Today, HB2992 will be discussed in Texas. The bill has been proposed to help the fake service dog issue by making it a misdemeanor if someone puts service dog identification or equipment on a dog that isn’t a service dog. When they do that, they are either misrepresenting themselves as having a disability when they don’t, or if they do have a disability, they could still be faking their undertrained or untrained dog as their service dog. I was interviewed by NBC5 Ben Russell regarding this issue. Read the article and see the video here:
Overall, what do I think? I love that it is being recognized as an issue by politicians and think it is a baby step toward a solution.
I wrote a letter to Rep. Victoria Neave’s office. She is who authored this bill.
This was the letter I wrote:
Dear Representative Victoria Neave:
My name is Jessica Naert. I am a resident of Denton, TX, a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, very involved in my community, and I am also blind. I have a wonderful guide dog, Makiko, from Guide Dogs for the Blind and am very active in the guide dog and service dog communities.
I am very appreciative that Rep. Victoria Neave’s office has taken the issue of “fake service dogs” so seriously and is taking action against fake service dogs by proposing a bill that would make it a misdemeanor by putting some sort of identification on a pet that would identify it as a service animal, when it is not indeed a service animal. I feel this is a good “first step” towards making improvements in the great State of Texas toward diminishing this issue.
We call it a “fake service dog” issue but really it is not the dog that is committing the offense or faking anything, it is most often a person without a disability wanting to bring their pet animal with them everywhere. Sometimes it is a person who might have a disability but doesn’t have a dog that is trained specific tasks to mitigate their disability, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires.
When someone is so ignorant to do this, it is harmful for us who have legitimate disabilities and have legitimate service dogs in many ways. First, most often these “fake service dogs” don’t have the level of basic obedience and public access skills, aren’t very well socialized and the environments that their owners put them in cause anxiety and bad behaviors, such as urinating or defecating in places of business or restaurants, incessantly barking, attacking others, damaging goods, etc. Often times when one of these fake service dogs enter a place of business, they put a bad taste in the business owners mouths and then when I go in the place of business with my well-trained service dog, I may be denied access because of that bad experience or experience significant harassment. This is just not fair. It also puts our service dogs at serious risk. There have been many stories of “fake service dogs” attacking a legitimate service dog. Can you imagine being blind and just hearing this dog growling and attacking your dog and often times being pretty helpless to stop it because you can’t see what’s going on? Many times this kind of trauma significantly affects that dog’s ability to be in many types of situations, especially if dogs are around, and tragically the guide dog could need to be retired due to serious trauma or anxiety, physical and/or emotional. This also of course affects the person with a disability’s emotional well-being and can affect their livelihood for years because they aren’t able to live the life they lived with their service animal. Waiting lists for many service dog organizations are years long.
In the past several years, we have seen a steady increase in people faking a service dog. Something needs to be done and that is why I am so grateful that we are making baby steps toward resolving it for Texans. It is very difficult to resolve this issue because state codes can’t be more restrictive than federal law (the ADA). So, before I go further, I want to express my deep gratitude that your office is taking this issue so seriously and caring about Texans with disabilities who use service animals.
I do have one concern and would like to make a few suggestions as well. My main concern – how will it be enforced? As I understand it, any time an individual has an animal in a restaurant wearing some sort of identification or equipment that indicates it is a service animal, it could possibly be flagged or reported as a possible fake. This may be what needs to happen but I also can see that this can get pretty sticky because there are many people with invisible disabilities and general society isn’t very knowledgeable of invisible disabilities, so they could automatically assume because someone doesn’t have a visible disability, they are faking. I am a person with a visual impairment but it is not immediately obvious. Would I get reported? Additionally, once it does get reported, how will it be investigated? Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses can only ask the two questions: 1) Is it a service animal? 2) What tasks was the dog trained to perform to mitigate a disability? These are just a few questions I would like you all to consider regarding enforcement. Protecting service dog handlers and businesses from fake service dogs is something that has to be done and more protections need to be in place, but they also need to be careful to still protect the civil rights of people with service animals and their privacy.
