This past Friday, I met with Christy Talbert of Buckeye Service Dogs. I finished the interview process with the service dog agency and in a week or so, I should have a signed agreement with the program that will provide me with a service dog!!!
I’m still so excited about it that I want to squeal and hug myself.*
Just in case you, like I was, find yourself frantically Googling “Service Dog Interview how to” at 2 am, here is what the experience was like for me!
After some hurried calls from the allergy clinic and a manual transmission of my cardiac device — you know, just the standard things that slow you down in the mornings — my friend hauled me into the car and we started off on the two-hour drive, through the rain, to meet the the owner of Buckeye Service Dogs, one of her trainers, and two of their dogs at a hamburger restaurant.
We made it a bit early, which I thought would give me time to settle. Even so, the trainers and their dogs had beaten us there, and in a mind-fogged, road-hazed brain fart, I totally forgot the name of my friend. “This is … uh … my friend … (talk around it, like a good academic!) … my best friend … in Cincinnati…!”
It was no use. My brain was not spitting out her name for anything. This does not bode well for comps. Fortunately this wasn’t comps, and my friend realized I was stuck and jumped right in, introducing herself. I was glad I had someone else along to help me remember details (like her name).
We spent over an hour talking about my diagnoses, how I coped, and what I did with my life. We discussed fundraising, non-profit vs. for-profit programs, and the pain of not being able to help everyone. We talked about what a dog might and might not be able to do. We covered their experience, training methods, references, and timetables. It is as much of an interview of the prospective program as it is of you, and you want to be sure that you’re in good hands. After all, I will be partnering with this dog for several years, and a lot of my life is in its paws. It’s not the time to skimp. I ended up being very comfortable with both trainers, their explanations, and especially their dogs. It was a lot of information to process, though, and I’ll admit to being more than a little dazed afterwards.
Getting to meet two of their service-dogs-in-training was not only amazing, but a great way to see their training in action. I couldn’t have been more impressed. They had a gorgeous Lab / Great Dane mix and a black poodle. They were both intended for different clients already — this wasn’t a meet-and-greet with a prospect — but it did allow us to see what dog might physically be best suited to me. And of course, if I loved them (was there ever any doubt?!?). They curled under the table during the meeting and were better behaved than I was (in contrast, I kept pulling my head up to scan for my promised turkey burger, and knocked things onto the floor). The black poodle only got up when I knocked something almost onto his head, and then he wanted to know if he should pick it up for me. Such a good dog!! They were gentle, unflappable, and obviously well cared for. In short, it was exactly what I could have hoped to see in a service dog (let alone ones still in training). I never saw any signs that the trainers were less than forthright in their business dealings or less than patient with their dogs.
I was almost overwhelmed when they said that they didn’t have any reservations about taking me as a client — in fact, they thought I was a very good candidate and that a service dog would help me a great deal. We’re hoping that a service dog can help me with mobility, alerts, and even just making sure that I don’t get stepped on or knocked into by random passerby. As I have to fight harder and harder to keep my balance and more and more of my joints begin to dislocate, someone accidentally knocking into me on the sidewalk is starting to have serious consequences.
And then I grinned until I thought my face would split as we went outside and took pictures with the dogs and said our goodbyes. I’m going to get a service dog!!
So what I learned from my experience:
- Remember, it’s as much an interview of them as it is of you — don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Maybe even come with a list of questions you have in mind.
- Bring a friend or someone to help you keep track of things. My friend had to carry the lion’s share of the work that day, from hours driving in thunderstorms to making sure I ate food I wasn’t allergic to. She was a rock. And during a stressful interview, it helps to have a solid rock to lean against so so much.
- Take notes! Whether this is by memorizing, recording, drawing on a napkin, or what.
- Try to meet some of the trainers and their actual service-dogs-in-training. This gives you a chance to see how well-cared for the dogs are, their training in action, and whether they can communicate to you and the dogs well. At some point, those trainers will have to help you learn to work with your dog, and if they are brilliant at training animals but can’t communicate that knowledge to you, it’s going to be a more difficult process.
- If you get bad vibes, leave. I was lucky. I didn’t get any! I always had the thought in the back of my head that, as desperately as I wanted this, if there was the slightest sign of animal neglect, I should and could and would just walk. Don’t spend thousands of dollars for something that seems like it only might work.
- Enjoy the experience! These people should want to help you, listen to your story, and ideally let you interact with a lot of wonderfully enthusiastic, beautiful, brilliant dogs. It will be great!!
To support me and my future service dog, please share or donate at http://www.saraspins.org/michelle.html .
*However, because I am very tired and sore and the neighbors have come by to inquire about the health of the apparently unhappy pig I seem to have in my apartment, I will refrain from squealing. **
**I lied. SQUEEEE!!!! 😀