Service dogs are there to provide medical aide to their handlers. Sometimes that can be easier said than done. Alice is winding down her service dog career now that she recently hit 7 years old. Since 20111, Alice has been a remarkable help to me and made me more confident in being able to open up to people regarding my disability. When I was younger, I used to pretend that I was normal and that nothing was wrong with me, then when things would crop up it hurt worse. Now that I am older, accepting things head on instead of hiding from them tends to go over better.
The high points are very easy to talk about because they happen every single day when Alice or Rolo are on duty. When Raven, goes out on training visits, she fills my heart with such joy that I know that she will fill her mother's footprints when the time comes. Alice has this ability to draw people in and get people to talk to me, this has allowed me to explain to people what she can do for me and how she helps me. Rolo exudes strength and power, his size and "Wal-Mart greeter" mentality really set myself and others at ease. Both dogs spring to action when needed and it is incredible to watch.
As with anything, you have to take the good with the bad. I hate to say it but the bad things are always relating to the fact that I do not have a visible disability. The well-meaning people ask thoughtful questions, the rude people assume. I hear the snide comments like "that lady needs to give that dog to somebody that really needs him..." Whenever I get people that ask about getting a service dog for their disability, I warn them in that a service dog does not make you invisible, it makes you stick out and you have to constantly remember that they are a tool to help you and that's all that matters. The next stories I am going to tell are all bad and happened to me and I am sharing them as an example of when things go wrong.
Fake service dogs are a hot button issue within the Service Dog Community and most people want to know how to spot them. Fake service dogs to me are easily spotted by the handler instead of the dog. A dog in training is different and the handler should be actively correcting the dog in case they do something wrong. My only encounter with a fake service dog happened while I was at a restaurant with my mother. Alice was in a tuck under my chair and out of the way, frankly she was nearly asleep as she knows that restaurants are places where she isn't needed that much. This fake service dog and its owner walked by us heading towards the restroom. The owner stopped, the dog kept on tugging and pulling, the owner did nothing, then the owner noticed Alice. Alice had barely lifted her head up but the owner of the fake service dog intentionally tried to get her dog to greet Alice with a statement of "Awwww say hello to the other doggie..." My comment to the owner was "Please do not disturb my dog as she is working." Thankfully a waiter came by and directed the owner away. My mother and I left shortly after. My story is mild but I know that it could have been worse.
The next two incidents involve businesses and how they need to train their staff better. The first incident happened while I was at a Barnes and Noble in Chesterfield, Virginia. I had Rolo with me and he was performing a trained task, bracing me while I browsed for books on the shelf. I noticed that 2 employees seemed to always be around us. So when I stopped to look at the dog books section (I'm a nerd for dogs and love dog books), I sat down and had Rolo lay down in front of me, ready to help me get up if needed. Those two associates stood at the end of the aisle and talked about me, pointing and staring. I told my fiance what I heard and he heard them too. We promptly left, however I called the store to speak to a manager immediately after. To my surprise those whispering, staring and pointing were the General Manager and the Assistant General Manager. While a person was getting the General Manager on the phone, I heard the general manager say "Yes, we followed them because they weren't in a wheelchair and obviously faking..." When I heard that I let the manager know who denied it until I said that I heard her say it. I then took that complaint to corporate, who supposedly took care of it. I rarely go to that location again but if I have a service dog with me, I never go alone. I am glad that those people did that prior to my concussion which lead to me developing panic attacks, because if that had happened after my concussion it could have been a medical emergency. However, every time that I have gone back to that store since, I have never seen those two people there again. .
The last incident happened while we were traveling for an AKC Meet the Breeds event in New York. We were staying in New Jersey with the plan to drive to Manhattan every day for the event. I made the reservations months prior to stay at the Embassy Suites in Seacaucus, New Jersey, indicating that I was traveling with 2 service dogs and that were were part of a group for the AKC Meet the Breeds event. When we arrived, after spending nearly 6 hours on the road. The hotel put us in a room that was too small and not part of the group. We had no room to fit one dog, let alone 2. I complained to the front desk who put us in a room reserved for their Hilton Rewards members. As soon as the manger saw me put a dog in there, the phone rang in the room and I was being forced to move to a different room. This was after we got nearly everything unloaded from the car. I mentioned to the manger that you can't segregate service dogs and their handlers but they didn't listen. Within five minutes there was a bellhop at our room ready to move our stuff to the lobby while they got us another room. They then tried to put us in a room that was directly across from the elevators. When traveling with dogs, being by elevators is the last thing we needed as they would never settle down with the constant noise. After waiting in the lobby for another 30 minutes, we were moved to another room. We finally got to our fourth room and got everything unloaded close to 4 hours after our arrival. I was exhausted and furious. I contacted the Embassy Suites corporate office via phone, social media and email. They seemed apologetic at first until they admitted that it was company policy to segregate all animals regardless if they were service dogs or not. I sent them a copy of the federal regulations regarding service dogs and they then refused to answer any of my messages after that. I have never stayed at an Embassy Suites again and I actively tell anybody who will listen about how horrible they are. I also informed the American Kennel Club regarding how horrible they were to us and the AKC no longer works with Embassy Suites in Seacaucus, New Jersey for group rates. What Embassy Suites didn't know at the time was that Alice made history at that event and was part of the launch of a special new title called, the AKC Community Canine, also known as the CGCA. Even after all that happened to us and the hustle and bustle that Embassy Suites put us through, just 24 hours later, Alice passed her CGCA and became the 4th ever to earn the title in the history of the AKC. I never make complaints expecting to get anything but that trip was an absolute nightmare because of Embassy Suites. Even though that Embassy Suites violated the ADA, not once did they admit that they were wrong in any way. They never offered to make things right or concede that they needed to educate themselves on appropriate practices with service dogs. So to all those reading this, avoid Embassy Suites and their parent company, Hilton as they have shown blatant disregard for those with disabilities and the tools that those with disabilities use to make their lives whole.