It has been a difficult week. I lost my older service dog, Jake, on October 20th. He had been taking care of me ever since I went into my wheelchair 11 years ago. He didn’t start out as a service dog, and most people were surprised to see a Miniature Schnauzer filling that role. But he knew when I needed my meds, or needed to lie down, or to go home, or to get out of the sun. He alerted on my arm with a gentle nudge of the paw. If I didn’t pay attention to him, he had a special bark to get my attention. If I were home and needed help, he would go get my husband with what Brad called the “Timmy’s in the well” bark (a la Lassie).
I learned that Schnauzers make very good medical service dogs. They are very people- oriented, very intelligent, and very intuitive. Jake often knew what was wrong with me before I did. That whole sun thing – I was breaking out in hives and didn’t realize it, and he fussed at me as I was talking with a parishioner until I moved into the shade. Like many pastors, I am not good at self-care, and will frequently overdo it. Jake would make sure I got home before I was too tired to drive. He got me to the sofa in the Youth Lounge before I fainted during a heat wave. I will be forever grateful.
When we realized his gifts, we took him to a trainer to make sure he was a canine good citizen, and to my doctor to certify what he could do for me. We provided him with a blue service vest with appropriate patches to let people know why he was with us in church, in stores, in restaurants, and in other public places. I took him to the school when I volunteered, and educated children about when it was appropriate to approach and pet dogs. And I took him to the nursing home and assisted living home where I visited residents because he put a smile on people’s faces.
We lost Jake at age 18. He lived a long and amazingly healthy life. We are training Kirby, our third try at a replacement, who has Cushing’s Disease. We have learned that there are many people who think it is all right to dress up their pet in a vest and call it a service dog. Here in Eureka they don’t even bother with the vest. Jake and Kirby were attacked by a pit bull in a grocery store. The two young men claimed it was their service dog. We are fortunate here in the City of Eureka and the County of Humboldt that there is a requirement that all service dogs be registered with either the Police Department or the Sheriff’s Office and wear a medallion. Registration is free but requires filling out a form and submitting a letter from your doctor.
It is a shame that a few people make things difficult for the majority, and that the honor system doesn’t work. But I am grateful that no-charge systems are in place to help us.
Dear Lord, Please be with all your servants this week as they develop plans to serve your people. Give wisdom to those who will speak, and open the ears, hearts and minds of those who will be listening. Inspire people to flock to the Conference, and fill those who organize and speak with wisdom and inspiration.
We thank you for our service animals, who guide us and guard us and most of all love us. Amen.
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, so that those who love your name may exult in you. Psalm 5:11