Meet my dog, Rocco. Notice that he isn't wearing a vest. In this very rare moment, if you were at my house, I'd let you interact with him. I'd allow you to talk to him, pet him, play with him. You could get down on the floor with him and rub his belly. He loves that.
These pictures were taken when Rocco was working at his primary function. You see, Rocco isn't a "pet". Rocco is a "Service Dog". Not familiar with the term? Do you think only blind people are entitled to Guide Dogs to assist them with their sight issues? Well, my friends, you have a lot to learn. So did I, to be perfectly honest. However, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know this is my third blog regarding service dogs. I've been keeping you up to date on my battle to get the Bureau of Veterans Affairs to pay for Rocco's basic services and I am getting closer to that ... but that's another blog for another day. I do have the forms to submit to the prosthetics department. If you need them right away feel free to email me and I'll send them to you along with the information I've picked up from AMVETS.
Let me tell you a little story, my friends. Don't I always have a story for you? As you know, Rocco is in training to become a certified service dog. I am an owner trainer and we're enrolled in a program with the good folks at Service Dogs of Florida, Inc. Rocco still has a long way to go before he's "certified" as a service dog, but we're getting there. He's a fast learner and we train and practice every day. If you go to this page on SDFL's website, you'll see all that is involved in Rocco's training. It's without a doubt one of the biggest projects I've ever taken on in my life but it's worth it. The one night I tried to go out on my own, with just my wife at my side, was a pure disaster. It was one panic attack after the next and I don't want to go through that again in my life. Therapy doesn't help. At least not yet. I am hopeful though. Rocco does.
Rocco and I were at the VA Hospital in Tampa a couple weeks ago. I have to admit here, friends, that I had a meltdown. But first, let me tell you what happened and see if you wouldn't have had one, too. I showed up early for my appointment just as I always do. When I checked in I reminded the clerk that I only see female health care providers. The specialty clinic at Haley VAMC has two waiting rooms. I can't wait in either of them. I typically find a quiet place against the wall where I can be alone and I wait for my name to be called. It's always packed in there and it feeds into my anxiety. It's nothing like the calm and quiet Women's Clinic.
As Rocco and I waited I can't tell you how many people came up to us and tried to talk to Rocco, tried to pet him, attempted to distract him and one particular jerk had the nerve to tell me I was petting my dog wrong. Two of Rocco's vests were at the tailor's shop having new patches sewn on. The vest he had on that day did not say that he's "in training". I had Veterans asking me, "What does he do for you?" I even had a doctor come up and ask, "Do you mind if I pet your dog?" By that point I'd had enough. Doctors are supposed to be smart, aren't they? I looked him in the eyes and said, "Yes, as a matter of fact, I do mind."
I know I'm jumping around here, Friends. Please bear with me. If you're a new reader, I tend to do that. That's why this is called "Ramblings of One Weary Soldier". Stick with me and you'll get used to it. Or not. You choose. ;-)
Finally I got called back to be triaged. By a male nurse. WTF? I looked at this guy and said, "I don't see male healthcare providers." His reply? You'll love this, my friends. "I'm just a nurse. I'm not the doctor." And bacon bits are still meat, right Matt? (Thanks for sharing that story, Matt. It was a good one.) How dumb can you be? I refused to be triaged by him. After that it was a total SNAFU not typical of that clinic. I must say, I usually don't have problems like that in this particular clinic. As it turns out, someone in scheduling screwed up and my doctor wasn't even in that week so I wasn't able to be seen at all. There were no female physicians on staff. I ended up seeing the nurse practitioner who runs the clinic. She was extremely apologetic and promised to personally call me with an appointment date with my physician. Thank you Nurse Janda. You're the best. As for Nurse Stanley ... take a look between your legs, Buddy. Bacon bits are still meat.
Despite Nurse Janda taking care of the appointment situation I was still furious, and in the throes of a full blown anxiety attack. I was walking the hallways headed to travel with my friend/driver and people were still trying to talk to my dog. I'd finally reached my boiling point. We got in line and I started bitching to my friend. I told him I couldn't believe how ignorant people are when it comes to service dogs. I told Eric, "Why would someone have the nerve to ask what your dog "does for you"? Would you walk up to a stranger and ask what their disability is? It's the same principle. My disability is no one's (expletive) business. I continued along that thread the entire time I was in the pay line. I talked about how rude it is to try to pet a service dog, to whistle or distract a service dog, to ask about one's disability, etc. And I told Eric, "They need to keep their damn hands off my dog!" Eric kept his mouth shut. Poor guy didn't know what to say to me. Rocco was watching me, very alert to what was going on. He got as close to me as he could, started nudging my hand and tried to distract me; to bring me back down to earth but I was so upset there was no consoling me. I wasn't stopping and I wasn't shutting up. Not one Veteran would look at me. No one said a word and the hallway got deadly quiet. No one got near me. They definitely gave me my space. And not one of them tried to touch my dog. It's a good thing. I was in such a rage at that point I probably would've killed anyone who had come near me.
So what is my point? It's simple. Please, people. If you see someone walking with a service dog, just ignore the dog like it isn't even there. Those of us with service dogs do our best to train our dogs to ignore you and all distractions. We train our dogs to focus on OUR NEEDS. If you distract them, that could mean serious trouble for us. You wouldn't kick out a cane or a crutch from someone, would you? Distracting our dogs is damn near the same thing. All we are asking for is just a little common courtesy. If we want our dogs petted, we will tell you. Ask us. Some handlers will allow it. I won't. I will tell you that up front. That's just because I don't like anyone in my personal space. Rocco is trained to "block"; to keep you out of my personal space and he does a good job of it. It was the first task he learned. Rocco even wears a patch on his vest which states he is a working dog and does not want to be petted though most people ignore it. Please don't be that person the next time you see someone walking with a service dog. Make a service dog handler very happy by ignoring their dog, won't you?
Until the next time, my friends...