By: Bridgette Walker
There have been and will continue to be various types of service and working dogs in educational environments like McMaster University and out in the world at large. I’m Bridgette and I have a dog guide named Estelle.
Please don’t freak out! Properly trained dogs are more effective, efficient and reliable than technology for a lot of physical and mental health conditions. These dogs truly do save lives.
Estelle plays many important roles in my life including going to McMaster University with me. She does many things including listening for certain sounds — especially my snack alarms — and knows where all the really important places are. Aside from deafness, I have anxiety, autism and chronic migraines. Estelle keeps me in check mentally and emotionally.
When meeting service dogs, there are some ground rules: ask first, establish what’s helpful and what are the limits. There are some things Estelle really shouldn’t do for her own sake, and a few things that would actually cause problems for me. Meeting other service dogs is cool too, as long as they're all well-behaved and ready to get right back to work.
Anyway, I don’t appreciate people randomly trying to pet or play with Estelle while I’m walking between classes. In general, all dog guides need to pay attention to where they’re going, and to their person. We're on the move, but she’s still listening for what sounds are in the area, how I am doing and so forth.
Please respect my space. I don’t like being “crowded in” and neither does Estelle. She may be a dog, but she’s also regarded as a medical device — same as a wheelchair or other medical apparatus.
And yes, you can take a picture of us as part of the scenery going by, but don’t stop us to pose for snaps; if we did this every time, I'd be late for everything.
Enough with distracting the dogs themselves! This can be dangerous for other people with more serious conditions when their service dogs are being distracted and hindered from alerting them to potentially harmful or even fatal issues that can crop up at any time. I’m blessed that this isn’t the case for me, so far.
Then there are people with phobias. I don’t know whatever trauma you have endured in the past but we really don’t mean you any harm! Please, stop screaming and whining. It’s not good for Estelle's ears, not good for my anxiety and certainly not good for your throat or mental health.
Don’t project your personal problem onto us like that. You are an adult in university and entering the working world. If you’re going to be like that every time you see Estelle or another kind of service dog on campus or out in the world, you’re not going to live as good a quality life as you deserve. Everyone should be able to enjoy or at least tolerate seeing these dogs on duty — they’re really good at heart!
The secret is that if she weren’t on duty, she'd like to try being your friend! Estelle also likes visiting babies, kittens and even pet chickens. Anyway, since she can’t try comforting you in her doggy-way, try refocusing your perspective of the dog with: “It’s a special animal. It’s somebody’s lifeline.”
From Estelle and me, see you around campus!