I’ll admit this right upfront: I come from a family of animal lovers. I grew up with a menagerie of pets; dogs, cats, birds, fish, rabbits, snakes, and trust me, I could go on. We even named the lizards we caught in the river bottom in Ventura, Calif., even though we knew we needed to release them the next day, per Mom’s rule. Mike and I have two dogs now, and they rule our lives and hog most of the covers on our bed.
So, when I started to date my husband, I was fascinated to learn about my future sister-in-law’s guide dog. Blind from childhood, my sister-in-law was the youngest person to be assigned a guide dog in California – that was almost 30 years ago. Over the decades, her “girls” have been her constant companions and vital members of the family (though I will tell you, one was a major napkin stealer at restaurants; if you didn’t pay attention to that napkin in your lap, it would be gone in seconds!).
Today, you can find guide dogs and service animals trained to aid people with a number of disabilities, including blindness, autism, diabetes, epilepsy and PTSD, just to name a few. More and more, I am seeing service animals come to the aid of both adults and children. I have learned a lot about how to treat and respect guide dogs when they are working in public, meaning they are wearing a vest or harness. I also have realized that a lot of people and children are not aware of the dos and don’ts of service animals: for example, first and foremost, don’t pet them!
This month I wanted to talk to Reno Mom Blog readers about service animals, so I sat down with Kori Santos to chat about her daughter’s service dog, Pup-Cake, who they have had for five years. Kori is married to my longtime friend Rock Da Mullet, a brilliant social media guru and all together wonderful guy. Together, they have a gorgeous little girl, six-year-old A., who was diagnosed with autism at a very young age.
First, Kori, before we get into the whys, what fors, and dos and don’ts: is there anything special you would like to me mention about your experiences with Pup-Cake and the need for understanding service animals?
I feel that it is very important for people to understand that not all disabilities have a “look;” some disabilities cannot be seen by the average person.
That is a great point to start on, and a great reminder! So, tell Reno moms: why does A. need a service Dog?
A. has autism, and with this comes an array of issues that make life increasingly difficult. While autism means different things to the people who live with it, for A. it means that she struggles with daily life. It puts her in a place where self-injurious behavior is comforting, where simple things like working in a classroom setting are impossible and where placing herself in constant danger makes sense. This is just a small glimpse into the day-to-day issues she encounters.
How is Pup-Cake used on a daily basis?
Pup-Cake the service dog keeps A. out of the danger she constantly finds herself in. Some of this danger may be self -inflicted and some she may enter into unknowingly. The service animal’s job is to keep A. safe from any harm (self-inflicted or other), and intercept the various tendencies that go along with autism.
Why is Pup-cake vital to helping A. cope with the everyday world?
Pup-Cake not only intercepts the autistic tendencies that A. struggles with on a daily basis, but also keeps her safe. Her service animal will alert us should A. try to exit the home, and will keep her close while out in public.
What type of training did the dog have before becoming part of your family?
As you know, service animals go through a series of extensive training to be able to complete their individualized task, and Pup-Cake is no different. Our service animal started at BullNannies. It was at this first stop that Pup-Cake worked on early hyper-socialization. Pup-Cake was exposed to all types of animals, assessed for prey drive, handled and received early social experiences with everything from ducks and cats, to rabbits and all sizes and shapes of dogs. Of course, the training continued after this first stop and continued for upwards of two years.
Some service animals take longer to train than others. It depends on the quickness of the dog and the task it is being trained to perform. Each dog is a case-by-case basis, just as their handlers are.
Because of my sister-in-law, I know major things about interacting with service animals – like, don’t pet or distract the dog when it is working, meaning when the harness and vests are on. Any other advice on how to behave around these dogs?
I did not realize how little people understand about service animals until we started to use one. We have found that it can be somewhat difficult to go about our day-to-day activities with an animal in service. However, if I had the chance to make a request to others, they would be these:
- When a person has an animal of service, chances are their lives are already difficult enough. That person is doing whatever they can to lead a normal life, so please do not make it more difficult.
- When an animal is out in service, it is NOT helpful to:
- Point (it draws more attention to the person who is trying to blend in)
- Stare (it’s rude)
- Stop in front of the dog to take pictures (stopping a disabled person can affect their stride or become uncomfortable)
- Throw things at the dog, not even treats (it will distract the animal and is degrading to the handler)
- Take pictures in a sneaky manner (we know)
- Attempt to distract the dog (it won’t work)
- Push your children into the dog to pet it (chances are you will be offended when I stop your child, so save us both the frustration)
- Otherwise make the handler feel like any less of a person.
Thanks for sharing your experience and tips with us Kori!
I am hoping with posts likes this one that more people will understand that service dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds and are used for lots of different reasons and disabilities. Then Pup-cake and the Santos family won’t have to deal with discrimination like they recently had to at Tom’s Farm in Corona, Calif.
I love to follow Pup-Cake’s adventures on Facebook, and love that she refers to Kori and Rock as her “leashracks” and A. her “Girl.” Check out Pup-cake’s profile here. Her patience is amazing and her constantly changing pedicure is very fashionable.