a regular basis, but it can be frustrating to always have to be leashed to him. Having a service dog makes it rather difficult to do some normal things that I never took for granted before getting Rally; such as going to a water park, riding a roller costar, running on a tread mill, or doing the waltz. 

Luckily for Rally, when it comes to water parks and roller costars, I’m willing to take a grudging pass, and my waltz is a failure anyways, but my exercise is something that I can’t-and won’t-live without. I love to run, but Rally has a bad hip, so after the first lap around the block he was about as enthused as a cat racing towards a bath. The treadmill was my compromise-I could run and he could sit. So, the gym was an environment that Rally would have to learn to grow comfortable in. 

Gyms are a strange environment for canines. They are loud, smelly, full of strange objects that move rapidly and bounce quickly.If you would like to take your service dog to the gym, make certain that your dog is unflappable around loud noises; stomp by his head and clap your hands over his ears. Make sure that you can step around and by his body and over his paws. You should be able to leave him in a corner for extended periods of time, moving out of sight line, then return. Dogs are an unusual sight in a gym; make sure you know your rights and be prepared to explain them in a calm, reasonable tone. Call your gym ahead of time and explain that you have a service dog. Ask which areas of your gym would be off limits; sauna, pool etc. Confirm with them the use of any access devices, such as wheel chair lifts or special cranes that you might require. 

Once you are certain that your dog is prepared, then you should prepare for your dog. I bring Rally’s vest, and depending on the length of my stay, I bring his pad, a bowl for water and some treats for rewarding his prolonged stay. 

Some additional training that your dog might receive for the gym would be teaching them how certain pieces of equipment works-in my case, the treadmill. In a canine’s world, physics works in very simple ways; you run, I run. You walk, I walk. The treadmill, a machine where I run and you somehow magically remain still, was a tough idea for Rally to wrap his pointy brain around.

On the day that I taught Rally this notion, he settled into a corner and I got onto the treadmill. I was uncertain how he would react once I turned the treadmill on and started running, so I turned it on a very slow walk. He immediately jumped straight up and started keeping pace with me-straight into the wall. He was very confused when I stayed in one spot and he went into the solid wall!

When I could contain my laughter I placed him back in a down stay and resumed my walk. He watched me closely, eyes bugging out, then shook his head and curled back up, chin close to the whirling machine. I turned the treadmill up to a trot and again he got to his feet, determined not to be left behind, and nearly rammed his head against the wall yet again. 

By now he was getting a little wiser and I was having to cling to the side of the treadmill to hold myself up, I was laughing so hard. He settling back down, wearily, and I turned to machine up to a brisk jog. He twitched but held himself still. I began to run. He yawned and stared at me. I began to sprint. He closed his eyes and sighed. The lesson had been learned. 

Yesterday, we were at the gym and a young beagle pup was being taught by his master how to remain calm at the gym. Rally and I watched out of the corner of our eye as the young pup lay down besides the treadmill and his master climbed on. 

“You might want to start out at a walk.” I suggested.

“Jack knows what he’s doing.” The young pup’s master assured me, and started his engines at a sprint. 

The beagle bolted upright, paws churning air before his feet even touched rubber. The guy grabbed for the leash, but the dog was already racing forwards, and slammed headfirst into the wall between our two treadmills where he sat down abruptly, dazed. 

Rally yawned. The guy and I exchanged glances. 

“I should probably start at a walk.” He mumbled. 

“Yeah.” I nodded as he picked the pup back up. “At a walk.” 

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Thank You Everyone Who Has Commented!

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Thank you everyone who has commented on my blog!  Your voices mean a lot! I have received dozens of stories through my blog from individuals across the globe who are searching for, have trained, or who are training their own migraine alert service dogs, and I wanted to express my thanks and admiration for your courage and perseverance! Never give up in your search, and I will do my very best to assist you however I can!

with respect and gratitude,

-Kendall and Rally

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Back to School with Rally….

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Well, Rally and I are officially back to college, and Rally is settling into the life of a college attending, service dog. Admittedly it was difficult for the both of us, transitioning from a lazy, relaxing summer of languishing poolside to remaining motionless while professors drone on about Geology and Physics, but Rally-like most service dogs across the nation who accompany their handlers to campuses-is adjusting with poise-and the bribery of a few treats. Attending classes with a service dog is far from easy. Before I even arrive on campus, Rally has to be taken care of. Living with a service dog is akin to living leashed to a small child who cannot talk except to grunt, whine and shove a cold, wet nose into your warm nest of blankets at six in the morning when you’re trying to sleep. And a child doesn’t shed  all over on your favorite black dress that you’ve set out to wear, or pant moist, meaty-smelling breath in your face when you are brushing your teeth and getting ready for school. 

