Service Dog Accommodations in Emergency Work Settings

My name’s Louis… And this is Star I went through a program called
“Canines for Warriors”. It’s out of Florida. And it’s an oustanding program
that was started by
a mother and her son… who was deployed to Iraq and came back with PTSD. So when I returned with PTSD… I was having a lot of symptoms
and some of the symptoms
that I was having… that I didn’t want to recognize… was the fact that I was having
nightmares, sleepwalking
in the middle of the night… grabbing weapons,
not knowing what I was grabbing… waking up in a corner of a room… I was overdosing on medication
on accident… So, because of my
traumatic brain injury I kept thinking, you know,
“I’ll take Benedryl to
make me go to sleep”… And then I’d go
and close my eyes… and then I’d have a
flashback or I’d have
a nightmare… and then I’d try and go back
and take more Benedryl
not knowing that I was
doing it. Some of the hardest parts
about dealing with PTSD… that Star has benefited me in… was going into public. A lot of times in the Military… when you got attacked… you got attacked in
crowds of people… and that’s because they knew
we wouldn’t shoot back at them. We wouldn’t shoot back
at innocent people. So, the hyper-vigilance part
of PTSD is a very big thing. She’s tremendously helped the
ability for me to go
into a grocery store even,
something simple as that… and be around
crowds of people. For some of the people that
were down in the same
program that I was… they may have not have been in
a grocery store for anywhere
between seven and nine years. Just because they were so
anxious in getting out of the
store once they were in it… So, it was a huge testament
to what the dog can do
for a handler… just doing something simple
like going into the grocery
store and going shopping. (Naithan) You know, out here
in Idaho I’m kind of by myself… I’ve been in the guard here in
Idaho for going on
sixteen years now… I’m with the firefighters.
We used to be out of Driggs
but we’re in Boise now. So I deployed to Iraq
as a firefighter. That was my job.
I had 48 hours notice.
Pack my bags and head out. Being a firefighter I wasn’t
engaged directly in combat.
We got mortared frequently
but I figured, you know… I’m not one of those guys
that’s gonna have PTSD.
I wasn’t involved in combat.
I wasn’t down kickin’ doors… and any of that stuff so…
I came home, went back to school
and work and got a job
doing what I wanted… and was doing good until
about the 10 year anniversary
of me being home –
all of a sudden… I started noticing I was
angry all the time… I didn’t want to deal
with crowds… I couldn’t go to Walmart.
It just drove me nuts
to be in Walmart. And I started suffering from
depression – and I hid it from
my spouse, I hid it from
everybody at work… In fact when I went and started
to get help my wife didn’t even
know I’d made my first
appointment to visit somebody and get help
because I was so bad… because I was hiding it.
‘Cause I didn’t want to admit
that I had a problem. Of course the VA wanted
to put me on medications… and I’m like, “I don’t want
to do that. I want to do
everything I can without
being on meds”. Because that’s not a way to
live, to live like a Zombie… I kept going for a couple
years and… I just wasn’t getting better
where I wanted so… my wife knows I have an
affinity to animals. Anytime I’m
anywhere they just
come up to me… Anyway, she’s like, “Maybe we
should look into getting you
a service dog…” And so I google searched
for about three months… Til I finally stumbled across
this one out of Illinois… which happened to be close
to where I grew up.
So I put an application in
and got accepted… So I got Maverick in December
of this last year… and it has changed
my life around. I didn’t realize how much a
service dog would change me.
But he did. My wife says I’m almost
back to normal. I’m back to normal,
I can go to the store again! I can go to my kids’ games.
I couldn’t stand to be at my
kids’ games. I can do that stuff again
because I have somebody
who’s with me all the time. (Louis) So, I work as a
paramedic in Ohio… I love working as a paramedic.
I worked as a paramedic
before I deployed overseas. I went over to Iraq and
Afghanistan both… and then when I came back
I continued working
as a paramedic. When Star came on with me we
adapted to the ambulance and she
actually rides on the ambulance
with me… to every call that we go to. She’s the first dog on an
ambulance in the country. Which we’re trying to change.
