These labels can be very confusing if you are not familiar with the jargon of disability world. They are not only quite different but are not treated equal under the law. The definition of service animal was changed July 23, 2010 defining only dogs and miniature horses as a category for service animals. People are always surprised to see that miniature horses were approved as a service animal. While not common, they have earned a reputation as an alternative to traditional service dogs. They can be house broken, a requirement for service animals under the ADA and their life span of 30 years is a much longer working life span than dogs. Typically, people using dogs as service animals must find a new dog every 10 years as their service dog ages. For many reasons this can become an emotional trying experience. The miniature horse must be a docile, intelligent temperament even in the hectic urban environments just like the dogs are expected to be.
To be considered a service dog they are required to perform a “task” to qualify such as fetching a cell phone, opening or closing doors, taking garbage out, pull a wheel chair up an incline, etc. The task performed is based on the individual needs but they must perform one to qualify as a service dog.
Emotional support dogs assist people with mental impairments. They are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Needing glasses would be an impairment not able to see it all is the disability. This distinction is why a person using an emotional service dog is not protected under the ADA since the most important criteria is that the person has to have a disability according to the ADA definitions. However, there are provisions under the Fair Housing Act that allows them in HUD housing if proper paperwork is filed.
Psychiatric service dogs on the other hand can be taught to do tasks similar to mobility service dogs. Examples would be retrieving things dropped because on certain medication bending over would cause dizziness to the person, reminding or redirecting people with OCD to stop behaviors, alerting to smoke alarms, door bells, tornado warnings. They are a huge help for social phobias and much more so you can see how psychiatric service dogs would qualify because of the “task” they perform and the person’s status of disabled.
To clarify there is NO certification required by law. There are many organizations that are very good at training service dogs to accomplish tasks but it is not required. However keep in mind a service dog must act like a service dog. They should be socially trained to not only perform tasks but know their place in all situations so that’s the great benefit of the organization that knows their stuff and can instill that training in the service dog. An average training process for these dogs is typically 18 to 24 months, a huge investment of time and money.
If a service dog is not socially trained and barks and bites or growls or disturbs other people the business you are visiting can ask you to leave and not bring your dog in again and it would b their complete right to do so. These service animals’ open doors of freedom for people with disabilities that were once closed. They fill many roles such as companion, helper and unconditional love but they are also a tool when working and must follow regulations in order to have access to all the places a person wants to go. For more information visit the website http://www.swcil.org a nonprofit Center for Independent living and request an advocate to assist you with the current laws and compliance in your state. .
To start off the beginning of this year I wanted to share my favorite poem from Carl Sandberg. Poetry is a personal contact with its author. When you read poetry you are taking the same breath, the same rhythm as the creator that wrote it. In this particular piece it is not only inspirational but if understood deeply, also ethereal. May this new year bring many soft and velvet days of introspection.
And it won’t help any, it won’t get us anywhere
it won’t wipe away what has been
nor hold off what is to be
if you hear me saying
love is a little white bird
and the flight of it so fast
you can’t see it
and you know it’s there
only by the faint whirr of its wings
and a hush song coming so low to your ears
you fear it might be silence
and you listen keen and you listen long
and you know it’s more than silence
for you get the hush song so lovely
it hurts and it cuts into your heart
and what you want is to give more than you get
and you’d like to write it but it can’t be written
and you’d like to sing it but you don’t dare try
because the little white bird sings it better than you can
so you listen and while you listen you pray
and one day it’s as though a great slow wind
had washed you clean and strong inside and out
and the little white bird’s hush song
is telling you nothing can harm you,
the days to come can weave in and weave out
and spin their fabrics and designs for you
and nothing can harm you–
unless you change yourself into a thing of harm
nothing can harm you.
I give you the little white bird–
and my thanks for you hearing me–
and my prayers for you, my deep silent prayers.
“little word, little white bird”
Life has a way of molding and reinventing us as trauma, crisis and drama infuse our lives. But, underneath, at the core, is who we are. It’s that short timeline from birth through school age. The beginning of our journey is when we form our preferences; learn faith, battle our fears and it is where hope reigns eternal. Those lessons are so important to our adult selves that we never, ever, loose that knowledge. When we were little and innocent there were usually supporting players also but as years progress many pass on or move on. But the little self who was touched by them remains.
For me, in 1989, during an extraordinary dark night of the Soul that little girl was who was left after a coma had peeled away those layers of my pretend self that I clung too and that created my personality. From food poisoning to an auto-immune disease called Guillain-Barré Syndrome I fought for my life for six months. When the worse was finally over it was that little girl alone, in that broken body, who rode a wheelchair out of the hospital to a personal world that had completely changed while she slept in a coma. All those layers for the last 42 years stripped away like driftwood in a sand storm of struggle to survive the last six months. No preferences remained. I didn’t know what TV shows I liked, what perfume I loved, what type of clothes I wanted to wear or what food I liked. Nothing left but the little girl. Who was I? Who would I become? But, that little girl still knew some things and slowly I began to piece myself back together. I remembered the love of animals and how they healed me when my son brought home a tiny orphan black and white kitten on my third day home who he named KIWI. I remembered my Mother’s constant advice to an impossible solution as “where there’s a will, there’s a way” rang in my ears with every painful exercise I accomplished.
