Sir Thomas rose from his bed only once in the first forty-eight hours at home after last week’s Parkinson conference.
True, Sir T is an excellent sleeper. But there were more than 4,200 attendees from dozens of countries and connections to Parkinson’s and it felt as though each one of them commented, queried, or captured a photo of us. Some twice.
Tommy’s eyes weren’t the only ones bloodshot at the end of each day. One afternoon, I started a count. I gave up after the twenty-ninth stopper – not including the “handsome dog” passer-bys, but actual stop to talk/ask/admire/poise cell phone camera encounters.
In the four years we’ve been together, I’ve not been so exhausted. Even the restroom wasn’t safe. Washing my hands, Tommy doing his such-a-good-boy best to remain in a stand-stay beside me, I watched in the mirror as the crowd gathered. The restroom echo grew louder, spooking Tommy. Such a good boy, he still helped me maneuver to the paper towels, which had become more of a challenge with so many people between us and the dispenser.
I hadn’t anticipated the off-the-charts paparazzi, particularly at a Parkinson’s conference. By the end of the fourth day, I knew I had much more advocacy work to do when we returned home.
When I discovered a website for a canine studies university that specializes in training dogs and humans about service teams, I was delighted. Bergin University. Yay, I thought, this may not be as daunting a task as I thought. There’s a whole school dedicated to the cause.
Until I read that they don’t train – or, it seems, believe in – balance dogs. Not worth it, it says, as they’ll likely move away from the balance-challenged person and cause a fall.
So I sent them a letter:
I was delighted when I found your website and read about the work you do and the education you provide on so many levels.
It was disappointing, however, to learn that you do not train balance mobility dogs, and such a discouraging message that ‘they’ll only end up knocking over their handler.’
I’ve recently celebrated my 4th anniversary with my mobility/balance service dog. Sure, I have tripped over him. With Parkinson’s, I’ve also stumbled over sidewalk cracks and been blown over by wind. I’m not about to walk in the street or go out on calm days only and I’m certainly not trading in my service dog. He provides so much more than a cane (which also can trip up the owner and take down anyone in range).
He also keeps me independent and upright, and the more I remain upright and walking, the better.
The worst culprit of causing my dog to ‘move away from me’ are passers-by who distract him. Grocery shopping, in a cafe. at the airport, the unwanted attention of outreached hands, calling to the dog, kissing sounds, hovering over him, blocking his path with cell phone pointed at him (despite Do Not Pet patches and vest) come from meaning no harm and not realizing the harm their distractions can cause.
Through speaking engagements (such as at the World Parkinson Congress last month), presentations to schools and rotary clubs, a service dog blog
( http://www.limyoga.com/service-dog-parkinsons/ ) and two books (forthcoming 2017), I advocate for and try to teach about service dog teams.
I can only imagine the numbers of people you could reach and educate as a university! I and my fellow advocates could certainly use the help in spreading the word on how to (or, better yet, how not to) interact with a service dog
If it is still your policy not to train balance dogs, would you consider adding to your curriculum, teaching humans about balance dogs?
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Renee Le Verrier
I’ll post the reply.