Sunday, October 17, 2010

Arthur: The Service Dog

I’ve been reading my friend’s blogs, and they’re always putting in little anecdotes about cute things their kids said, and photos of the family.  So I have decided that I need to try to do more of that.  It makes the blog more interesting.  In the absence of kids, you’ll have to settle for photos of me.  Or Arthur.  But, since the most interesting thing I did today was pull a really big wad of hair out of my bathtub drain, and I didn’t think you’d want to see a photo of that, I thought I’d take a picture of the second most interesting thing I did today.

Arthur and I are in classes to train him to be my service dog.  Here’s the back-story, because it’s kinda cool.

I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This is a pretty blanket term that they give to people that have had trauma in their life (see my August 24th post) and looks different for everyone.  For me, I get really high anxiety, and social situations are really hard.  So I got to the point where I never wanted to go anywhere (even the grocery store) if I couldn’t have my dog with me, because he totally calms me down.  When I get to where my heart is racing I can hold my dog and get my breathing under control.  To me this is a “naturopathic” way of dealing with it, so that I don’t have to take gross meds. 

When my sister was in town from London this summer I was telling her that I wished I could just get Arthur one of those vests so that he could come with me to the grocery store or wherever so that I could feel safer doing the stuff that I needed to do.  We said it as kind of a joke.

Then she read this article in the newspaper about a place here in Denver that will train your dog to be your Psychiatric Service Dog, using the dog that you already have, and here’s their number.   I promptly called them; we set up a time to meet and got the ball rolling.  It turns out that the woman who runs the place is also a widow, and so telling her my story was easy, plus she works with people like me all the time, so she was just so incredibly encouraging that I felt hope for the first time in a really long time.  We went to our evaluation and it ended up costing way less than I had anticipated, and we were underway!  I’m so excited about it.  Basically, this woman recognizes that Arthur is already doing the calming things for me that he needs to be doing, so he just needs training in how to be a good boy in public so that he looks like what people expect from service dogs.

He has his little blue vest, and I’ve started bringing him with me places.  Just a little at a time, to get me used to it as well as him.  I get asked about him every time I go in a place.  It’s hard, because it’s admitting how messed up I really am, but a friend pointed out that this is like my “scar” that I was looking for.  So that helped a little bit.  Also, people are SO curious.  “Is he a service dog?”  It’s hard not to be sarcastic.  “No, this is just his Halloween costume.”  Ok.  “Yes, he’s a service dog.”  “What kind of service dog is he?”  “He’s a psychiatric service dog.”  “So what does he do?”  Ok, they don’t realize how inappropriate they’re being.  Most people that I ever saw with service dogs before this were either for blind people or people in wheelchairs, where it was obvious what the dog was doing, (so it’s ok that they don’t automatically know).  So, I’ve had lots of friends make suggestions about what I should say to people.  “None of your f-ing business.”  And my favorite “He keeps me from flying into a homicidal rage when people ask me nosy questions.”  But I’ve decided that unless I’m in the mood to be snotty, I really would like to use it as an opportunity to educate people.  So yesterday I had a breakthrough.  When a woman was really pressing in on why I had this dog, she was obviously assuming that I was training him for someone else, and wondering what that person needed him for.  I told her that he was mine, and that that was actually a very personal question.  She was so sorry.  And she was very teachable.  It went really well.  So I think some version of that will be my response from now on.
Arthur and I after class today 
Anyway, we did private classes for a while, and he passed with getting the most wrong he possibly could.  Then we began the group classes last week.  At our first group class he was obviously the worst dog there.  I was embarrassed.  He kept looking up at me like “MOM, why are you so mad at me?  You don’t ever expect me to obey you.  Why are you so shocked?”  So something snapped in me at that class and I put the smackdown on him last week.  I told him “Sorry, Mister.  The party’s over.”  And I made him obey all week.  This week, he wasn’t the best boy in the class (we’re up against the dog they wrote the article about, after all), but he was definitely in the top 3.  I was very proud of him, and very proud of myself. 

Also, his paperwork came this week, so he’s official.  He has a photo id and everything.  I told him he just can’t lend it to his friends to get them into the bars, no matter how much they look like him.


  1. That's awesome. Thank God he had great plans for Arthur!

  2. Love it. And I'm so glad you are gracious and educating others, rather than letting your temper flare and defending your space (which is what I naturally lean to, at least until the restraining order is slapped on me). The requiring obedience thing is the same for kids - consistency yields the best rewards, and it took a while before I realized I don't ever have to be mad at my son. I just have to discipline him when he sins, and anger never enters the picture.

    I swear, I'm learning as much as he is, which is kind of not fair.

  3. I've had a really crappy day and I'm just sitting here at my jobs lunchroom laughing so hard at this awesome post. Seriously loved it. Does Arthur do any side gigs?

  4. About time arthur got a job... he's been freeloading his whole life!


  5. @Rani, Seriously, he has to start earning his keep!

  6. Noel - so proud of you! You have grasped the whole idea behind psychiatric service dog. Arthur has gotten away with a lot, after all, he is your child, and as parents we all come to the realization that overly spoiling isn't always attractive!

    I'm looking forward to the next steps of training with you and Arthur, I'm sure he's going to be a perfect gentleman for you in no time. -Michele

  7. great blog! Keep up the good work. If you would like check out my blog at

    Take care,

    Robert Forto, PhD
    Denver Dog Works
    Alaska Dog Works
    Team Ineka, Iditarod Bound 2013!

  8. Noey - Your heart and humor are so admirable. I love the idea of Arthur the Service Dog. I know that he will be a solid little companion in all of the daily things that most people take for granted. I love you and think of you often.

    <3 Jamie K.