LIFE WITH A DOG ON CAMPUS by Jae Hemingway

Education, a necessity to open the doors of opportunity. Just introducing the topic of school and education is enough to spark up some stressful facial expressions in the room. A dog usually isn’t something that crosses the average students’ mind when preparing for school, but for some students, life as a more independent being requires the presence of four paws. 

You step onto a high school campus, you look around; familiar faces that are echoed throughout memories of years past. Its four straight years of self-discovery. Now when you step onto a college campus and look around, it’s like entering a microcosm of a metropolis. Like lightning, you’ll never see the same face twice, no matter how many days you attend. Every class is a stepping stone towards your future. The glaring differences in these institutions are to be expected, such expected dissimilarities are surprisingly extended towards the treatment and reception of a student with a working dog.

On the outer edges of Los Angeles County is high school graduate, Dani. She spent half her high school career in independent study before she trained her service dog, Luca, who allowed her to return for her senior year. Word of her return spread through the classrooms like wildfire, along with the new addition by her side. High school administrators tend to greet the idea of a service dog on campus with hesitation, the fear was centered on how the dog would affect the student and her peers’ ability to focus in the classroom, as well as their ability to perform in certain activities. The acceptance of a service dog becomes a production, Dani went so far as to make a PowerPoint video demonstrating the important tasks needed by Luca to maintain her independence, as well as a phone interview with Luca’s trainers. College however was surprisingly inverse. Many of the handlers I interviewed were able to just simply show up to campus after personally messaging their professors individually with the accommodations they require for their disability, as well as a note that there will be a dog in attendance. Some colleges like the one Mary and her service dog, Esther, attended in Texas, have a voluntary registration set up in the disability office that allows the students with disabilities to access accommodations with ease. Sometimes providing more benefits such as proof of the dogs training, health, and need for attendance in the case of an emergency to avoid any miscommunication. Most colleges often approached service dog teams with a sense of support and advocacy for the teams.

The first days and first steps across the high school hallway with the new student come with a lot of “ooh’s” and “aah’s”. At times Dani felt as though she was a student second and the owner of Luca first, as her peers often addressed her service dog primarily. The title of service dog sometimes began to feel like therapy dog for her surrounding peers involuntarily. As time passed, the presence of Luca began to bring on uplifting attributes. A unique ice breaker, a relatively cute reputation of the small cheery golden marching alongside her. The campus quickly began to feel like family to an extent. Many high school teams reported things becoming easier and more enjoyable after about a month or two on campus, and recommend being firm and honest with your teachers and peers early on to avoid continuously struggling with having the dog be used as entertainment by others. For college, negatives are hard to encounter. Mary and her service dog Esther really only had the hardest time while attending the first of two universities. In the Michigan University, Mary had already completed the first year by herself as any other student. It wasn’t until the summer before her second year she introduced Esther into her life. The school and staff were very accommodating and eager to learn alongside the first team on campus, but already having a developed reputation amongst certain groups and friends, there was some difficult accepting Esther into the mix. Starting a new university in an entirely different state the following year, those difficulties became memories. All the teams including Mary attending colleges with their dog were content with the treatment of the staff and peers, they felt as if they were treated equally and for the most part had very little trouble with distractions by others since most students are too busy to stop and admire the dog on campus. Much like high school, it was a walking icebreaker. A way for you to connect with your professors for a more personalized help, because who can possibly forget the student with a dog unique in its own right? A way to stand out and get some recognition in a sea of students coming in and out. So make sure you’re a good student! The main things to keep into consideration is that everyone has to be willing to accommodate each other. Some classes require activities that might not be suited for a dog to be present, or may require additional protection which can mean taking more steps in preparation than the average student. With the campus being massive, there is no reputation to rely on so you’re never too sure what to expect as a first reaction at the start of each semester, so it’s important to be ready to create a positive relationship with your professors to build a foundation of support for critical needs.
Regardless of grade, if you intend to step on a campus with your service dog then walk in with an open mind, a firm heart, and a willingness to learn with your environment! What might seem like a frightening journey to have an animal attending school alongside you can be an opportunity to create positive relationships with a unique trademark of your own. Be open and honest about your needs and it’s recommended to build a strong foundation with the disability staff if ever the negatives come your way and you need support during your journey to advocate. I think in all this, the hardest part with life on campus with a dog is trying not to envy them as they sleep through class and still manage to pass. 