We’re trying to make that
more available. And trying to show people
or employers that it can work
and that it does work. (Naithan) Unfortunately I’m
still working with my city, we’re still in talks to try to
get my service dog
with me at work I haven’t had as good of
luck because it is such a
new concept… I’m the first firefighter in the
state of Idaho to request to
have a dog at work. I’m only the second or
the third probably
in the whole country. Two years ago I knew
nothing about service dogs.
I knew they existed… but, I knew nothing
about it. But now people are
asking me the laws… People are asking me
to explain how it is… So I’ve had to become an expert
to know the laws, because I
have to be able to defend myself
and say, “No, this is
what the law is.” This is what counts as a
service dog, this is what a
therapy dog is,
and this is what an
emotional support animal is… and I have to explain to
people the difference
all the time. And most people are very
glad for the information…
They just don’t know. So currently with my city
I think that is a lot of the
problems I have… is they just need more
education and thankfully… meeting with some of the people
who set this up and other people
in the state I’m starting to make the
contacts to hopefully help
spur that education along. (Louis) When I got my
job at Putnam County EMS… I went to the interview
prepared to go in to
explain about the dog. For anybody that’s out there
that has a service dog… that’s maybe going to get
a new job… or looking to seek
elsewhere… or any type of employment
that you have to do an
interview for… I suggest taking
your dog with you. I took my dog with me
to the interview.
And she did a great job. And I went in with a plan. I went in knowing what
I wanted to talk about, what I wanted to tell
the employer about as far
as how obedient she is… show the different
commands she can do… show how she can get in the
ambulance and how she operates
and how controlled she is… And I think that
because of the plan that
I came up with… before going into
the interview… it made getting the job
a lot easier. Obviously my background
helped a little bit… but knowing that we could
operate together in unison
as a team… and it didn’t affect
anyone else and it
didn’t affect the employer
made it a lot easier. So one of the things I
also did was… I was lucky enough that
she’s smart enough… that I could train her to
search for people. She can actually search for
the individual and smell them
out so that we can find them. That was also a good tool
for me to take to my employer… and say, “We can do this,
we’ve been trained
to do this… we work on it all the time”
and it’s a way for us to
help the employer… for any future issues
that we might have. Also, working on
an ambulance… And having Star on the
ambulance has been a
benefit… for when we have PTSD
patients, or kids that are
scared to go on the ambulance… even adults that are scared
to go on the ambulance or
scared of what might happen… She’s been able to help
calm them as well. When I put her in the
ambulance I secure her in there
and she stays there until
I command her otherwise. So it’s kind of a scary thing
for employers which is
understandable… It’s something that we’re trying
to raise awareness to… and I think that we’re doing a
very good job of it so far. It’s in the early stages but
having service dogs around is
obviously in the
early stages as well. Some common misconceptions
of PTSD… the thought process comes in
that because you have PTSD
from being in the Military… you can’t work as a
paramedic because you’re in
traumatic situations
all the time. And that’s not the case.
Star controls that
state that I’m in… So, when she goes to work
with me, she constantly is
aware of how I’m feeling
and what I’m doing… and just having her by my side
gives me the ability to continue
my job and do it well. Star is, what I always say
is my medication… she’s the one that has
taken me off medication
and been able to break me free
of that and improve my life. Some of the things that she
does, and that some people
might not be aware of… So, she works off of
skin celll changes. We shed a million skin cells
a minute as humans. When she picks up on a
skin cell change that, the
scent is off, or different… she recognizes what is happening
and then adapts to that
and reacts to it. So, for instance, having a
nightmare in the
middle of the night… She smells that skin cell
change, like, if you’ve ever
had a nightmare in the middle
of the night you woke up… kind of sweaty…
That’s that skin cell change. She smells that, and she comes
up to the side of my bed
and will paw at my head
until I wake up. The second night we were
together in Florida… she woke me up from three
nightmares in one night. So it was an immediate
connection that we had. If I was sleepwalking which
she’s done also, it’s a different smell,
it’s a different skin cell
change to her. So she responds to it by
getting up on the bed… and laying on top of me
before I even get up. So since I’ve had her,
I’ve never had a