I would also like you to consider adding additional verbiage to the bill. By stating that the person would be committing a misdemeanor by falsely representing their pet as a service animal by some sort of equipment or identification, you are implying if a person without a disability brings in a dog as their “service animal”, they are faking a disability. However, I think that it would be so much stronger if it was specifically stated that faking a disability to get an animal access and/or portraying an animal as a service animal that isn’t task trained to mitigate their disability are both criminal offenses.
Please feel free to share this as needed.
Again, thank you for your time and for caring about something that is so important to people with disabilities. Our service dogs are so important to our livelihoods, our independence, and our freedom, and fake service dogs make it so much harder for us.
Other common pieces of equipment for guide dog teams are the leash (of course), the collar (different collars are used but many from GDB use martingale collars), and many guide dog teams often use gentle leaders as well. (No, they aren’t muzzles). A martingale collar is where it has a few chain links (not prongs), so that if you need to do a correction, you can, but the rest of the collar is fabric so it is comfortable for the dog. A gentle leader is a piece that goes across the dog’s nose and behind their neck and is very useful to a blind handler to feeling where the dog’s head is moving so that they can make necessary corrections if needed, but also many guide dogs are on their “tip top behavior” when wearing this.
A few months ago, I started to notice a few different things about Makiko’s equipment:
1) It was looking pretty beat up/used. I noticed it needed to be cleaned and spruced up a little bit. Why does this matter? Makiko and I are constantly in many different professional environments for work, but every single guide dog team is also an ambassador for their school and also the guide dog community as a whole. Makiko is an extension of me. I care about my appearance and care about hers, but I also care about the equipment’s appearance.
2) I also have been noticing over the past year or so that there has been more of a gap between Makiko’s body and the harness. At a recent guide dog event, I heard a few other handlers say that they have also had this problem.
3) Makiko’s collar was getting pretty worn out and pretty quickly after adjusting it to be tighter, it would go back to being loose. So, our field rep also sent us a new martingale collar.
So here is what I decided to do about it:
My boyfriend and I stopped at Home Depot when we were out running errands. We got “Leather Cleaner and Conditioner.” This stuff did WONDERS. We had purchased some leather polisher a few months ago but read on “Guide Dog Handlers Network,” a group I admin on Facebook, that really it should be washed first with something that works well with leather. It took me all of 15 minutes with this leather cleaner and a shop towel to really get her harness looking better. (Why didn’t I do this a few years ago?)
When our field rep, Michelle, was out a few months ago, I showed her the concern I had with the gap in the harness. We discussed a few different reasons it could be there, such as the leather just slightly changing shape. She suggested that she send us a body piece that is one size smaller and see how it fits. She sent this to us awhile ago but we hadn’t gotten around to trying it until just now. Since we were working on her equipment, we figured that it would be a good time to do it. So far, we are pleased. Why does this gap matter? Most importantly, having less of a gap can increase the amount of feedback the guide dog handler can get from the harness. It could also potentially make her a little more comfortable (although I don’t think she was really uncomfortable at all in the first place).
She also gave us a new martingale collar to try out. I didn’t take a picture of it because it looks exactly the same as the old one but if you’d like to see it, let me know.
So now we will put it all to the test tomorrow as we go to work and about our day and see how she seems to feel it in and how it feels to me as we work. I’ll bring the other piece along just in case something does go wrong or bothers her.
Did you know that a full harness can cost as much as $500 for this specific type from GDB? That’s pretty wild, huh? Thanks to the generous donations of donors to GDB, we don’t have to pay when we have equipment problems like this. If we lose it once, we do get it replaced at no charge to us but if we lose it again, we do have to pay for it. I know weird things happen, but to me it’d be pretty hard to lose something like this. 🙂
GDB is so incredible in supporting the guide dog team throughout the whole process and I have been nothing but pleased. They are very innovative and receptive and want to find what makes the most sense and works the best for each guide dog team. They also recognize that what works best and is necessary might change over time and they are totally cool with working through each team as they go through any changes.
