Photo by Kyle West

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!


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By: Jennifer La Grassa

Last week, I locked myself in a bathroom stall on the second floor of the student center and cried. I had just gotten off the phone with my best friend who incoherently informed me through her uncontrollable sobbing that she had to put her dog, Daisy, down later that night. The combination of hearing her breaking down on the other end and the memories that flashed through my head of all that Daisy had been through with us turned me into a crying mess as well.

I was ashamed to be crying for a dog who wasn’t even my own and didn’t understand why, days later, I still felt a lingering sense of grief. When this same friend had broken up with her boyfriend she had been upset, but it wasn’t even comparable to the grief I heard her express over the loss of Daisy.

For those of you who have never been a pet owner, know that losing them is equivalent to the loss of a family member. It seems dramatic of me to be making that comparison, but until you care for and love an animal everyday for its entire life you won’t understand what it’s like. This is especially true for pets like an indoor dog or cat that are constantly involved in the life of their owner; no longer having them around can be emotionally devastating.

Pets provide companionship and love when no one else can or is around to do so. It is through watching television with them, petting them and burying your face in them for comfort that we create a psychological and social bond with them. They are there when everything is going right and are most reliably there when everything is going wrong. Just because we cannot speak dog (or cat or bird or lizard) and they cannot intellectually communicate with us should not be a reason to desensitize their death.

If you are dealing with the loss of a pet, don’t feel guilty or weird for grieving as it is natural and common to do so, especially when they have played such a large role in your life. Looking back on the tears I shed for Daisy, I realize that although she wasn’t mine I sympathize with the loss because I’ve been through it before. It was also difficult for me because I associate Daisy with my friend’s house and I strongly viewed her as being part of the family. I assume that going to my friend’s house and not having Daisy run up to me for the first time in eleven years will be tough to take in, but I know that like all other wounds created by loss, this too will soon heal.

Photo Credit: John Moore/ Getty Images

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