black and white masks
Have you ever stopped to think how many roles you played today? I bet you would be surprised at how many. For me, today I was a human service worker, shopper, friend, student, cook, and pet owner to name a few. The roles we play in life vary in how we and others value them. Sometimes I am Assistant Vice President, which I deem a valuable role. Others may not feel the same way. They may prefer to pick up and take off whenever they please. At times, I play the role of Democrat. Those who do not value politics or my views may not see this as an important role.
A Human Service View
I spend a lot of time at work reading or hearing about people with different abilities. Everyone has his or her own goals and plans for the future. They also have their own stories. I may never meet them in person, but I learn about them through their stories. After taking a class *, it occurred to me that their stories are only a piece of what makes them “them”. What I realized is the way a person is described places him/her into roles. These roles are not always valued in our society.
When I started working in human services, there was a focus on Person Centered Planning (PCP). The idea of PCP is care centered around the person. At the time, it seemed to make sense. Now I fear we may have missed the point. Much of the focus for people I work with is learning new skills. We work on life skills to help the person fit better in their world. While working on life skills we cannot forget the importance of social skills. There is value and balance when both of these skills improve.
How can we change?
So how do we change our ways? How do we help someone gain valued social roles? It starts with understanding what society values. Today’s society places a high value on money, health, youth, and freedom. These are words I do not typically see in the stories I read about people. In my job, I sometimes find the words used to describe people set limits on the person. We focus on what people cannot do instead of what they can do.
A shift to focusing on abilities and socially valued roles is essential to overall quality of life for anyone. Every person is valuable, but not all roles are valued. Let’s celebrate people for who they are instead of describing people in terms of what they are not. For more information on Social Role Valorization, community inclusion, and similar topics, check out the websites listed below.
* Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger’s theory of Social Role Valorization
After 13 months I am ready to take Orenda with me into the world and get her used to the ways a service dog has to act, and not act. It has taken me this long because she was rescued and so she hadn’t lived in a house and had to learn that. She would destroy things in the house, like couch pillows.
She was anxious in a new place and when I was gone. So I taught her:
- pee and poop outside
- chew rubber toys not shoes and library books
For a while I had to put up a gate in a room and keep her there when I left. But not now. Not for some time now.
Also, I have low energy because of being depressed for a long, long time. So I haven’t been as on top of training as I could have been. Should have been? Is there a point in saying that? It just is. I have learned that the state of being Disabled isn’t bad or good – it just is. It took a long time to get that, when everyone tells you it’s sad and wrong.
So, I have been teaching Orenda, my tall yellow dog, to not pull on leash or in harness. We work on it a lot in small bits of time. “
- “No pull.”
- “Good Heel.”
- “Walk Nice.”
- “Good Walk.”
- “Go Ahead.”
Community training is taking a dog out into the world with you, to get him or her used to everyday things in the world.
- How to ride the bus and subway.
- Where to sit or lie when on them.
- Not to lick the floor!
- To leave dropped food alone.
- Not to drink from puddles.
- Not to lunge after dogs, squirrels, birds or cats.
- Not to bark.
- Not to go over to people unless told to.
- How to go through revolving doors.
- On and off escalators.
- To go under tables in restaurants.
- To stay on a mat until released.
- To ignore people and other dogs.
You get it.
Last Saturday, I took her to class to see how she did. I had been doing “Go To Bed” in the house with her. I brought a mat I wove for my last Service Dog. Before I sat down in class, I put down the mat. I told Orenda “Go to Bed.” I had to remind her a few times. She tried to inch toward me so her butt was on the mat and the rest of her closer to me. She did really well. Better than I hoped. She was very good. I told her.
If you see a dog with a person, take a minute to look closely. It might be a service dog. They won’t always have a harness on. Many do, but not all. They don’t have to. Some people train their own, like me. Before being a working dog, service dogs are ‘in training’. They have to learn a lot before being fully trained. My point is:
- Don’t pet a service dog.
- Don’t feed a service dog.
- Don’t bark or meow at a service dog.
- Don’t talk to a service dog.
Not before asking the person, the handler. This sounds simple, but all of this has happened to me with my last dog. And he wore a red harness on black and white fur!
A lot of people seem to wish they could have their dog go everywhere with them. They think it would be fun. They are jealous and even sometimes pretend their dogs are service dogs! This may be against the law. It makes watchers doubt service dog users’ need for dogs if you don’t “look like you need one” to other people. There are many types of Disabilities, most you can’t see or tell. You can begin to see how much work it is to train a service dog, even before task training begins.
People use service dogs because we need to. It’s not fun to have to take care of and watch out for a dog and yourself all day long. Even the best-trained dog is still a dog. I have to take all the dog’s stuff with me too: food, water, bowls, a mat. In winter, a coat, maybe boots. Salt and ice hurt their feet. Even if you love dogs, please leave that cute dog on the T alone and don’t distract them. They could be working.
See this article that explains what makes a service dog. Section II is the part to read.
The article is from the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) National Network publication “Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals”.