I am Blind. I am Beautiful. Blindness is beautiful.
I love my life as a blind individual. Growing from a person with full sight, to a person with low vision, to a person who is legally blind with very little vision remaining, I have learned a lot and believe I have a special outlook on life. With a lot of the scientific research that has been happening, I get asked increasingly more often.. “If you could, would you become sighted again?” Honestly, right now my answer is no. I love the life I live right now. Blindness doesn’t define me but it has most definitely shaped me. Here are some of the many reasons I love being blind or that being blind has taught me:
Personality vs. Appearance – I get to know somebody first based on their personality. I can still see a little but what they look like but their personality weighs much heavier than their physical appearance. I realize that some sighted people are like this too but I just think it’s much easier for me to see someone for who they are on the inside than who they are on the out with limited vision.
Airports – In most airports, we get to skip the long lines at TSA and go right to the front.
Performances – I often get to sit up front at performances and those who accompany me do too!
Spidey Senses – As I’ve discussed on here before, it’s a myth that when you lose one sense, your other senses are automatically better. Often times though when someone loses one sense, they become more dependent on the other senses so they concentrate on them more, thus giving off the impression that they are automatically better. I know who is coming down the hall often times at the office by their footsteps, their shoes, or some other indicator. A lot of what I can’t pick up on visually, I can audibly or tactually.
Dirty Looks – If other people give me dirty looks, I often won’t see them.
Designated Driver – I never ever have to be the designated driver – win!
Problem-Solving – I have had to problem solve a lot more than many of my peers have, to do the simplest of tasks. Many bigger problems don’t phase me any more because I’ve become so accustomed to staying calm and just working out the problem.
One car household – Steven and I will only ever have to pay one car payment and one car insurance payment per month. Now, the not being able to drive thing does suck a lot on most days but this is definitely one of the advantages.
Knowledge of governmental agencies/legal agencies – Unfortunately, I have been discriminated against on multiple occasions due to my blindness and/or using a service animal. I have learned a wealth about the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Air Carriers Access Act, as well as the complaint processes through HUD, Department of Justice, and Disability Rights Texas.
Career Choice – Losing my vision led me to the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services Division for Blind Services several years ago as a consumer and transformed my career path into becoming a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the agency. I absolutely love what I do and don’t think I would have found this career path without my vision loss.
Empathy – My job is all about working with individuals with disabilities to transition out of high school. I feel like I can empathize with my consumers on a deeper level in some ways as I’ve experienced a lot of what they have experienced, just maybe in different ways.. especially if it relates to transportation.
Self-Confidence – My self-confidence has increased exponentially as I’ve had to “sell myself” as in show my strengths to various people, such as employers, and have developed a strong level of confidence in my skills, strengths, and abilities.
Tough Skin – I’m still pretty sensitive about many things but my skin has definitely become thicker since losing my vision as I’ve had to deal with some pretty difficult things.
Friends – I have met so many wonderful people through my journey as a person with vision loss. One of my very best friends I met specifically because a mutual friend knew we both had the same eye condition (Retinitis PIgmentosa) and introduced us.
Presentations – When I’m giving large presentations, since my peripheral vision is so narrow, I can’t see more than one person in the audience and I can’t see them with any definition. Many have joked about this in the past but I do think that this has helped me over the years cut down on the anxiety of presenting in front of large groups a little bit.
Technology – I have always loved technology but especially now that I depend on technology for many parts of my personal and work life, I am pretty skilled with all different types of traditional technology and assistive technology. I am able to provide a lot of assistance to my sighted/non-disabled peers on a daily basis because I have had so much experience with it.
