Monday, May 2, 2016

Service Dog Appreciation and Awareness: It's Time to Revamp the Rules!

I have been ruminating for weeks about all that the organization through which I was able to train my service dog, Soldiers Best Friend, has done for me. In short, they gave me my life back, but that’s only part of it, really. It has been difficult for me to put into words. The words I did come up with are: trust, grateful, companion, mentor, comradery, compassion, love, loyalty, determination, friendship, pride, peace of mind, balance, work, oh crap, leave it, sit, stay and thank you.

     The things that set this organization above all the others are numerous. First off, there is no cost to the veteran seeking a service dog. Second, you may even be able to train your existing pet to become certified. The dog has to be evaluated and meet certain criteria, (i.e. age, temperament). Third is the quality and compassion of the trainers and the staff. These volunteers are irreplaceable. Whether it be one on one sessions, emails, texts or phone calls, these mentors are true heroes. They really take training seriously and train at the teams' pace rather than a regimented schedule. Finally, the most important aspect of training with this group is the fact that it’s a group! Veteran and dog teams are able to meet once a week for group training. Not only does this socialize the dog, but it gives each veteran the support of other veterans. Veterans who are farther along in their training, and even teams that have already graduated often attend group training to help out new teams or brush up on their skills. This maintenance training is paramount in my opinion.

It is often difficult for me to explain what it is that my dog does for me when asked in public. I often resort to the most fundamental truth and tell people that my dog is a psychiatric service dog and also helps me with certain tasks. But it is so much more than that. My dog is sort of my security blanket, or to be more specific, she is my armor against the world. She helps me to function and cope with everyday life in a way that people outside the SBF world are unlikely to ever understand. Nevertheless, I am confident in the knowledge that recognition of how well dogs help PTSD survivors is just on the brink of public awareness.

PTSD awareness and anything that can help military veterans is important to me. Not only because I am a veteran with this condition, but because I am constantly finding myself in a position as an advocate for it. And not because I want to be, but because it seems against my principles to just let it go. Not many people I encounter with my dog know that it is impolite to talk to or touch the handler’s dog without permission. 

Furthermore, the public is unaware that it is rude to aim distracting noises at a service dog or even ask questions about the owner’s disability. This aspect of having a service dog has been a bit challenging for me. On the one hand, it sort of forces me into conversations with complete strangers. On the other hand, I don’t always feel like talking to anyone. A lot of what my dog helps me with is coping with people and crowds. I never thought I could ever try and explain that to a perfect stranger when my journey with my dog began, but now that I have had her for a few years I couldn’t even tell you how often I do this.

As an advocate, artist and handler, I feel it is my duty to bring awareness to the public about the different types of service dogs and what they do. The publics’ opinion in the differences between a service dog and a therapy dog, for instance, is pretty ambiguous in my opinion. Rules for service dogs in public and guidelines for interacting with people with service dogs needs to be more widespread.

According to the ADA, “a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.  The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability.”
“Emotional support dogs, therapy, comfort, or companion animals are not considered service animals under the ADA.” (ADA, 2016)
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is an animal that, by its very presence, lessens the emotional or psychological symptoms associated with a handler's condition. The dog does NOT need to be trained to perform a disability-specific task. All domesticated animals may serve as an ESA. The only legal protections an Emotional Support Animal has are
1) to fly with their emotionally or psychologically disabled handler in the cabin of an aircraft and
2) to qualify for no-pet housing.
No other public or private entity (motels, restaurants, stores, etc.) is required to allow your ESA to accompany you and in all other instances, your ESA has no more rights than a pet.
You'll also need to be prepared to present a letter to airlines and property managers from a licensed mental health professional stating that you are emotionally disabled and that he/she prescribes for you an emotional support animal.

A final note: Some animals are innately able to predict the onset of a physical or psychiatric event or crisis, effectively enabling the handler to prevent or minimize the event. This is an ability that usually cannot be trained - some animals are simply born with the ability to sense the onset of the event. These types of animals, although not otherwise task-trained, are considered "working" service animals.

