Hello, readers! It seems like it has been AGES since I have shared a new post, new feelings, and new thoughts. I apologize for that. The Hoekstra’s have had a busy few weeks. As we all know, this time of year can be a blur, but we are hoping to enjoy the holiday season which is quickly approaching.
I have been reading a lot of articles on the military community lately. Military caregivers, spouses, Veterans, and of course, a topic near and dear to my heart: service dogs.
I follow a page (organization) on Facebook called the Association for Service Dog Providers of Military Veterans. This is a nonprofit organization that is a coalition of non profit service dog providers for military Veterans who suffer from PTSD, TBI, and MST (military sexual trauma) to prevent suicide and improve military Veteran’s overall health (taken from their website, http://servicedogs4vets.org
As many of you know, Memphis and Sam were paired through a non profit organization, This Able Veteran.
What does all of this mean?
This Able Veteran is a legit organization. The service dogs are trained for many, many months. The Veterans are interviewed and go through a lengthy process of being paired/trained/working through trauma right here in southern Illinois.
I read an article posted by the Association for Service Dog Providers of Military Veterans and it hit me hard. You may say in all the feels. You may say I was shouting (in my head) “hallelujah!” when I read it.
The article is titled “Don’t Judge Disabled Veterans…And, Please, Leave Their Service Dogs Alone.” It was written by Mary Peter, a certified master dog trainer. Mary is the founder/CEO of K9 Partners for Patriots, another non profit that helps Veterans with service dogs. Throughout her time, she mentions, “I have seen and heard things that have made my head spin.”
I felt like I was right there with her.
What legit, real, and official service dog programs do is work with a Veteran to regain part of their life back. They assist Veterans with a variety of tasks, being restored into civilian society, being able to function with family and friends and not feel out of place, and being able to venture out into public.
One of the biggest obstacles that Mary mentions (and I fully agree with) is the concept of fake service dogs, or rather, service dog fraud. This sadly happens. What people fail to realize is that when someone slaps on an Amazon vest for their “service dog” is that they are actually making life increasingly difficult for those who have a real service dog. By real, I mean one that is trained properly.
We see a lot of fake service dogs in public. I have even witnessed a woman carry (yes, carry) a small dog in a handbag and refer to that as her service dog.
Dogs that are out of control, eating food off of tables, randomly walking over to people that are not their handler, and yes, even small barking dogs, may not be a real service dog.
Per the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are two questions that businesses can ask…
- Is the dog a service animal which is required because of a disability?
- What work, or task, has the dog been trained to perform?
That last question does not mean “what tricks can the dog do?” Service dogs do not do tricks, they work.
We have been asked those very questions (and unfortunately, some that are not phrased that way) because we have been out with Memphis. We have been isolated (even though that should not happen) because we’ve had Memphis with us in a restaurant. We have almost been refused service at a restaurant because Memphis is with us.
Is it because people are bringing fake service dogs into places and trying to pass them off as a real service dog? Maybe. Is it because there is still a lack of understanding of a person with an invisible wound or disability? I would imagine, yes. Is it because we have to stay vigilant and educate about service dogs? Yes. We have to keep educating and keep sharing stories.
There are people who have walked right up to Sam and asked, “So, what’s wrong with you?”
When you see someone with a service dog, please don’t ask them what their disability is.
When you see a service dog in a vest, recognize that the dog is working. The dog must not be distracted. Please ask to pet a service dog. Please realize that when Sam is out with Memphis, Memphis is like his “medical equipment” so to speak.
Not all wounds are visible. In our experience, people sometimes assume because they can’t see a disability, there must not be one, or they assume that Memphis was the one in the service (some people have asked what branch he has been in). At times, people have followed us, taken pictures without permission, and made comments that we would rather not hear.
Not all wounds are visible.
While there are moments that are hard and challenging, there are also moments of happiness and hope.
I am so proud of Sam and Memphis. This Veteran’s Day, Sam was asked to speak to a group of middle school kids about what life was like as a Veteran. Of course, he also spoke highly of Memphis and shared with students that service dogs have an important job. They are trained to help their Veteran (or handler) with a variety of situations. They are important. They are loved.
One of the students asked a question that went something like this, “is it okay to pet a service dog?”
And Sam replied, “sometimes. But, most of the time the service dog is working. Please be sure to ask. Sometimes you may get told no, and sometimes you may get told yes, but always ask.”
Always, always ask.
While it is so tempting to walk up to someone with a service dog and “ooh” and “ahh” over the dog, please be courteous. Please be mindful and respectful to the service dog and their handler.
We love each and every one of you who have supported us and continue to support us on this journey. We are so grateful to have so many of you love and care for Memphis, too!!