Guide dog/Makiko – Last, but certainly not least, I have had the opportunity to be partnered with Makiko, my beautiful guide dog, who has encouraged me through some really tough times, has taught me to be confident, has shown me how independent I can be, and is always so loving. Through her, I have become really involved with Guide Dogs for the Blind, taking on a leadership position as one of the founding Presidents of our state Alumni Chapter, “The Eyes of Texas,” participating with Lone Star Guide Dog Raisers, our local puppy raising group, creating and facilitating “Guide Dog Handlers Network,” a Facebook social/support group for guide dog handlers from all over the world, and giving presentations in the local community about guide dogs, service dogs, the ADA, and blindness etiquette. I did a few presentations before her about some of these topics but she has opened many doors for me.
I have gained so much as a person with vision loss. Sure, I have lost a few things too (such as my ability to drive) but what I have now is beautiful. I love the life I live and I love the opportunities being a blind young woman has given me.
Proposed law would make ‘fake’ service dogs a crime in Colorado
DENVER — A FOX31 Denver Problem Solver’s investigation is getting results at the State Capitol.
State Sen. Linda Newell and Rep. Daniel Kagan are proposing legislation that would make misrepresenting your pet as a service animal a crime in Colorado.
“We make it an offense, a criminal offense to pretend and deliberately, knowingly, fraudulently pretend that a non-service animal is a service animal,” Kagan said.
The bill was prompted by investigative reporter Heidi Hemmat’s two-part series that aired in February 2015.
RELATED: Colorado company selling service animal accessories to able-bodied pet owners
RELATED: Fake service dog investigation: Finding the people behind the lucrative online business
The Problem Solvers investigation uncovered dozens of business selling service animal vests and certifications for a fee, with no proof of disability required.
Hemmat also tracked down Colorado company Chilhowee Psychological service in Woodland Park that registers “emotional support animals.” ESAs are allowed to fly in the cabin of an airplane for free.
The investigation also exposed licensed Colorado counselor Stanford Scott Sutherland for sending letters deeming people he never met, “mentally disabled” in order for them to fly with their “emotional support animal” for free.
As a result of the report, Sutherland’s license is under investigation for possible ethics violations with the Colorado Department of Regulatory agencies. Newell was outrage by the report.
“Thank you so much for bringing this story forward because this has really given the genesis for this bill,” Newell said.
The bill is expected to be introduced at the Capitol on Wednesday.
People caught misrepresenting their pets as service animals could face misdemeanor charges and a $350 fine for the first offense, $600 for the second offense and $1,000 for the third offense.
Friday, January 22nd, 2016 was a very scary day for Makiko and my family. It is a day that I won’t ever forget.
The night before I had gone out with a very close friend and her daughter. They love Makiko dearly and always get a lot of pleasure out of giving Makiko gifts, as we get a lot of pleasure out of being on the receiving end. One was this cute stuffed animal and the other was this beef femur bone. Oh boy Makiko wanted that so bad at the restaurant but she behaved like a good girl until we got home. When we got home, Makiko played with both but then ultimately ended up going to town on the bone.. she tends to do this and so I wasn’t too worried.. except about 25 minutes later, there wasn’t any bone left. I was a little shocked, but again, nothing occurred to me to really worry.
At 2:15am, I woke up to Makiko jumping off of the bed and then immediately throwing up everywhere on the floor by my bed. Oh poor baby.. I cleaned her up and cleaned up the floor and then she seemed fine and we went back to bed.. but she was having some trouble settling. She woke up around 6:15am, and was throwing up everywhere again.. okay.. this might be more of a tummy bug now.. Only then she proceeded to throw up in almost every room of my house.. over several hours.. so I called out sick for work and stayed home with her. Around 10am, she had stopped throwing up for a bit, so we decided to take a nap. She hadn’t had any food or drink at this point and seemed pretty comfortable, so we laid down on the couch. And then about 15 minutes later she was throwing up all over me and the couch. I was starting to think about calling the vet at this point but then I went to shower, since I had just gotten thrown up on.. as I was getting out of the shower and putting pajamas back on, Makiko squats in the bathroom. Oh NO… I can’t have poop AND throw up in my house!!! Keep in mind, Makiko never goes to the restroom in the house, so this was totally unexpected. Wet hair, no socks or shoes.. very cold day.. I pick Makiko up because she is refusing to budge and carry her outside. She has loose stool, diarrhea, pees, and then throws up.. right outside my door. That’s as far as I could manage to carry her because I couldn’t safely carry her down stairs. She’s a little under half of my body weight. After she does all that business, she lays down on the concrete, and refuses to move.. I try and coax her inside, nothing. Okay, this is really scary now.. she won’t move.. time to call the vet. Vet scheduled us to come in. Eventually Makiko came inside, I grabbed a towel, called Uber, and off we were headed to the vet. Luckily, she didn’t throw up INSIDE the Uber car but did throw up immediately before we got in. I had a very understanding driver, thank goodness.