I have often imagined how wonderful it would be if SBF and the VA were able to get behind me on this effort. I would think it even more amazing if my efforts and advocacy got some of the requirements for service dogs to change a little bit. I would love to have some input from other veterans, trainers and people who work with service animals regularly. My hope is to one day see posters about service dogs & ESA's in veterinary clinic waiting rooms, hospital hallways, Vet centers and pet stores.

The reason I would like to change the prevailing laws is because currently they are so vague that by trying to protect the handler’s privacy they actually inhibit their ability to be in public with their dog peacefully and fully participate in everyday life.

 Currently the law states:
In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, persons may ask only two specific questions:
(1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
(2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
People are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person's disability.” (ADA, 2016)

    I will get back to why I would like to change the laws a little later. In my experience, at the VA and other public places these rules have not been helpful for me. With a PTSD dog it is not obvious to the public what my dog does for me. Businesses and employees who are not versed often tell me that my dog is not allowed on the premises. They are often rude and completely ignorant of the laws surrounding service dogs. In the beginning, I did not know how to handle this situation and was incensed. Though I would try and explain the rules to them, I would often times just leave. There was one incident however that I will never forget. This is my VA Service dog horror story.

I had gone to the Phoenix VA to request a refill on some medications because I was going out of town. Because I was a walk-in I was not able to see my regular psychologist.  I waited about an hour and a half and was finally called upon. As I began to walk down the hall with the doctor she stopped and cornered me and angrily accused me of having a fake service dog. She cited the rules to me incorrectly and demanded that my dog demonstrate her tasks, stating that she did not need to ask about my disabilities because she had read my chart. She was yelling at me. My dog, who had started out leaning into me, began to prance back and forth between the doctor and me. My dog finally ended up jumping up on me, nuzzling and licking me. She was performing one of her tasks but the doctor was completely oblivious. The doctor continued to yell, saying things like, “This dog isn’t trained. Service dogs don’t act like this!” I couldn’t speak at this point. I was having a full-blown panic attack. I cowered. I sank down in a corner, hugged my dog and cried. This infuriated the lady even more. She yelled at me to get up. I couldn’t move.

     She stood over me with her hands her hips for a minute then walked over to reception and continued yelling. I got up and wiped at my face. My dog leaned against me. The lady walked back over to me and pointed to the door. She said, “I can’t help you. You’re going to have to wait for the next doctor.” I went back to the waiting room and cried for the next 45 minutes as I waited. The lady went back to reception and very loudly (so the packed waiting room could hear every word) pointed at me while continuing to rant and rave. It felt like everyone stared at me. There was one guy that tried to cheer me up but I was too in shock to respond with more than a weak smile. Everyone left me alone after that. The next doctor helped me without incident. I got my meds and was on my way.

A few weeks later I went back and filed a complaint with the patient advocate. If anything ever came of that complaint I am unaware. I even went back to inquire about it because my psychologist was at that clinic and I continued to run into this lady. I eventually just changed clinics so I didn’t have to see her anymore.

     In order to move past this event, when I got my new business cards, I put the above cited text on the flip side along with the website containing the full set of rules and regulations regarding service dogs.
     Incidents like this are obviously the extreme. The more common things that I deal with when I go out are people trying to interact with my dog without permission.
     While it is currently not required by law for service dogs to wear a harness, it is extremely helpful for me in my situation where it may not be obvious to the public that she is a service animal. Many people still believe that ‘real’ service dogs cost thousands of dollars and  can only be certain breeds. This is just not the case.      The only thing a service dog truly requires is a compatible temperament to their handler hand specialized training to perform tasks. Breed really has nothing to do with it. I have seen Pit bulls, Schnauzers, Pugs, Chihuahuas, Great Danes, Shepherds, Labs etc. in my program, as well as many, many mutts. My dog is a mutt and she is perfect for me. This, effectively saves two lives at once, the life of the potential shelter dog and that of the veteran.

