The Adventures of Jaba

Location: San Jose, California, United States

Friday, August 26, 2005

What is a service dog????

I've encountered numerous questions in my few months of living with a service dog. Some people understand one aspect or another of what Jaba does for me. Many have never seen or heard of a service dog. So I've decided to give a little summary of what a service dog is and what Jaba does for me.
First off, let me tell what a service dog is not. A service dog is not the same as a guide dog. Guide dogs are typically for the visually impaired person. They aid a person in safely navigating out in public and around the home. Service dogs from the organization where I got Jaba are not mobility dogs. The service dogs are not trained to help someone walk by providing stability, though many other organizations do train dogs to help in mobility. These service dogs do, however, pull their handlers for short distances if necessary. Service dogs are not protecting dogs. They are bred to be very docile and friendly. This enables them to calmly enter any environment the handler is in. Service dogs are not your average house pet. Although they do get time to be dogs where they aren't working, their lives are primarily to serve their handler in order to allow the person to live as independently as possible. Their handler is responsible for caring for the dog and maintaining the health and training of the dog. Even when not working, there are rules of conduct for the dog. For the safety of the dog, I have to monitor the types of toys he plays with and the environment in which he plays. He is not allowed off-leash unless he is in an enclosed area where there are no dangers. But he does get time to run around and play. And it's fun to see how different he is when he knows he can play. He is a young, energetic dog. He loves to run around. And, yet, he settles down and is immediately ready to work when told play time is over.
So what does Jaba do for me? He picks things up and carries items. Jaba can pick up papers and even dimes. He can turn lights on and off. Opening and closing doors, drawers and closets is also in his job description. When out in the community shopping, he helps with transactions that need to be done. He can take money, including coins, put his front paws on the counter, give the money to the store worker, and then get the change and/or receipt. As mentioned earlier, he pulls me for short distances when I need it. Many of the commands Jaba knows help me get from one point to another. He can go out in front of me, get behind me, or go on either side of my wheelchair. Jaba also backs straight up. He can jump up on objects. He will get under objects such as tables, chairs, or benches. The object of having the dog is to make life easier for the handler. So, dogs eat and toilet on command. Dogs are not to bark or whine or make any noise, unless directed to bark. This is a command as a safety feature. If something happens and I'm unable to get to a phone to call for help, Jaba will bark and alert people that I need help. Of course, a big part of having a dog is the companionship. Dogs are great ice-breakers. People are naturally drawn to dogs and it is a great way for someone who may not get much social interaction to be accepted in communities. People are constantly coming up to me and asking questions or telling me stories of dogs they know that look like Jaba. And it's great security knowing I'm not alone.
Now that I've explained what I expect from my dog, let me explain what I ask of you, the public. Jaba is a working dog. His job is to help me go about my daily life. In order to do this job effectively, he needs to be able to focus on me. That is why there is a hands-off policy. Being pet by people walking by is really distracting. And it's disruptive if I'm trying to get him to do something for me. And since we're still getting use to each other, it is critical that he pays full attention to me and learns that he needs to be focused at all times, no matter what is happening around him. It would help us if you let us do our jobs of working together. I do welcome questions, though, so when you do approach us, try not to ooh and aah over Jaba. I know that's easier said than done. Even I have to be less affectionate with Jaba in public than I am at home. He gets really excited with attention and it will distract him, so I have to scale back on my praise for a job well-done. I can't get as excited as I would like. If possible, ignore the dog. He is basically just a resource for me to have more independence. As such, it is his job to do tasks that help me. It is his job now to pick up items for me. If the object is too big or heavy for him, I will still need assistance, but not unless I ask for help. When he's not needed, he is suppose to be as out-of-the-way as he can. And even when it looks like Jaba may be laying down on the job or sleeping, he is actually working and waiting for me to give the next command. The great thing about these dogs is that they love to work. There may be times when I will allow some interaction, but they will be few and far between. Thank you for your understanding.
I would love to answer any questions I didn't cover in this post.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Minnesota, August 2005