We arrive at our vet’s office and she takes x-rays. At this point, my Mom and great-aunt had arrived (after getting rear-ended on the way), and then the vet comes in and says there are about 20 shards of bone that are stuck in her stomach. It doesn’t look like she can pass them and if she does try and pass them, they could possibly perforate her intenstines. This is life threatening and they are recommending surgery. At first, I freaked and wanted to know if they were just exaggerating and she could pass them. But no.. So it is now after hours on Friday.. the emergency center we went to last time Makiko had an issue doesn’t have a surgeon on staff anymore… and the other place they knew of wasn’t accepting surgery patients that night.. so they found another one in Irving (a suburb of Dallas) called VCA Metroplex.. and off we went to go there.
Our vet had already called us in so they were expecting us and nearly greeted us at the door. They had all of our x-rays and everything already so Makiko was examined by the veterinarian in the back and then Dr. Martinez came in. She explained that surgery was needed and that they couldn’t do an endoscopic retrieval because there were too many pieces, they would be in there all night, and that the pieces were large and sharp and might end up doing severe damage on the way out.. therefore a gastrotomy/enterotomy it was. We left Makiko there that night and around 9:30pm she went into surgery, was done around 11:30pm which is when we got the call that everything went well and she was awake.
Okay, so let’s pause there real quick. If you all know me, you know Makiko and I do EVERYTHING together, including cuddle at every possible chance and we sleep literally side by side, sometimes even cheek to cheek. I had only been away from her. in almost our 3 years together, only one time before and that was when we wondered if she had an obstruction and was at the other surgery center before.
The next day, Saturday, I was DYING to come see her. Visiting hours started at 1pm and I had a wedding to get to at 4pm, so we went right at 1pm. Makiko looked MISERABLE. She had this HUGE incision on the underside of her stomach, which was covered up by what looks like a menstrual pad. (Pictures are at the bottom of this post so if you get grossed out easily, you might want to skip them). Her tail was tucked in between her legs, she barely wanted to move, she didn’t get excited to see us.. she was just drugged and not happy. However, they assured us that she was feeling a lot better than with all those shards in, she was just heavily medicated. So we took her outside to use the restroom and a brief walk, loved on her, and then gave her back for another night of monitoring. They had told us that she would likely be able to get discharged tomorrow. Dr. Martinez had called us several times at this point to give us updates and I had also called and spoken with vet techs to get frequent updates. The next morning (Sunday) we received the confirmation call that we could pick Makiko up that evening. Before picking her up, we went and got more food because I was almost out and also got a Nylabone to get her because those were Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) approved. We arrived at VCA Metroplex and the tech came in and gave us 5 medications that we had to give Makiko at different intervals and different amounts, along with a special diet that would allow her stomach to heal. Makiko is NOT easy to pill so we purchased pill pockets (Greeny’s).. man those things are amazing! We were told to come back in 10-14 days to get the stitches out and to check the incision often to make sure it looked good. We had left Makiko’s leash with her and also I had brought one of her favorite portable beds. Jenni, her puppy raiser, had made this amazing fleece bed for her that we both love. I wanted Makiko to have something that comforted her in this time so I sent that with her, with the understanding that it might not get returned because they have so much laundry, but I really hoped it would. We got the leash back but then forgot about getting the bed back until later on that evening. I called.. they couldn’t find it already.. they kept looking and then one of the techs found it and said she put it back at the front with Makiko’s name on it so that I could pick it up when we went to get her stitches out.
