Helpful Hints,  My Experience

Navigating the World With a Service Dog

If you have a service dog, you know how much it changes your world. After having Crush for over a month, I realized there’s a lot of things people don’t tell you about having a service dog. Getting Crush is the best decision I ever made. I am free to do things independently, but it doesn’t come without a few ups and downs. There are times when people interfere, causing frustrations. When we’re out in public, there’s a spotlight on us. That’s not always a bad thing, most times it brings a smile to my face. Crush is such a helper, he is a safety net. When shit hits the fan, I know he’s there to help. This comes with a lot of emotions, some days feel joyful and full of hope and others feel defeating. It all comes with the territory of navigating the world with a service dog.  

On bad days, there’s no hiding. People don’t have the insight to know how you’re feeling. If they feel the need to tell you how adorable your dog is, they will. This isn’t a bad thing and sometimes it makes my bad days better. My world is so much brighter because people are always smiling around me. This is a contrast to how people looked at me when I was struggling to walk. They all had a sympathetic look on their face, offering silent condolences for the freedom I’d lost. With everything, there’s a line, an invisible fence that people may be unaware of but when they cross it their left feeling awkward and ashamed. I’m very friendly in public, I try to smile and be polite to most people that comment on Crush. Asking why I have Crush is a touchy subject that people often don’t approach. When they do you can see the regret on their face. I try to keep it short. I say simply “my nervous system doesn’t work properly” or “my automatic functions don’t do what their supposed to.” I’m not opposed to certain people asking this question. In some situations it’s very appropriate but for strangers it’s like asking “why did you choose to wear that outfit?” Depending on the tone, it can be an insult, implying that it was the wrong choice or a simple judgement. I’m lucky in that I haven’t had a lot of incidences that leave a bad taste in my mouth. Ironically, all of the frustrating conversations I’ve had were at Mayo Clinic. A place where people should be well aware of service dog etiquette. Dealing with people ebs and flows, but it’s nice to have your best friend by your side.

Crush has become such a calming presence. When I start to get anxious, he lays his head on my lap. He knows that something is wrong and he wants to help. Crush is trained to medically alert me to my allergies. He does this by intervening on a scratching behavior. That is the only medical alert he was trained to do. Somehow, Crush has learned how to tell when my blood pressure is dropping and when my heart rate is too low or too high. It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. One day after surgery, I felt awful. I was laying in bed and I knew my blood pressure was low. I wasn’t willing to try to stand up to check it, for fear of passing out. I went the other route and decided I would try to sleep. I thought that would allow my body to regulate. Every time I closed my eyes Crush would start licking my face or nudging me. For forty five minutes, he was on and off the bed. No matter what I did to try to calm him down, he was persistent. I don’t know what my blood pressure was during that episode, I didn’t get up till I felt it was safe but even then it was low. People will comment, “does he always stare at you like that?” The answer is no, often when Crush is staring at me intently, something is going on. When this happened a couple days ago, people commented on it (luckily I was among friends). I awkwardly had to say “My heart is actually going to slow right now.” The second it popped back up, Crush went to sleep. Crush makes me feel so safe, his confidence when working is amazing. He knows what he is doing and he feels sure of himself when sensing something is off. That gives me a lot of confidence. 

Navigating the world with a service dog is a far more enjoyable experience than trying to navigate it alone with chronic illness. When I’m having a high increase in symptoms, I’m not stuck sitting in one place for several hours. I’m not calling for help because I need someone to walk me to my car. Crush is able to orient me, losing the ability to tell where I am in space is a very interesting experience. It makes you feel scared and vulnerable. Crush doesn’t take that away but he does help me through it and if it’s too much, we sit down and try again a little later. There will always be pros and cons to having a service dog, but I would never give up Crush. Having him is like having a lifeline. If everything goes wrong, he still knows what to do. I am less alone because I’m no longer alone. Crush has made an incredible impact on my life and I love him immensely. 

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