My parents grew up in Northern Minnesota and they own a cabin there that we visit every summer. I was really excited to introduce my friends and relatives there to my new friend, Jaba. But at the same time, I was a little nervous about taking such a big trip with Jaba so soon after getting him. I shouldn't have worried. Jaba was a wonderful travel companion.
Jaba is a great traveler. He behaved perfectly on the two flights to Minnesota, wowing the flight crew and other passengers. He was a perfect gentleman in the hotel and had no problem sleeping on his fleece bed. The four-hour trip to our cabin north of Minneapolis was pretty uneventful for Jaba.
Jaba was very curious and interested when we arrived at our cabin. I put down his fleece bed and he felt right at home. He pretty much settled in easily. I think he liked the place which is great since we visit every year. He seemed very interested in the water. He always got excited on the dock, but was perfectly fine with lying next to me while I fished. He also didn't seem to mind our pontoon boat. He didn’t have any problems getting on or off. He seemed interested when one of us caught a fish. He'd watch while we took the fish off the hook and watched as we threw the fish back.
It's so fun. He is very attentive to me and is so eager to obey. At the same time, he's fine if a family member has to hold the leash temporarily. One night I called him off the boat while Mom held the leash. He came to me so quickly that Mom ended up falling and doing a summersault. Thankfully everyone was fine and we got a good laugh. He really seems to be attaching to me. He’s very alert and will pretty much pick up anything that I drop without me asking. And I’m using a little Tupperware dish for his food, which he picks up for me when he’s done eating. It’s so cute. He is so funny to watch with his toys. I had to get him a new squeaky toy because the old one got a hole in it. He is so proud of his new toy. It seems like he likes this one better.
As mellow as he is about just hanging out at the lake, he’s also happy to get out and go somewhere. We’ve been to a few malls and restaurants. He loves to work and get out with people. He’s dazzled so many people. I’ve also gotten to educate people who don’t know about service dogs.
We found a great fenced-in area for him to run. I love to watch this guy really move. He is such a happy dog. He’s enjoyed getting to meet my friends and family. And, of course, everyone loves him.
One thing I forgot to mention. Jaba likes the wildlife here, but not too much. We’ve got tons of birds, gophers and chipmunks. Last night he was relaxing in the middle of our lawn on his long leash while my parents and I ate. We feed the animals while here. We use sunflower seeds. There’s a stump in the middle of the yard where we dump some of the seeds. The other seeds are put on the porch. Well, Jaba was just a few feet away from the pile of seeds. He could have easily reached it if he wanted to. This one chipmunk came up to the stump and circled it a few times before settling down and picking up seeds. Jaba watched very intently and eagerly, but didn’t move until the chipmunk took off. I think that happened a few times. It was so funny to see the two animals so close to each other. Jaba was so cute, watching but not trying to attack. It was clear he was really excited and interested, but he was controlling himself. It was fun dinner entertainment for us.
Before leaving Minnesota, we made a stop at the Mall of America. It was fun, but pretty crowded. Despite this, Jaba was very attentive to me and helped me shop. He also was a great companion when I got temporarily separated from my family.
Jaba was also a comfort a few times at the cabin when I needed help. It was a relief to know that he was there and could bark for help if I needed him to, which I ended up not needing him to do. I was just grateful to have him there.
The trip home went just as well as the trip there. It was fun to see Jaba getting home and recognizing my room and the backyard and his crate. I know he'll also be happy to be back to "his" van. The rental van seemed less comfortable for him, though he never really complained. He settled back in so quickly that it's almost like we never left.
Now the next big thing is going back to school in a few weeks. I'm confident that he'll adjust to that routine without a problem.

Vacation Bible School July 2005

July was pretty low-key, except for the week of the 11th through the 15th. That was the week of my church's Vacation Bible School (VBS) where children come to learn about God and participate in lots of fun activities. The event was for children, ages 2 through entering sixth grade. I've helped with this week for several years. This year I was a leader for the preschool craft room. Every day, the children would come and create something that went along with the story for the day. I was a little unsure how it would work with Jaba, but everything went smoothly. I work with the preschool on Sundays, so most of the kids were familiar with Jaba. On the first day I explained to each class why he was there and what he does for me. I explained that they could help train him by leaving him alone and letting him listen to me and do his job. I think the kids were excited to be able to help me train him. Jaba behaved perfectly. At times I could tell he wanted to play with the kids, but he listened to my every word and held all his commands. I was so proud of him.
Most of the time, Jaba stayed under a table while I helped the kids do the craft. However, he helped me greet the kids every morning and say good-bye in the afternoon. And he quickly became a kind of celebrity. We leaders had a little snack break in the middle of the day. On the first day, I gave Jaba the job of carrying my water bottle from the snack room to the craft room. The lady in charge of the snack room always kept a bottle of water on the side so that Jaba could carry it for me rather than having to use a cup. It was fun to see Jaba when the water bottle came out. He knew what was coming and he got excited and looked so proud of himself.
The week went very well and I look forward to many more VBS's in the years to come. Once I get my pictures back from the week, I'll put a few up.