That night I headed back to my apartment (which is about 45 minutes from where my Mom lives/where I spend my weekends). I had to lift Makiko in and out of cars, in and off the couch, in and off the bed, etc. That first night was pretty tough because Makiko had some trouble getting comfortable. She also had that HUGE cone on her head. Although, I do have to say that this cone worked a lot better than the cone/”dress” we had last time. It was a pain in the butt to take on and off her (but that’s probably the point, right?) but it didn’t interfere with her ability to walk and she could fit a pillow or my arm between the cone and her head when she slept and be comfortable. Regardless, she still had a tough night that first night which meant I had a restless night too. The next morning we went to work and she just stayed in the bed all day, pretty drugged up. I did tell her to “stay” and she has been pretty good at staying but at one point I was gone a little too long, the door was open, so she slowly went prancing down to Diane’s office, (only two doors down) my good coworker friend, and then Diane came and got me. (Sidenote: It’s awesome to have good coworkers and friends who care about your baby as much as you do and who your baby trusts and knows to go to if she needs something and I’m not there :))
We went home that night and took it easy. I didn’t do a whole lot of working on my computer, only cuddling and spending time with her. We had a lot of pills to do at different intervals and she had three feedings instead of two. We did our pills and fed her and went to bed a little early. Around 2am, she tries to jump out of bed (and is successful… ugh) which she was NOT supposed to be doing because of her stitches. She then is acting super antsy like she has to use the restroom. We go outside, she pees a lot, and then we go back inside and I get ready to lift her back onto the bed and feel a wet spot. This was all bizarre for several reasons.. Makiko never has to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night so that was a bit odd. We concluded that this was because she had that late feeding and water and she is SO regulated that this just threw her off. But second, why is there a wet spot.. on my bed.. very close to my spot on the bed? We never really concluded what it was. I can’t smell so I wasn’t able to tell if it was urine or not.. but my guess is it probably was. I would have noticed if she squatted and peed right next to me so I’m pretty sure it just leaked. Poor baby. Okay, so stripping the bed I go.. And then back to sleep. Nights after recovery – 2… nights full of very disrupted sleep – 2…
The next day at work I had to be at a meeting at the City Hall so I brought a blanket for Makiko to lay on, her cone, etc. Oh goodness that was an adventure.. SO much to carry.. using my cane because Makiko isn’t reliable.. just a bit of a nightmare. I looked disshovelled.. I’m sure.. but I was there! The day after Makiko’s surgery, my aunt who is an amazing veterinarian in Colorado (Dr. Susan N. Whitmore, Companion Animal Clinic) sent me the shirt we had used last time when the cone was such a nightmare. Although this cone wasn’t nearly as bad, it was a little more “professional” looking to me to have the shirt if it worked just as well. It actually worked better than last time. Makiko didn’t want to scratch, lick, or bite at her incision site with it on. During the evenings, I took it off and put her cone back on because I couldn’t watch her obviously as much.
The rest of the week went pretty well. I did get concerned at one point though because she had a lot of puffy pink in her scar and to me, that looked like tissue coming out of her scar/skin but really that was just normal and her body healing.
I wanted to get Makiko’s stitches out at the 10 day mark because lifting her on/off high things and just being so careful was NOT easy at this point. Makiko had tons of built up energy and she was ready to GO. However, it would have been about 4 hours of driving at that point during the evening during the week, which neither my boyfriend or mother could really do, so we waited until Friday when I was going home for the weekend anyway and got them removed. The vet tech said it looked pretty good and her stitches were removed. Meanwhile, all the front desk customer service associates were trying to find this blanket that had been put up front for me. Sadly, they weren’t able to find it but promised to keep searching and mail it to me.