     My concern with regard to the current laws comes down to this. Right now, anyone with a dog can buy a vest online, put it on their dog and say that it is a service dog. The ADA does not require that service animals require any form of documentation, such as proof that the animal has been specially trained or licensed. Dogs are also not required to wear identifying harnesses or vests in public. Currently the only real requirements for service dogs are the same for all dogs, i.e. licensing, vaccination, registration and leash laws (depending on the municipality). This is the main problem for me that I would like to see change. In my opinion, all working dogs should be required to wear identifying harnesses (This includes Medical Service dogs, Emotional Support dogs and Companion dogs- except for very special circumstances where they might cause some obstruction to the handler), they should be required to pass Canine Good Citizen requirements at the very least, they should be required to pass a Public Access test, their handler should be required to keep a license (similar to a driver’s license) on them at all times and they should be retested every two to four years.

    When dogs are not tested and certified by someone other than its handler, who is to say that the dog is going to perform well as a service dog? If the dog has not been properly socialized, and experienced with uncommon conditions like other animals, small children, elevators, loud noises, going through security, etc. regardless of how well it performs its tasks, that dog becomes a public safety issue. My biggest problem has been with other service dogs who have not been properly socialized or taught to ignore other service dogs. This is my number one stressor. When other dogs show too much interest or aggression toward my dog, it prevents my dog from doing her job. Just like humans need to ask permission to interact with my dog, handlers of dogs need to request permission before letting their dog interact with mine. 
     By requiring service dogs be certified, this should also mean that the handler is up to date with the current laws. I have found this is not the case in most circumstances when the other handler has not been trained by a reputable group. The handler might be up to date on some of the laws but doesn’t understand exceptions and exclusions. Service dogs don’t have all access passes to go wherever their handler goes. Also, many of the self-trained handlers I have encountered do not understand what it means to keep their animal under control.

     Currently, according to the ADA:

     “The ADA requires that service animals be under the control of the handler at all times. In most instances, the handler will be the individual with a disability or a third party who accompanies the individual with a disability. In the school (K-12) context and in similar settings, the school or similar entity may need to provide some assistance to enable a particular student to handle his or her service animal. The service animal must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered while in public places unless these devices interfere with the service animal's work or the person's disability prevents use of these devices. In that case, the person must use voice, signal, or other effective means to maintain control of the animal. For example, a person who uses a wheelchair may use a long, retractable leash to allow her service animal to pick up or retrieve items. She may not allow the dog to wander away from her and must maintain control of the dog, even if it is retrieving an item at a distance from her. Or, a returning veteran who has PTSD and has great difficulty entering unfamiliar spaces may have a dog that is trained to enter a space, check to see that no threats are there, and come back and signal that it is safe to enter. The dog must be off leash to do its job, but may be leashed at other times. Under control also means that a service animal should not be allowed to bark repeatedly in a lecture hall, theater, library, or other quiet place. However, if a dog barks just once, or barks because someone has provoked it, this would not mean that the dog is out of control.” (ADA, 2016)

     When my dog went through training with the organization Soldier’s Best Friend, I went through training too. It was quite an education (& I trained working dogs for the military)! More importantly, it really helped to bond my dog and I. I was also able to learn from the teams that had more experience. I was required to attend individual training sessions once a week as well as group training sessions once a week. Only the dogs who had passed their CGC could attend group.

Canine Good Citizen Requirements:











It really comes down to this: Whether you are calling your dog a Service Dog, Emotional Support dog or Companion Dog. Both the dog and their handler need to have manners and boundaries when it comes to going out in public. Be respectful to other people. Be aware that veterans, often times have larger boundaries and are more sensitive to noise, light, people and other distractions in the public world. Also be aware that not all people are fond of dogs. Some people have a fear of dogs and some just don’t care for them.
If you are a veteran or a family member of a veteran who might benefit from the help of a service dog, I suggest you research service dog organizations in your area. Recognition of how well dogs are able to help PTSD survivors is just on the periphery of public awareness and small groups are popping up all over the United States.

