Have you considered getting a rescue dog instead of adopting a puppy? Personally, my pet adoption story turned out to be a lot more interesting that I could have ever imagined. Sure, pet lovers tend to be bleeding hearts that have a lot of exaggerated stories about how awesome their pets are. However, believe me, after you hear the story about my dog pet-turned-service-dog Beaker, you will reconsider the adult dog adoption experience. When I got him, he was 4-years-old, riddled with anxiety, and about to guide me through one of the worst experiences of my life — losing most of my vision and my physical balance.
From rescued pet dog to service dog
When I got my dog, he was just a pet. Regardless, I noticed right away that he liked to do tricks. Something told me that this was probably a good thing to keep going. In just over a year, this proved to be absolutely true when I lost my ability to see correctly. After about 9 months of doing tricks everyday with my new pet dog, I developed a severe headache for three months that the doctor called occipital neuralgia. Afterwards, I was not able to see very well and my balance was being thrown off by my vision problems.
Puppy training and tricks for treats
Most people are familiar with a service dog that guides a completely blind person. Interestingly, statistics show that only about 4 percent of blind people see nothing at all. A person that is blind will need a highly-trained dog that they can command to do tasks that keep the blind person from getting injured while they move about. On the other hand, the doctors I talked to at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) after I started having vision and balance problems said I could use my pet dog as a service dog. I was suddenly very thankful that the previous owner had paid for extensive pet training for my rescue dog, and that I had kept up the training by doing daily tricks for treats with the dog.
Learning the pet dog to service dog process
I had not heard of training older dogs to be service dogs before that experience at SFGH because I thought you had to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get a specially trained service dog. Instead, I learned from reading the American’s with Disabilities Act webpage that the definition of a service dog is less strict. According to the ADA, if a dog helps a person with disabilities with at least one task, has had some training, and can be well-behaved in public places; it is a service dog. For me, my dog helped me with depth perception issues, balance problems, and guiding me when I have temporary blindness from photo-sensitivity. In other words, he helped me become independent in spite of my vision issues, and rescued me from a much worse fate: being dependent on people for leaving the house.
My rescue dog rescued me
Online, I have published about my amazing adventures with my adopted pet. For instance, I wrote about how Beaker and I traveled on Amtrak alone from San Francisco to Chicago and how Schnoodles (Schnauzer-Poodle mixes) make great service dogs. To me, one of the fascinating aspects about the conversion from pet to service dog was watching him excitedly shift into “work mode” when I put on his leash. When the leash was loose or off, he was off-duty, and back to acting like a regular pet dog.
After four years of using him as a service animal, I had to come to grips with one main truth. I realized that I did not rescue this dog, but this dog had rescued me. I cannot imagine how I would have survived without the dog physically, but also emotionally. After all, losing your vision is known for being traumatic and depressing for the individual.
A new service dog chapter begins
Sadly, in February 2014, my service dog Beaker passed away unexpectedly after dealing with complications from Type 1 Diabetes. He was 10 years old. Despite the fact that I am not ready for another dog, the truth is that I am currently stuck inside my house without a service dog. For now, I am doing errands and taking walks with friends. I do not have family that lives in the local area, and I am single without kids. This means that, a few months from now when my roommate moves out of town, I will need to be independent and working with a new dog.
Funding my next service dog
This time, instead of converting a pet into a service dog, I am working with a local dog trainer in Louisville, Edwin Ramirez, to select an adult rescue dog that has the ability to be trained according to the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners standards as my new service dog. If you would like to help me with financial goals related to getting a new service dog for my migraine-related vision problems, visit my GoFundMe.com account. Of course, in the end, I will never be able to truly replace my first service dog, and best friend. RIP Beaker.
Media about Beaker the Service Dog:
My GoFundMe.com page for Beaker’s vet bills and new service dog
Video of Beaker’s tricks on MetaCafe
Article I wrote, “Why You Should Schnoodle”
Article I wrote about traveling on Amtrak with my service dog