Mother and Daughter Team

Heather Hellman’s own words:

Edison may not be ready to physically support our daughter yet, but the emotional support he provides his priceless. This fall my daughter’s Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia symptoms have become more severe causing a lot of anxiety for all of us, but in the midst of all of it, this brilliant puppy provided by Mobility Service Dogs West Coast Project is giving her more than we ever imagined. We knew that one day he would be able to support her on her dizzy days and help her to walk, but we didn’t even know to wonder about how much joy he would bring on the way there.

Edison provides unending entertainment mixed with a lot of hope. Edison is all puppy when his vest is off, stealing things he shouldn’t, teasing our other dogs, and getting into all kinds of misadventures. When his vest is on though he is a steadfast and calm companion. He navigates challenging situations with ease, strolling down hospital hallways and sitting through meetings.we knew training him would be a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun. He excels at training and my daughter can train him from her bed if she can’t get out of it giving her purpose on days she feels useless. He gives her a new outlet of opportunity to spread awareness of her illness. He also makes something invisible to many, visible which gives us a better sense of safety for her. He brings a smile to everyone’s face when they see him, which makes my daughter very happy. Of course he is also a silly puppy. Recently she said he makes her laugh to the point of tears everyday. 

Edison may not be ready to give our daughter independence yet, but he has given us all a lot of light, laughter and hope. We are forever grateful to Mobility Service Dogs West Coast Project.

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Mother and Daughter Mobility/Alert Service Dog in Training Team

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Heather Hellman wrote:

Today I got really frustrated with my kid’s illness and lost my patience with my kid. Having a sick kid is hard! Here is something I wrote as a puppy raiser/handler for Mobility Dogs West Coast Project (link to the actual page and website where you can donate in comments). It captures some of the hard and some of the hope recent events are bringing:

Watching my amazing, kind, hard working, smart, capable daughter unable to get up off the floor is devastating. Trying to help her make it to school each morning and helping her face the defeat of not going is heartbreaking. Hearing the thud of her unconscious body hitting the floor after she passes out, that is perhaps the scariest thing of all. I have watched my daughter’s world narrow under the symptoms of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome for the past two years, but now finally thanks to Edison and Mobility Service Dogs West Coast Project, there is hope, her world is starting to open again and my fears for her are subsiding.

Edison is my daughter’s service dog in training. The hope is that Edison will be able to medically alert her before she passes out so she can be in a safe seated or lying down position, preventing things like her previous concussion and sprained wrist. He will also serve as mobility support, giving her counterbalance and stability so on the days that her dizziness is so extreme she can only stumble and fall, she will be able to walk instead. We hope that by teaming up with Edison she will be able to regain independence and go to college in two years.

Edison just came to us but already he is bringing a lot of hope and a lot of learning. Finally my daughter has something positive to focus on related to her illness. His care and training adds a new sense of purpose to her days and pride instead of embarrassment. Now she won’t be known as the girl who misses so much school, but as the girl with the dog. It is not without its challenges though. Because he is so young and isn’t quite ready for school yet, I am Co training Edison with her. It feels a bit like we have a toddler in the house again, we have to watch his every move. We also have to take him with us everywhere to expose him to as much as possible. That can be full of missteps and learning experiences. We have to do a lot of explaining as to why he is behaving a certain way, what his purpose is, and what he is doing there. It has served as a great opportunity to educate people both about service dogs and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. It is also teaching us a bit about parenting and grand parenting as my daughter has seen how my husband and I have screwed up our other dog children and she is not willing to let that happen to Edison, but she is also not always appreciative of the advice we give from the wisdom we have gained from our mistakes over the years. Edison is bringing much life and levity back into our house though.

It took two years of frustration to get a medical diagnosis for my daughter but it took only two months for Mobility Dogs West Coast Project to match us with Edison. Janie and her community went above and beyond to research Tabitha’s illness and find a trainer that could give her the tools to train Edison for medical alert too. I wasn’t very fond of poodles before meeting Edison, but he has changed my view completely. Our family and our support community are all profoundly grateful for Janie and Mobility Dogs!