If you are in Arizona and a veteran and would like to know more about getting a service dog through soldiers best friend please check out their webpage.

Soldier's Best Friend
Ph: 623.218.6486
*Disclaimer* Soldier’s Best Friend did not ask me to write this for them.

If you are interesting in learning more about service dogs nationwide along with veterans like myself and their stories, please check out the incredible art of Paul Sansale.

Below is a list of Service Dog organizations in Arizona:

Power Paws Assistance Dogs

All Ways Pawsitive Pet Behavior & Training

Handi-Dogs, Inc.

Foundation for Service Dog Support

Leashes for Living
Ph: 623-393-8481

The American Service Animal Society:
Ph: 480-802-9339 

To adopt a dog in the Phoenix, Arizona area:

(This is where I found my sweet girl. One day she was on the euthanasia list and the next she was saving my life learning how to be the most amazing, super service dog ever.)

Or you can see where Soldier's Best Friend gets some of their dogs:

Or you can try the oldest & largest No Kill Shelter in Arizona:

Always spay or neuter your pets to prevent over population and senseless deaths.

#servicedog #ptsddog#esa #therapydog #emotionalsupportdog #companiondog #dog #shelterdog #puppy #workingdog #assistancedog #PTSD


ADA. (2016). Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA. Retrieved from
AKC. (2016). CANINE GOOD CITIZEN® TRAINING & TESTING. Retrieved from American Kennel Club:

Monday, April 4, 2016

OwlEyes Artist Statement

The United States is a truly beautiful country. I have lived and traveled it entirely. 

My 20’s were spent travelling the world with the US Navy. I was even stationed in La Maddalena, Italy for a few years. I now reside in Chandler, AZ with my husband and a menagerie of pets.
          I have been drawing since I was old enough to hold a crayon. Now, in my 30’s I am a mixed-media artist who loves watercolor, acrylic and texture. While most of my works are 2 dimensional, many incorporate 3 dimensional elements in order to add depth and interest to the viewer. I adore altering household trash into beautiful (or at least interesting) works of art. I am intrigued and inspired by images from dreams and my own imagination which make the optical effects of color
dominate the aesthetic vision.

          My work tends to be spontaneous, personal and saturated in color for emotional effect in order to evoke a particular mood. My aim is for a form personal and public therapy in order to impose my own sensibility to the world’s representation instead of the impression suggested by the popular culture. 

         Colors chosen in my works are generally not true to nature, nor are all of the creatures and objects. I do not fit into any one particular style because I take pleasure in experimenting. I enjoy using a variety of new
and different techniques and mediums. I also tend toward self-reflection and enjoy painting self-portraits as well as animals, nature and patriotic themes. I am an American Veteran, after all.

The following images illustrate how much my work varies:

Mixed media collage

Mixed media collage

"3 little birds" Mixed-media collage

"Centered" Mixed media, watercolor

Acrylic on an Ostrich Egg

My favorite journal page, mixed-media

Watercolor, mixed-media

Self Portrait in sharpie

"Little Fox" Acrylic

Mixed media on canvas 18x24

India ink

Mixed-media art journal page

Glen from The Walking Dead in Charcoal

Watercolor mixed-media

"My Best Friend" Mixed media painting

Sharpie & mixed-media

Watercolor, mixed-media



Mixed-media collage

"Winter Finches and Cherry Blossoms" Acrylic, watercolor & mixed-media

"Glowing Crow" Acryclic & mixed-media
A dream Catcher for Dad

Journal made from recycled materials and junk papers

Painted junk mail

Stamp Carving!

Meditation or Talking stick

"OwlEyes" 11x14 Watercolor, mixed-media

"Pixelated" Sharpie & graphite

Inda ink bookmarks

Watercolor, mixed-media

Watercolor, mixed-media & texture paste

Watercolor, mixed-media

Watercolor, mixed-media

ink doodle

"Freedom" 11x14 Watercolor, mixed-media