Makiko is now 3 weeks post-surgery and doing well. She is back to guiding like a champ and being her normal goofy self. I am way more careful with bones and pretty much everything now. My good friend didn’t know that this could happen and I didn’t know either, obviously, or I wouldn’t have given it to her. I wish I had paid more attention to the brand because I would write the company. It HORRIFIES me though that these are being sold in pet stores if they are such a no-no, which apparently according to 3 vets I have spoken to, they are. Makiko has a LOT of toys, so I have to go through them soon and throw out the ones that could potentially be problematic. While I know this is necessary for her well-being, this is somewhat hard for me for some reason. I guess I just love all of her toys and love her having all of the toys.. but I keep telling myself that she will still have PLENTY even after the editing is done.
I really wanted this blanket back though.. that was still bothering me. Last night the main customer service lady at the front desk said it still hadn’t been found. So, I wrote an email on the VCA website and there was an option to direct it to a supervisor. This morning I received a call (it woke me up actually) that had said they found it and were mailing it to me. Yay!
As you probably know, guide dogs are bred to be pretty health and intelligent. Makiko hasn’t had a lot of the more common health issues that most dogs have, but holy moly has she had some pretty crisis health situations – first it was the obstruction.. nothing passing in her stomach/ileus that led us to go to an emergency surgery center to see if anything was obstructing her (which whatever it was passed)… then it was the tumor on her side that could have potentially been cancerous and was removed (but turned out benign), and then there was this.
I’m ready for us to just continue on for many more years now, crisis free.
Happy Thanksgiving! I have a lot to be grateful for this year. I have a very loving family, and while we have lost both of my parents this last year, we still stay pretty close. My grandparents were amazing people and I’m really grateful that they valued family so much, as they instilled that in their children and grandchildren. I also have a wonderful boyfriend who loves me to death and spoils me. Dating a gal with vision loss is just part of life for him and he embraces it. He has a wonderful family that I get to spend the holiday with while my Mom is visiting my sister in New York. I have an amazing job and a wonderful boss and many very compassionate coworkers.
I am also EXTREMELY grateful for Makiko. Guide dogs are known to help their handlers have increased independence, freedom, and companionship. Makiko definitely brings that for me. But what does that mean? Here are many reasons why I am grateful for Makiko this Thanksgiving:
Since getting Makiko. I have not had one injury while working her. This is HUGE. I have broken and torn too many things to count but Makiko has not once put me in any danger or missed something that led me to hurting myself.
I serve 14 different high schools as a Transition Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the State. Makiko knows pretty much the way to the place we office in each of these schools. I can be independent and confident in my schools because together, we can do it!
Living alone can be pretty lonely. However, Makiko is the best companion. We go for walks around my beautiful complex, just sit outside, go to the dog park in the complex, and play all sorts of games inside together. She is my best friend, my snuggle buddy, and the best companion!
Prior to getting Makiko (and then a year later starting my job), I loved to sleep in and not do much. I still enjoy sleeping in and not doing much but my sleeping in went from sleeping in until about 1pm to sleeping in til 10am. She gives me a reason to get up and get active. During the week, she is an excellent alarm clock. Most days if she doesn’t see me getting up after the alarm clock has gone off a few times, she starts her silly ways to get me out of bed. She knows.
She has made me more interested in the ways dogs are trained and think. I have very much enjoyed learning the art of dog training and reading up on it. We have started doing some fun clicker training. Makiko loves learning new things too!
Makiko can tell when I am not feeling well, often before I do. She helps me figure out something is up so that I can be aware and work on it, like when I’m starting to feel very woozy because of low blood sugar. If I am napping too long and need to get up and cook dinner, she will let me know.
She has given me the opportunity to care for something. I am a caretaker at my core and she gives me the opportunity to take care of her on a daily basis, and if I skip certain things, she doesn’t “run” as well.
