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Life With a Service Dog Isn't Easier, but It's Worth It

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When I first started working my dog as a fully trained service dog, I thought my life would be easier. Sure, everyone would focus on my cute dog, and maybe I’d have to tell people to back off and not pet her while she’s working a few times, but surely there would be minimal access issues, right? Because she’s just too cute.

• What is PTSD?

Well, it turns out, access issues come with having a service animal. That, along with your animal being called a “fake service animal” a few times. An access issue is what happens when a business owner illegally kicks out a disabled person with a service animal just because of their animal, or illegally asks for paperwork or an ID for the animal.

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, business owners can legally only ask two questions:

1. Is that a service animal?
2. What task or tasks has the animal been trained to perform?

Legally, service animals do not have to be professionally trained and can be trained by their handler. They can also be any breed and size of dog, and can even be miniature horses.

Unfortunately, I’ve run into several access issues with my highly trained service dog. Everything from a person thinking all service animals have to come from a program and be trained by professional animal trainers, to thinking that “psychiatric alert and response” is the same as emotional support, to just straight up illegally asking for an ID or denying me because they “don’t allow pets in the food court area,” not understanding that service animals are not pets. And no, my service dog is not an emotional support dog.

Also, all that petting? Yeah, it really gets annoying when you’re just trying to go about your day. It’s why I turned my petting policy for my service dog from “ask before you pet” to “absolutely not.”

Now, I’m not trying to discourage any disabled individual from getting a service dog. In fact, despite all these problems, it’s totally worth it. My service dog has saved my life multiple times from my own hands during suicide attempts in the middle of the night by going and waking up my mom, not leaving her alone until she checks on me.

Service dogs can be trained to call 911, alert to potentially deadly medical episodes, and many, many more lifesaving tasks. My service dog is trained in psychiatric alert and response, autism assistance, and medical alert and response. I have multiple psychiatric disabilities, one of them being non-combat PTSD, as well as Asperger’s syndrome, hypoglycemia, and asthma. Yes, really, my service dog alerts to my asthma. Many people get surprised when I tell them that, but asthma alert dogs are out there. She even gets my purse for me, which has my inhaler inside, as well as my psychiatric medications.

My problem is that my disabilities are invisible, and that my service dog is an atypical breed — a rescued pit bull.

I got Diamond, my service dog, when she was just 2 months old, from a local no-kill animal shelter. Obviously, she wasn’t trained at 2 months old, and on top of that, she had demodectic mange and was underweight. So, I had to train her myself, with just a little bit of help from a professional trainer.

I successfully trained her to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test, which is not required for a service dog to pass, but I wanted her to pass it anyway. The trainer complimented my skills, saying he would take me in as an apprentice if he could. I was only 15 years old at the time, but knew a lot more than most my age about dog training.

I’m now 18 years old, and Diamond is 4. Despite people who don’t even know us as a team calling her a fake service dog over the internet (and in real life once), and despite all the access issues I get (which, interestingly, happen mostly at hospitals), I’ll never regret adopting her and training her to become my lifesaving service dog.

Originally published: April 13, 2021
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