sleepwalking incident. She’s always stopped it
before it happens. Because
she smells it before
it actually happens. One of the main things that she
does is she protects my
360 security perimeter… so, she will always be
around me… and I can put her in those
positions, but most of the time
she does it on her own. So when I’m standing in a
stand-still position and there’s
people behind me… She’ll stand on my right side
and face behind me so that
nobody comes up from behind
me and startles me. It’s very important to
understand that you don’t
want to bother the
service dog when the vest is on. When the vest is on, the dog
is working. And that’s the most
important thing to understand. Obviously she has “do not pet”
signs on her… and that’s because she has to
continuously be focused on
what she’s doing. She has to be continuously
focused on me… and if she’s distracted by that,
then it could be detrimental
to me, or her. If you’re ever approached by a
service dog or you come by a
service dog… It’s just better to ignore the
dog and continue on. It makes less stress
for the handler… and that’s the most
important thing. With PTSD we have a lot of
stress, anxiety, panic attacks…
Stuff like that… And the less stress that we can
have on our shoulders,
the better. If there is any employers out
there that are listening… I think it’s important to hear
that, the relationship between a
service dog and their handler… at work, is very important. And the reason why I
say that is, because
if the dog was away
from the handler… for 12-8 hours a day,
that’s hours that you’ve
lost together. The dog has to constantly
be aware of your reactions… and what you’re doing,
and how you smell and all
those good things that
they pick up. So it’s important that the dog
and the handler are together
all the time. I don’t ever have any problems
at work. I never had… I’ve never had a situation that
came up that I’ve had a
flashback or anything like that. I’ve explained that to my
employer because… the initial reaction is, “well
if you don’t have any issues
when you’re at work then what
do you need the dog for?
Well, the dog has to be there
so that we can constantly
be working off of each other. That relationship has to
continue to work together
In order to make it work. So we’ve been together 24/7
since September.
And it’s worked great. (Naithan) Like Louis said,
that bond between the handler
and the dog is super-special.
And it’s so important! And that’s the problem I’m
having right now with not being
allowed to have my reasonable
accommodation at work… I’m starting to lose
some training with him… So that when I get home,
after being gone for
two or three days… It takes me another day or two
to get him back into working. And so, that’s why we want to
stress so much the education… if you can give to employers or
people that we’ve got to keep
the handler and the dog
together for that reason. (Louis) If anybody is out there
that is either seeking a service
dog or has a service dog… keeping to continuosly
train the service dog
is very important. And that’s so that, that dog
can benefit you
for the long run… as long as the dog can
continue to work and
be supportive towards you. So, y’know, Star’s a
one and a half year old
puppy… I hope to have her until
she’s at least 11 or 12
years old, hopefully. She’s done a great job to
this point, and it’s just
because we continuously are
working together. So it’s important to keep that
training up, and continuing,
ongoing. (Naithan) But it’s been
interesting everywhere I
go everyone asks me,
“Hey, are you training him?”
I’m like, “Nope, he’s mine”. And they give me a wierd look. I make the decision, how I
feel that day, whether I want to
get into,
“It’s because I have PTSD” You know, it comes back to,
well, “You don’t look like it…” and I’m like, “Well,
that’s because my dog
is helping me.” You know, he’s changed me
around. If you would have seen
me 6 months ago you would
have seen a huge difference. He’s been great for me.
He stays with me. All the time he sleeps
on my leg… that’s one of the
problems I have is… I go to sleep at night and
I wake up and there’s
no blankets on the bed
at all anymore. I thrash so bad at night
that I just kick them all off. He sleeps on my legs.
I don’t thrash.
I sleep so much better. He’s been trained to
retrieve objects. He can turn on the lights…
he’s not as good at it… But I can just tell him “lights”
and he’ll reach up and flip
the light switch on and off. That’s one of the things
he’s been trained to do. I love what I do.
And I like where I’m at now. I did not like where I was
a couple years ago. And I’m thankful that I have
Maverick my service dog to
be able to get me back… back to being normal,
if you can say that… back to enjoying life again
and being able to be with
my family, be able to go
places with them. (Louis) Thank you to all
the service dog handlers
out there… or trainers that have
worked with your dogs,
it’s great to see that… I hope that we see more
and more of that going forward.

Paul Whisler

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