I can go off in crowded areas by myself. I hate crowds, and this really only started once I started losing my vision. Makiko and I can just go do our thing in crowds and I can be independent. That helps me a lot.. I can do what we need to do to help us and make it enjoyable. For example, there was recently a huge craft bazaar in Colorado when I was there for the weekend. My aunt had my great-aunt latched on (and therefore naturally are slow), plus she really loves to look at everything. I like those kinds of events but am much faster. So Makiko and I just went off and looked at our own booths and bought some fun things.
She has opened me up to a whole new community- the Service Dog community at large, more specifically the GDB community, and also the puppy raising community. I love helping and talking to other service dog handlers on Facebook groups and other support groups. I run a Facebook group “Guide Dog Handlers Network” that has close to 800 visually impaired guide dog handlers from all over the globe. It is so fun to learn about their experiences. There wasn’t a page quite like it when I came back from guide dog training but I created it to help others and have fun… It has done just that! GDB has some of the most caring and loving people in their organization as employees and volunteers. I love doing activities and talking to others from this organization because they are genuinely good people. That is the same for the puppy raisers. They raise these dogs for 1 to 1.5 years and get so close with them. They then have to “give them up” to GDB to go to “guide dog college” or formal guide work training. That is heartbreaking! A lot of work goes into running a puppy raiser club, coordinating the events, and raising a puppy. I have met some amazing people through our local puppy raising club, Lone Star Guide Dog Raisers.
Makiko loves to travel and she is wonderful when we are traveling. She is absolutely perfect in airports and on airplanes, and on road trips you barely even know she is down there. She is a great foot warmer though! 🙂 I love to travel so it’s really awesome to have a buddy who loves to travel and helps me do it with such ease. She makes it much less stressful.
Makiko and my Mom and boyfriend are all best friends. I am grateful that she loves my Mom and boyfriend so much and they love her. It warms my heart to see them all play together and love each other.
Makiko loves her little place in the office and she has become an essential part of our workplace. I have to set boundaries with some coworkers who don’t quite respect my rules, but for those who do respect them, Makiko is great “therapy”. We have a very tough (yet rewarding) job, and work with a lot of individuals with disabilities with very heartbreaking and difficult situations. Sometimes they come to us and we are all they have left. We also have a lot of pressure naturally in the kind of work we do. Makiko has formed some very close bonds with my good work buddies and brings smiles to their faces daily.
I totally respect those who choose a cane as their mobility aid but it is most definitely not the one for me. It’s sad but society doesn’t really know how to react to someone with a cane (but we are working to change this!). I also find that there are a lot more obstacles when using a cane and it’s just stressful to me. However, with a guide dog and particularly such a cute, beautiful, and well behaved guide like Makiko, she has increased and changed social interactions for me. I am very social and love the reaction from society with a guide dog much more than with a guide dog. I must talk to at least 10+ strangers a day on weekends when I’m out and about because of Makiko. I love that. Plus, I have the opportunity to educate others and that’s a blessing.
I have always been known, since college, for being pretty outspoken. However, since getting Makiko, I am a lot better with self-advocacy and advocate for my needs and rights more.
I am a lot more confident all around because of Makiko. I am confident in myself, my ability to travel independently, my ability to go new places and try new things, my ability to meet new people, and just be me. I experience a lot less anxiety when I am with her.
Many of you know that I got Makiko two months after my father passed away. My father is my best friend and this has been devastating. Still is. She has helped me grieve and keep going. Dad died one semester into my Masters and I got her my second semester of grad school. Makiko helped get me through grad school.
Makiko is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Over 2.5 years later, she is daily changing my life for the better and helping me become the happier, healthier, and better me. I am so grateful to and for her.
Someone from National Federation for the Blind reached out to me based upon my stories about Uber discriminating against me.
This morning I spoke with a paralegal for the lawyer on the case where NFB is suing Uber for discrimination against users with service dogs. At this point, the purpose is solely to collect information showing that ride sharing services (Uber, Lyft, etc) are discriminating all over the nation. Therefore, they asked that any service dog handlers that have experienced discrimination because of their service dog contact them so they can just collect the data.
Please email that email above with information about the incidents you experienced.