Jae Hemingway's This is my dog. What matters is what I've put into him

Jae Hemingway

This is my dog. I am his handler. 
It doesn’t matter how much I’ve spent to obtain myself a dog. What matters is what I’ve put into him. The hours spent on the road for him to be professionally trained. The amount of places a week I drive to for no other reason other than to train my dog, so that when we go places to shop or run errands, he’s a good dog. He’s polite to the public and business owners. My dog trusts me. He trusts me because he knows that I won’t purposely put him into situations that make him uncomfortable, and if he becomes uncomfortable, that I will deal with it appropriately. I did not gain this trust when he came home, I earned it by consistently showing him that good things come in the decisions and directions I make for him.
I earned it by learning to be comfortable with the word “no”. Not to him. But to you. When you, a person who’s name I don’t even know, asks to pet him. When your dog at the end of its leash comes barreling over while you smile. Yes my dog is friendly, very friendly. But we do not know you, your family, or your dog. We do not know what kind of person you are, or what baggage your dog brings to the table.
When you come trotting over in a high pitch squeal and your hand leaning over my dogs face, and I say yes, that’s how I lose my dog’s trust. 
When your dog comes pulling and stiffens up at his face and I say sure, that’s how I lose my dog’s trust. 
I want my dog to always know that the decisions I make, come with a reward. When you overstep those lines and make the decision for me and my dog there is also a chance he’ll enjoy it. He’ll be excited to be pet or to meet another dog. But then guess what? I become less exciting to him. I become less rewarding to him, unless I correct him. And I don’t want to correct my dog because you couldn’t control yourself. I really don’t. 
And what happens if I become less exciting than the people and dogs reaching out for his attention? 
I’ll get dragged. I’ll get hurt. My dog will end up hurt, when he pulls me to greet an aggressive dog. People will be terrified when they see a giant dog under absolutely no control because he’s taught himself that everyone and every dog wants to be greeted by him since as a puppy that’s all anyone did to him. My dog will not trust me, he will not have any will to learn or please because he trusts his decision is the better decision. My dog will be considered dangerous, even if “he just wants to say hi” 
When I tell you no, it doesn’t mean I don’t think you’re good enough or that your dog looks mean, it means that my dog trusts me and I respect him as equally as he respects me. It means I don’t want to have to correct or redirect my dog. 
If you can’t handle rejection, I suggest you do not ask if any dog can be pet. If you read do no pet on a dog, I suggest you do not challenge it, nor should you approach the dog. It could mean the dog is working, or it could mean the dog is aggressive. 
I understand my dog is very unique looking. But I assure you his coat feels the same as any other dog of his breed. I understand they are very cute animals, and it can be really fun to see how many dogs you can pet, but the reality is, it’s not cute for the handler behind the leash.

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Tabitha Hellman's Journey with POTS Entry I- Writing About Edison

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WRITING ABOUT EDISON

The first semester of my freshman year of high school was a breeze. I started a new sport, had a 4.0, and went to every football game I could. By the second semester I was missing multiple days of school a week because I was too dizzy to walk straight or my vision was blacking out. Sophomore year I passed out, hit my head, and got a concussion, causing me to  miss almost all of the last two months of school. During all of this I was constantly visiting different doctors, answering the same questions over and over again, and going on now three different medications. It wasn’t until just a month before my junior year started that I got an official diagnosis. We had always suspected that I had something called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), but it took two years and at least five doctors to get it on paper. 

POTS causes my heart rate to increase and my blood pressure to decrease every time I stand or sit up. This causes long lasting dizziness, fatigue, nausea and an array of other fun symptoms like passing out on occasion. These symptoms have taken away my independence, made school significantly harder, and prevented me from living like a normal teenager. 

When I first heard about mobility service dogs, the idea opened up a whole new world of possibilities. The thought of going away for college was no longer as scary because I could have a dog to help me get around when I was dizzy and prevent me from falling. When we first started talking to Mobility Service Dogs West Coast Project the hope was to find me a dog before college in two years that was just for mobility. Then we found out about medical alert dogs. Dogs that could sense that I was going to pass out before it happened and let me know, giving me time to sit down and prevent injury. That is what we hope Edison is going to be able to do for me. Currently twelve weeks old, Edison, a poodle, is coming to live with us to help me get back my independence. I am so grateful to Mobility Service Dogs and everyone who is supporting Edison and I. I can’t wait to get started training with Edison, and am now excited about all the possibilities the future holds. 

Tabethia Hellman, Entry 1