Service Dogs at Carol Woods
December 5, 2018 -
A visit to the party at Carol Woods Dog Park any Saturday morning proves what a happy place this is for pets and their owners. But did you know that two of our campus dogs are not just beloved pets but are “service dogs” and plans are underway for the dog park to be used at specified times for the training of other service dogs? Given today’s knowledge of dogs’ capabilities and more advanced training techniques, many dogs are serving people with invisible impairments, such as deafness or diabetes. Dogs’ keener senses allow them to detect subtle changes in their owners or their environment, so they can alert their owners to appropriate action.
VANNA C. AND DARWYN
Residents often see this inseparable pair riding our buses, attending concerts here and elsewhere, and participating in other campus activities. Many have also seen Darwyn’s racing prowess as he circles the pond, and his ability to clear it of Canada geese by chasing Vanna’s carefully aimed tennis balls. Vanna makes it clear that Darwyn and all service dogs are much more than pets. Once the owner is diagnosed with a severe medical condition, the physician writes a prescription for a service dog. Because the wait for a service dog is often long, there is the possibility to change your pet into a service dog. With the help of an outside trainer, your pet can be trained to do the medical part of the equation, while the owner is responsible for teaching public-access behavior such as remaining quiet for several hours during a performance. Darwyn was first a pet and then began to learn to be a service dog by emulating Iowa, Vanna’s Scottish Greyhound service dog.
Service dogs have a full-time responsibility for recognizing when their owners are beginning to have problems and notifying them to be proactive. At the same time, they need time to relax and play — to behave as pets. The dog owner needs to teach the dog to recognize when it is fully on duty and when it is permissible to play and interact with other people. Unfortunately, the dog owner often must also train the people around him or her to make the same distinction; otherwise, it becomes very confusing to the dog. Some service dogs wear vests to indicate they are on duty and should not be petted or otherwise distracted from their work. Darwyn has done that in the past. Vanna has now trained him by voice and hand cue. You can now ask to pat him and Vanna will say “Go visit” and give him a hand cue. She reserves the name “Darwyn” to indicate it is work time and “Sweetie” for both her and others to use when it is play time.
Owners of service dogs obviously need to continue to train them throughout their working years, to prepare them for new situations and experiences so that both dog and owner have a rich life. Some of us have seen Darwyn riding in a trailer behind Vanna’s bicycle. One might ask, “Is that any way to walk a dog?” No, but it is a way for her to prepare him for a bicycle trip to the mountains of Pennsylvania,a planned vacation.
CAROLE S., BARTON AND HALLIE
The training of service dogs is extensive and usually begins as soon as a selected puppy is weaned. Carole serves as a volunteer for Carrboro-based “Eyes, Ears, Nose and Paws (EENP)” to provide the first phase of training for a dog’s life of service. This requires hours of classes, practice and tests for the volunteer. Once these hurdles are passed, accepting and training a puppy is a 24/7 responsibility, much like caring for a human baby. Moreover, the training of the puppy trainer is not over. There are weekly classes with the trainer and the puppy practicing specific exercises such as how to crate, bathe, and teach bathroom etiquette. Then there is a test every four months.
Carole says that she became involved at a transitional point in her life: recently retired, the last of her dear cockapoos deceased, and having given up her longtime home to move to Carol Woods. A friend asked her to help her care for a new litter of puppies, a litter destined for EENP. Carole said “yes” and soon was studying and practicing in preparation for accepting the job of round-the-clock house-training and socializing a recently weaned puppy. Her first was Barton who brought new joy and commitment into Carole’s life.
From the beginning Carole knew that she was in a role akin to a foster parent. Barton would live with her until she passed “elementary education” (four to six months). Then Barton went to a prison to receive a much longer period of training from an inmate before being ready to be matched with a person who needs assistance. Carole said she managed the inevitable separation by thinking of it as Barton leaving home for college and preparing for a profession. She also saw her role as part of improving the welfare of both the prisoner and Barton’s eventual owner.
Soon after Barton left for prison, Halifax or “Hallie” became Carole’s pupil and the adorable puppy we all want to hug or pet. Part of Carole’s job is to teach Hallie not to get too excited and jump on folks who “make a fuss” over her. But, just as importantly, she also must teach us to restrain ourselves. She concludes by saying that volunteering for EENP may be the best way to have a dog at this time in her life. Although it is time consuming and a big responsibility she gets to love and enjoy a dog while EENP pays the food and vet bills, supplies toys and equipment, and provides pup sitting service if she needs relief for a day or wants to go out of town.
Note: Non-pet-owner residents are welcome to go to the Saturday morning party at the Dog Park. Residents enjoy seeing our four-legged friends (service dogs or not) at play and maybe meeting a new friend.
–Carol Woods Resident Nancy M.