This fall I traveled through Northern Ohio with a friend who has a service animal. Because she values her privacy I?ll just call her Barbara. Barbara uses a wheelchair and is accompanied everywhere she goes by her service animal Turbo.
I had a great time traveling with Barbara and Turbo, but I have to admit there were several things that amazed me. Mostly about how other people reacted to them.
First off I was amazed by the amount of attention they attracted. Perfect strangers would approach Barbara and gush over Turbo and tell Barbara how very cute he is. She of course would correct them and inform them that Turbo is a male and therefore he is handsome rather than cute.
Everybody seemed to recognize Turbo as a service animal (he was wearing a vest) and nobody denied us entry. This amazed me because we visited some pretty rural places. And nobody ever asked Barbara why she had a ?guide dog? if she wasn?t blind. So it appears we are moving ahead in the whole community education and disability awareness arena. That kind of amazed me, but in a happy way. I?m always happy about progress.
There was even one waiter who recognized Turbo as a service animal and told Barbara, ?I know we are not suppose to pet them, but they are just so cute.? Again I was amazed, as this employee had obviously undergone some disability awareness training. Let?s face it, 10 years ago there wasn?t a waiter alive who knew you were not suppose to pet a working dog. So perhaps all those disability awareness training sessions really *do* make a difference.
But the thing that really amazed me the most is that people with service animals are really roving ambassadors about disability issues. Barbara explained over and over again how Turbo helped her (to total strangers) and tirelessly answered the same questions about their life together. I don?t know if I could do that. Some days it might be OK, but some days I think I?d just want to go out and get a cup of coffee and just be left alone. But apparently that?s not the way it works when you have a service animal.
And I guess that?s why the community is better educated about service animal issues today; because of these very (very) patient roving ambassadors. Again I don?t know that I could do that, but I?m glad other people can. It has obviously made a big difference. And in the end the thing that is most amazing to me, is just how much of a difference once person (and one dog) can really make.