What it’s REALLY Like Having A Service Dog

woman with a service dog

If you’re not familiar, October is “Blog-tober,” which is basically a month where bloggers post every day (or as much as they are able) about different topics to engage their audience and increase readership.

As a first-year blogger, this is my first time participating in this challenge. While I enjoy many of the topics that other bloggers suggest, and I always love posting a good book review, I also wanted to take this time to introduce myself a bit more to you.

While you might know what kind of books I like to read, I’d also like to share some more personal touches this month, too.

Something that’s been weighing on my mind lately? My service dog.

Having a service dog is a large part of who I am, and it is mostly hidden from you when I’m writing reviews and recommendations from behind a computer. And, while I love what I do, it would be pretty much impossible not to fuse my dog into it somehow. So, I’d like to formally introduce my (literal) life saver and fur-child, Gracie.

What Makes Gracie A Service Dog?

What does Gracie do? It’s the most popular question I get while we’re out and about, but I think the more apt question would be what does Gracie NOT do?

Gracie is mainly a cardiac alert and response dog. While she was originally trained to be my psychiatric service dog for my debilitating anxiety disorder, shortly after getting Gracie, she began alerting to bodily changes that I attributed to anxiety. For example, feeling dizzy or tired.

What I didn’t know? I had two other underlying health conditions that were not related to my anxiety. Since getting Gracie, nearly 3 years ago now, I have had some significant changes with my health and Gracie’s adjusted with stride.

Her training has progressed and changed to accommodate my health needs. Some of the things she does includes picking up dropped items, retrieving my phone in an emergency, alerting (prior) to fainting, response to fainting, pressure therapy, finding an exit to a building, and many more (she’s even learning how to help do laundry). In fact, Gracie knows over FIFTY different commands, and she is continually learning more.

A lot of people see Gracie out and about with me and they quickly stop to say hi, bend down for a kiss, or even reach out for a pat on the head. But, I try hard to discourage ALL of these behaviors because they distract her from doing her job.

I hear SO many people say to me, “I didn’t know they allowed dogs in here,” or “it must be so nice to take your dog everywhere.”

Most places Gracie and I go, dogs AREN’T allowed. And, there’s a reason for that. Gracie is highly trained to do her job, but also to appropriately behave in public. That means, she doesn’t react to loud noises or small children. She NEVER barks in public or sniffs things she’s not supposed to. But, having a service dog isn’t all fun and games.

Let me tell you what it’s REALLY like to have a service dog with you everywhere you go.

We can’t travel lightly. When I went on vacation this spring, Gracie got her own suitcase the same size as my own. No matter where we’re going, we often need extra supplies, like treats, an extra meal, a water bowl, an extra water bottle, poop bags, paper towels, and our treat bag. This is just the BARE minimum to be out of the house for a few hours.

I never have the opportunity to be a fly on the wall. Sometimes, I just want to get a gallon of milk and leave the store. You know when you’re in a rush and you just have to pick up that one thing from Walmart on your way home? We can’t do that. It takes extra time to get Gracie in and out of the car and the store, and we often get stopped multiple times while strangers tell us what a pretty girl she is (like I don’t know she’s literally super-model gorgeous).

I’ve heard more dead dog stories than anyone ever should. Dead dogs, missing dogs, parent’s dogs, family dogs. Literally any dog that anyone has ever had…I’ve heard about it. In some ways, I don’t mind hearing these stories because I think it’s the way that people try and connect. But, if I don’t know someone and they walk up to me in a public venue to tell me about their dead dog (without introducing themselves), comparing it to Gracie, and then walk away? it’s weird and uncomfortable.

Every SINGLE time I use a bathroom in public, I have to use a handicapped stall because Gracie cannot fit in a standard stall and it’s unsafe to leave her on the other side of the door. 90% of the time I need to use this stall, someone able-bodied is in it…for a while (if you get what I mean). And, don’t even get me started on trying to find a potty area for Gracie when we’re on day trips. Spoiler alert: don’t take a service dog into the city.

It’s avoiding the rain because her harness can’t get wet. It’s people stopping me on the street to say, “if that were really a service dog, it wouldn’t be wearing a muzzle.” It’s stopping to educate said person on what a gentle leader is and why Gracie wears it (rolls eyes *here*). It’s CONSTANT education to the public.

And, at this point, you must be thinking–that’s really not THAT bad, right? You must have chosen this life, so you expected it.

To some point, that’s true. I did choose to have a service dog. My life was out of control. I was on so many meds that I was exhausted to the point of never being able to function. I struggled to leave my house alone. I tripped and fell constantly, without warning. I tried therapies, medications, infusion treatments, and multiple specialists without much relief (and I do still use these tools, even with Gracie).

What My Life is Like Now

These days, I have my first real adult job. It’s part-time, but it’s the first opportunity I’ve ever had to work somewhere safely. A lot of that has to do with Gracie (and the rest of it has to do with my pretty incredible co-workers).

I work in a public library. I shelve books, create events, manage social media. I work with kids, I help pick new fiction, and I make a difference in my community.

You can read all about what Gracie and I really do here. But, most of the day, Gracie is by my side watching. She sleeps behind the circulation desk, but she’s never really out–she’s awake just enough to do her job. She alerts to me, nearly daily, and reminds me when I need to sit down.

While I love blogging, it’s just a small part of the difference books have made in my life—and something that probably would not be accessible to me without my service dog. Gracie helps me get to the library, to work, to the bookstore, and more.

So what is life with a service dog like? It’s challenging. It’s bringing 500 things I might not need that day to make sure my dog and I are safe. It’s talking to people I might not want to talk to. It’s living with the “awww it’s a dog,” constantly behind me in line at the grocery store.

But, having a service dog is also less medication, less time in a wheelchair, less tired. It’s a lot more living.

For more information about service dogs, visit Ada.gov here. For more information on reputable training programs for service dogs near you, click here.

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