Challenges & Opportunities

Challenges lie ahead, no matter where we begin our journey.  Obstacles of every kind seem to materialize, blocking the path; until we adjust our ‘framework’ and begin perceiving those obstacles as opportunities.  Suddenly a positive paradigm emerges, a rebirth of thought in constructive active tense—even when experiencing not-so-pleasant circumstances.  Our challenges become our ‘spring’boards into new being: catalysts of growth and change; a cycle of chrysalis, transformation and renewal; foundations for strength and perseverance throughout the rest of our journey. 

We’ve gotten to know the Foreign Service dog Firu, and resolved his family’s travel dilemma, while also highlighting some travel and documentation tips for ALL pet companions—service companions, therapy buddies, and typical pets alike.

[To catch up on the discussion visit our previous post, https://bensonsbuddies.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/traveling-buddies/
and http://mom2nomads.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/111/ ; for more on traveling with service pets (& notes on international travel) visit http://www.deltasociety.org/page.aspx?pid=492 and to meet other Foreign Service companions be sure to visit https://www.facebook.com/FabulousForeignServicePets ]

Having touched on the issues of medical privacy and legal documentation regarding assistance animals, I’d like to provide some background of my personal story and familiarity with service animals & therapy pets.  (I’ll link some additional useful resources a bit later in this story.)

Personal need and responsibility go hand in hand when working with service animals.  Just as we have the rights to an assistance companion to help meet our daily needs, others have the right to expect safe and positive interactions with those service animals and their handlers.  Having a service or therapy animal takes dedication and discipline, and demands regard not just for one’s own needs but those of the service animal, and the interactions the team has with the public, as well. 

A number of factors led to Benson & I training as a therapy team—primarily, my husband of almost 16 years being diagnosed with MS about 12 years ago.  We were already familiar with working dogs of many sorts (police K9; search & rescue; etc.) in addition to physical/mental service animals, but suddenly we were in the position of needing one.  We knew my husband’s MS was advancing and he would benefit from having a service dog to help with a few common tasks and depression resulting from MS over time.

Even as he recognized the need, my husband resisted the idea of a service dog at first.  He feared the expense, but accepting a service companion was also a statement to the seriousness of his illness.  Fortunately, a friend involved our church during the fundraising and training process of her second service companion which kept the idea fresh in our minds, and wanting to learn more.

With experience in ADA and compliance requirements for non-profits, I began researching human-animal welfare & health organizations.  I looked for groups empowering individuals and encouraging personal responsibility with human training as the primary component—the core—of service/ therapy teams.  I discovered Delta Society/Pet Partners.  Benson & I are working to certify through Delta Society, so at risk of sounding a bit ‘commercial’ I’d like to say that Delta Society provides a great amount of information and the following links I provide are through DS/PP.

Many people have questions regarding not just documentation of service pets—but also what is required: what basic standards are expected of assistance dogs in particular.  For an excellent overview check out http://www.deltasociety.org/page.aspx?pid=183  Basic training standards can be found in one of their free publications, “Minimum Standards for Service Dogs,” Delta Society http://www.deltasociety.org/document.doc?id=373 .  From legal information, to outreach materials, to sources for further study—Delta Society/Pet Partners is dedicated to “improving human health through therapy, service, and companion animals”—and is an absolute resource treasure.  With the information DS/PP provided, I began the process of developing & certifying our team.

Would it surprise you to know that handlers of service companions are not required to identify your or otherwise differentiate it from a pet?  Or that the dog does not have to wear any vests or tags to identify it as a service dog?  Did you know that they aren’t obligated to answer any questions regarding the nature or extent of a disability?  In fact, did you know others are prohibited, by law, from asking anything of the handler except “is this a service dog?”  Some of these facts made it easier for my husband to consider including a service companion pet in his daily life.  It helps to know your rights & how ADA & other laws can assist.

Once Benson & I embarked on this adventure, hubby decided to come along!  Suddenly, he was excited—his attitude toward training & having his own assistance dog became positive.  Hubby even discovered related interests (play therapy, animal-assisted activities & therapies, etc.) in his graduate studies of sociology & counseling!  As my husband’s physical limitations increase, we will focus Benson’s tasks to include more helpful interaction between them and create more specific service duties.

Benson & I value all the buddies we have in our lives, and so we continue to educate ourselves & others to the health benefits of our pet partnerships.  Benson has been a positive influence on my partnership with my husband, and is helping us transition through the daily difficulties of chronic illness.  Service companions require a lot of all parties involved, but the benefits are astounding and make every moment worth the effort—we know so!

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Check out some FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) regarding service animals: http://www.deltasociety.org/page.aspx?pid=304

For those who need assistance with aid for acquiring or training a service dog, Delta Society recommends contacting Assistance Dog United Campaign (ADUC) ,which “provides financial assistance to individuals who have the need for an assistance dog but have difficulty in raising the necessary funds,” and to people/programs “whose purpose is to provide assistance dogs to people with disabilities.”  Check them out at: http://www.assistancedogunitedcampaign.org/

A simple brochure like this one from the Delta Society, can help others to understand the role your service dog fulfills and help you learn your rights as a service dog handler: http://www.deltasociety.org/document.doc?id=239  Delta Society recommends keeping a wallet-sized “law information card” of the ADA & other laws protecting service animals with their handlers on you to share with others when needed: http://www.deltasociety.org/document.doc?id=346

Be sure to check out our FaceBook page: https://www.facebook.com/BensonsBuddies