Today I am sharing a post that was written for a friend’s blog (he was seeking guest essayists, so yeah, I thought “why not?”)
This post came with some debate, some fear, and well, vulnerability. Sam and Memphis are quite the team, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t go full-on “Mama Bear” at times when we are in public. Recently, we’ve been told that some folks are trying to get their pet to be a service dog or an emotional support animal. While there is a big difference between a pet and a trained animal, Sam and Memphis have rights, feelings, and well, frankly, the “fake” stuff makes it so much harder for individuals who have trained dogs.
Enjoy this post which was featured on the Miles & Co. Blog.
(I have known today’s guest essayist for quite a while and, well, she rocks. Cathrine is skilled in the art of being a mother, wife, college instructor, and writer. She is also a wonderful advocate for veterans and wrote this amazing post to share what she has learned through her experience with her husband and his wonderful service dog, Memphis.)
My husband is a three-time combat veteran who suffers from PTSD, TBI, and chronic back pain. In April of 2016, he was paired with a beautiful service dog, Memphis. I now understand the meaning of the phrase about dogs being “a man’s best friend.” They have a bond that is simply amazing. The organization from which Memphis came from, This Able Veteran, provides service dogs to veterans at no cost. Yes, you read that correctly. At. No. Cost.
My husband decided after a long, silent struggle with PTSD that he wanted to try to be the person he was before he went to war. He wanted to feel at ease in public, he wanted to spend time with his family and be comfortable. He wanted to really live life.
So, after a lot of conversations and a whole lot of prayer, he decided to apply to TAV. We worked on the application together. Afterward, he quickly found an envelope and we drove to the post office together, hoping for the best. Months went by, days went by. It seemed like years, but one evening Sam got the phone call he’d been hoping for, and that night we knew our lives would change.
Sam entered a three-week program in April. He went through extensive therapy, so intense that he said it would take at least 2.8 years of one-week therapy to do what he did in three weeks. I can’t fathom that.
In three weeks, Sam learned commands for his trauma, and commands for his life.
He graduated from This Able Veteran’s Trauma Resiliency Program and received the greatest gift of his life.
What we didn’t know was that being in public was going to be a much different experience for us. My husband had training that taught him how to interact with TSA in an airport, how people in public would react to seeing them with a dog, and how to combat “ugly” questions from complete strangers. “Ugly” questions like: “Well, why does he have the dog? He has all of his limbs?” While some veterans do indeed have visible wounds of war, some do not. Some carry invisible wounds (PTSD, TBI) with them every day.
A few weeks after Memphis and Sam returned home from their training, we went to Target. The amount of staring and whispering was a little overwhelming. My husband walked about the store as he normally would, but I couldn’t help but keep some of those unwanted comments in my head. I kept telling myself,
“Those people just don’t know. It will be okay. Maybe seeing a service dog is new to them.”
So, after that experience and a few others, I decided to make a list of things that people say (or should not say) about someone with a service dog. I think education is key.
My husband is a real person with feelings. Heck, he even has decent hearing (love you, babe!). And sometimes the comments and even looks make him want to leave wherever we might be. So, here are a few suggestions in the event that you might see someone with a service dog, or if you by chance run into my husband and me in public.
- My husband is not a unicorn. Please do not stare at him. Have you ever had a feeling of someone staring right at you, like they are going to burn holes somewhere on your body because they are staring? Well, he gets that feeling when people are staring at him with Memphis.
- Whispering loudly or even shouting, “LOOK A DOG!” is not necessary. Dogs have been around for quite some time now, and yes, we are very aware there is a dog with us. If we hear someone shout or say obvious things, we tend to ignore that.
- Please do not attempt to follow someone with a service dog or pet the dog. I’ve had to run interference and flat out tell people, “He’s a working dog, you can’t pet him” numerous times. We’ve even had to change routes in stores, or wait until areas clear. Memphis has an important job. He must not be distracted.
- Please do not ask if he is a real service dog. Memphis is always in a “uniform.” He wears a vest that is clearly labels him as a service dog. He has been highly trained.
- Try to educate yourself on what tasks service dogs can do. We’ve been asked to leave restaurants, show Memphis’ papers, and provide documentation. That’s a no-no. According to the ADA, the only questions that can be asked are “Is this a service dog?” and “What tasks does the service animal perform?”
- Read information on the organization, This Able Veteran. These folks are doing amazing work! You can visit their website at www.thisableveteran.org
We are now advocates for This Able Veteran because they are our family. I want people to know about service dogs, TAV, and understand that these dogs can change lives. Our lives are blessed because of a sweet, loving dog. My hope is for people to understand the importance of serving our veterans because they have given so much for us.