So, again I've been slacking on the writing end of things. A lot has been going on I suppose, but nothing has really fired me up, at least until now.
Today's post is about an issue that has always bothered me. It probably won't appear too sensitive to non-service dog users, but I may offend other service dog users: so I apologise in advanced for that-but this is how I feel.
It all started with a Facebook group I signed up to be a part of. I normally don't do that, but it seemed like a good cause. The page was designed to inform non-service dog users about service dogs and the rules surrounding them; a pretty solid endeavour if you ask me. I haven't really been paying attention to the page lately, but today a status popped up and I read it and then read older posts. The posts themselves were completely harmless. It was something about one woman's dog having an allergic reaction and her asking the group how to cope with an "out of commission" dog. I've been there, so I started reading the responses to see if I could be of any help. Jetta used to sprain her toes every two years or so and wouldn't be able to guide me because she would be hopping along on three paws. It was annoying, but I managed. Almost all of the responses were the same and they horrified me. Maybe I'm uneducated or ignorant to the ways of service dogs, but I felt very differently than the rest of the respondants.
By the sounds of things, most of the people had self trained dogs. None of the dogs were guide dogs, but rather performed some other valuable service. That I don't have an issue with. In fact, I''ve joined a group who train service dogs and Kyo has under gone an examination to see whether or not his hips are stable enough for him to become a working dog. So, that is absolutely not what bugged me. What did bother me, was that out of twelve responses ten of them told the woman that they took a dog out of retirement and used him/her. There are many reasons why I feel this is irresponsible dog handling.
First of all, the dog was retired for a reason in the first place. Whether the dog was too old, or maybe suffered an injury, or perhaps the dog just didn't want to do their job anymore. Regardless of the reasoning, a retired dog is just that, RETIRED. There are exceptions to the rules and I understand that, but what if that exception to the rule messes up and hurts their handler or the public? One of the women commenting said that she takes her retired dog out of retirement, but only for one day because otherwise he gets aggressive if he gets stressed out. How is that fair to the general public, the dog or other dog handlers? Service dogs and their handlers still deal with ignorance and people telling them to leave public property. What happens if a dog who should have been retired is out working and does something horrible? It is not just tht handler who suffers the consequences of that dog's actions, but the rest of the service dog community does well. It's just the way society works-the lump alikeness together. Perhaps working a service dog who assists someone with doors and carries things isn't as unsafe as someone working a guide dog who is retired-I don't know. But I do know that if I had continued to try to work Jetta after she was officially retired-especially if she had been out of practice for a few months-it would have been dangerous. Part of the reason she was retired was because she wasn't working properly because she didn't want to. She would sit down in the middle of the sidewalk or cross a street and take me up on to the grassy bullivard. Again, I realise that my situation is not exactly like other people's and there will be exceptions, but it's not fair to anyone if something does accidentally happen.
Secondly, working a retired dog would be confusing not only to the retired dog, but to the new dog, if there is one present. Dogs are social creatures and they sort out social roles the same way people do. I am not suggesting they have governments and/or monarchs, but giving them a job and then retiring them gives them a specific purpose and role to fill. I remember the first couple of times I put Glacier's harness on in front of Jetta, she tried to get between me and the big yellow guy. Even when I started putting the harness on him without her seeing, she would try to be in front of him and by my left side when we went out for walks. Now of course not all working/retired dogs react this way, but is it really fair to put that kind of stress on a new working relationship or that kind of stress on a retired dog who is supposed to finally able to be a dog?
My last point may be a bit more touchy, so again I apologise, but this is just how I feel. I have never been comfortable with the concept of "self trained" service dogs. There are a few things that I find problematic with this concept. These dogs' training is not regulated. Some people may be fantastic dog trainers and may produce great working dogs, but there is no system in place to weed out the self trained dogs that should not be out on the streets. Having access to the public with a service dog is a privelege, not a right and if there are misbehaving dogs, then all service dog users will suffer for it. (This does apply to misbehaving dogs that are certified froma school too, but most schools are heavily regulated and dogs are triple checked before they leave the facility and even when they are out in a working team). Who holds the self trained dog trainers accountible?
I'm also not comfortable with this because of some people abusing the service dog title. There have been quite a few cases documented where dogs were self trained and the owner/handler believed that the dog had the right to have public access. The problem is, people use such things for their pets just to be able to take them with them. There was a woman at my university who said that her dog was a service dog, when really it was a pet. She told me that she just wanted to bring her to work. She even had a special coat made for the dog. That makes me very angry. Her dog tinkled in the hallway and people started taking issue with Jetta being on campus. There was also another woman who got on toa train with a dog who supposedly self trained as a guide dog. Now I am the first one to say that you can never know just ow much someone sees, but this woman definitely was not blind. If she was low vision, she was barely. She never once gave her dog a command and lead it around by the leash all of the time-even on the busy train platform . The dog was horribly behaved and the conductor was concerned, but didn't know how to approach the situation.
So, I guess really, I had two issues burning up my brain tonight. Self trained dogs make me uncomfortable and re-using retired service dogs makes me particularly annoyed. It wasn't easy for me to retire Jetta and I know many other dog handlers who had to go through the difficult process of career changing or retiring a dog. It's not easy, but it is done for a reason. As for self trained dogs-I know there are plenty of great self trained dogs working out there, but where is the accountability? Who keeps misbehaving dogs in line? If your dog comes from a certified school, then that is the job of the school-and if they are not doing that, then perhaps that school needs to be re-evaluated.