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My morning revolves around getting Rally ready for the day ahead. If he’s not fed and brushed and geared up, then my entire routine is thrown off. First, he gets his kibble and an arthritis  pain pill for his hip. Then, while he’s gobbling down his food and keeping an eye on me, I throw on my clothes and attempt to tame my hair. A backpack is the only solution I’ve come up with that restrains Rally’s pad and treats, my notebooks, textbook, pens and lunch in a container that’s somehow smaller than Texas. I always pack the night before, so I have my bag waiting by the door as I gear Rally up; coat (if it’s cold) boots (if it’s snowing or if the pavement is boiling hot) service vest and leash. I then take him outside for a few minutes to go potty, and then we’re off to catch the shuttle onto campus. 

For those who commute to school or work, I salute you. Buses can be a headache with service dogs-not because of the dogs, but because of the curious pedestrians all staring at the four legged passengers.  Finding a good seat can also be a pain; the floors are slippery and when crowded, people can accidentally step on paws or ears. I’m always happy when I get off of the bus and get onto campus, where at least I can head to class and sit Rally down.

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In class, I have Rally lie down on his pad, which I haul around with me everywhere, rolled up in my backpack. It makes a huge difference, especially in classrooms where the floor is tiled. My next service dog, I’ve decided, must have long fur, even if it means more shedding, because Rally shivers once the sun ducks behind a cloud and the thermostat hits seventy. In a classroom where the floor isn’t plush Berber carpet and the humidity isn’t at eighty percent, he groans and shakes like an old man in a blizzard. The pad helps a great deal, so I put up with the weight and inconvenience and unroll it like he’s the Sultan.

10525916_743135069077878_7846668010076479801_nThroughout class my attention is always split; it’s only only because I have to make sure Rally is comfortable and calm. After all, Rally isn’t eye candy. If he looks at me with intensity or stands up and nudges me, I’ve got to move. He can give me two-even four hours warning on a migraine. My pills are in my outer left pocket of my backpack. I can see the outline of the orange round bottle filled with pain medication pressed against the blue fabric.

If Rally misses the invisible warning signs of migraine, the pills won’t help.  Once the auroras start, I know I have fifteen minutes before the debilitating pain begins. It takes me about thirteen minutes to jog to the health center for a pain shot.  Two minutes to spare. Two minutes. 

Rally won’t miss. It all depends on a dog. It depends on if he’s focused today. If he’s feeling up to the job. 

I look back at the professor, then back at Rally, whose curled up at my feet. To the casual onlooker, he appears totally relaxed. I’m being dumb. Trusting this canine with my health. This is the dog that will chase the laser light and will furiously lick at the carpet as though to eat the tiny red dot. This is the dog that will wake up, get confused as to which end is the exit in his crate, and flail about until we drag him out. This is the dog that I am trusting with my welfare? 

And then Rally looks up at me and his tiny stub of a tail wags and he grins and I relax, remembering. This is the dog that won’t let me out of his sight, shadowing me around the apartment, sleeping with one eye open and checking on me during the night just in case something was wrong. This is the dog that somehow walked into my life with the ability to alert to my migraines and protect my health, my four legged, shedding, snoring guardian. 

I go back to my class and Rally goes back his dreams with one eye open. 

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After class, Rally and I eat lunch, usually snacking on campus. Where we eat depends largely on the flow of the crowds. I’m not a fan of people, and Rally and I attract a lot of stares and questions, so we usually prefer to eat in a secluded part of campus, either in the library or in a corner of the quad. After lunch we sometimes catch an afternoon class or else head back home, done for the day. 

At our apartment, I let Rally off leash and let him go potty and roll around in the grass. He gets to play and run around, sniff at bushes and have play time. I can tell he is getting older, because after a few minutes he comes back to my side and flops down in the shade, panting, to get his ears scratched and his belly rubbed. 

“You’re getting to be soft.” I tell him, and he rolls his amber eyes at me and grins. 

We walk slowly up the steps to our apartment and I let him inside. He drinks some water and I hang his vest and leash up, unpack my backpack and start on dinner. He watches, knowing he can’t cross the sacred line that is the kitchen, and after I eat I pour his kibble in his bowl and walk him through some commands. When he has earned his meal, he then eats while I wash up. 

My roommate and I do homework as Rally curls up on the porch and stares down at the returning residents. Night approaches, and I call him in for bed. It’s time for a final romp in the grass, and then I climb in bed.

“Night Ral.” I tell him, turning off the light.

He’s already snoring, ready for another day. 

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