I was confused and I was angry and that frustration was my motivator. I refused to be the victim. I began observing people in my environment like the mentally abusive relationship I was in and began eliminating those I no longer trusted. My children began coming home from temporary placement with family making the love of a tight-knit family the most powerful surge of determination of all. Even my 13-year-old daughter who had been diagnosed the first month of my coma with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and in remission on her way home from Arizona where she was with her father for treatment. The energizing feel of music, the desire to teach my children to be survivors, and the thrill of learning something new all infused me with eagerness to set new goals. My Mother had always been my rock but her own illness trapped her in another state. Nevertheless her words sang to me every day of this crisis, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”. All of this is my little girl, the real me, the one who no one can destroy. What I lost were only layers formed in the moments of day to day living.
But, there was so much to repair, so much to endure and even though I had made it home it didn’t feel like I was in control of my own life most days. I could not comprehend the “system” with all its rules and jargon and limiting criteria. I fought being dependent on anything or anyone usually costing me precious time and help. I struggled and I cried and wondered what would become of me.
I don’t remember exactly what I was doing or where I was when that great defining moment came. Somehow, by some grace, I discovered hope. It radiated out of me like a lighthouse beacon shining on a life path I couldn’t see before. It was the most significant turning point in my life. It was the day I went from fear to optimism. Hopefulness was my vaccination against despair. This is not to say I still didn’t get irritated or want to send some social worker to Dutch Harbor, Alaska where the only job available to them would be as a crab fisherman in the Bering Sea — in January — but I never returned to despair. Yes, I still had to rebuild who I was, we were still homeless living in an RV, I didn’t know if I would ever work again and $550.00 in social security a month for myself and three children was ridiculous but if this was all I had to work with so be it.
From hopes and dreams to rock solid goals I was on my way and there was no turning back now. I soon taught myself to eat, dress and brush my teeth. Then, I ventured outside with crutches and walked each day a little bit further. In a few months I drug myself up into my old four-wheel drive Dodge pick-up and drove around the field until I felt confident, sort of, to take it on the road. I had the RV moved to Biloxi, Mississippi to be near my biological mother incase I got worse and needed supports. I took a campground right next to a junior college where I could walk and go to class. I had no idea what to take but knew I couldn’t physically handle restaurant management or convention bookings anymore. I had worked a variety of jobs during the years but did not have a career to speak of. After my divorce ten years earlier I just sort of dove into the employment field and took whatever came my way to survive. But, now it was more important as it would need to be something solid enough to replace the awful “system” financially and medically and flexible enough to allow me a chance to prove myself at forty-two with a disability. I now had extensive nerve damage, balance problems, almost no walking or standing endurance and severe hand contractures. Of course the college advisors, and a hundred people since, said just stay on disability but that is not what I wanted for myself.
I began to think about what I still had to offer and something my mother had told me came back in a flash of inspiration. She said to me when I was a teenager and I was at similar crossroads with career options that people have gifts and they have talents. Gifts are something you come into the world with to be shared with others and talents are something you learn and hone and it provides the way for you to give your gifts here on earth. “Be careful, she said, to always give your gifts away and charge for your talents for if you reverse them nothing good will come of it.” You are born with gifts I thought but what were mine? I went back to my little self. I loved to learn new things and I loved to play teacher, I loved animals and I had a discerning eye for truth. The talents were things I learned by living and working. These were my transferable things. I was great at multi-tasking, I was organized, I was good at clerical, I was a good problem solver, and it was easy for me to empower someone else. So, I decided to try taking some classes in the counseling field to see if I could use my gifts through that kind of career. The school ended up being a rip off and closed its doors leaving me with no credits for the semester I struggled to attend and a student loan I never received any money from but now still owed. But, hope never left me and day by day I was becoming more confident learning new ways of doing everyday things with this body. Little did I know within a year a whole new life would begin for me and the children.
I felt strong enough physically now to attempt the drive to Springfield, Missouri where most of my family had relocated. We rented a modest house and settled in. It wasn’t long before I knew it was time for me to look for employment. I felt I owed it to myself and my children to see what I could do to provide more than a bare essential life. I was scared and apprehensive but that hope kept nudging me along. The employment office didn’t know what to do with me except encourage me to continue to live on social security. I asked for a list of job openings based on what I felt was my transferable skills and hit the streets on my own. One of those job openings was at an Independent Living Center. I had no idea what that was but full-time, 8 to 5, Monday through Friday sounded good to me. What they did there, I found out, was empower people with disabilities to see their potential, help them navigate the systems, find housing, technology that allowed maximum independence and a hundred other things that opened doors wide so no option was over looked. The Director saw that potential in me and offered me the job I’ve held for over twenty-two years. All my frustrating experiences clawing my way back to life have helped me help others. I think of that often and remember when I used to say, “Why did this happen to me?”
It would be great to end this story with only successes like all my children went to college and have wonderful careers and nothing bad ever happened again. Of course that’s not life. Several of them had struggles with substance abuse, bad relationships and crisis. One daughter lost a 2-year-old son to an accidental drowning. My oldest daughter died from prescription drug abuse fighting the fear of cancer she was diagnosed with after she was already in remission. She was 39 years old. Both my parents passed on. My 14-year-old granddaughter is waging a war on leukemia. Romance has never knocked on my door again.
But, this is the journey. It’s full of contrast. My grateful cup flows over with gratitude for having the opportunity to enjoy my grandchildren, love my adult children and all those moments of throwing my head back in laughter. And, the priceless opportunity to reach my hand out to so many people with disabilities and their families, opening doors of knowledge and information honed by the school of experience. The best of all would have to be seeing that expression of confidence in their faces when they conceive their true potential. The birth of “hope” is a beautiful thing. It has become my greatest “gift” that by grace has also become my “talent”.
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make Heaven of Hell or a Hell of Heaven –Milton