Life with a Service Dog

Anna Veltkamp-Staff Writer

What most people see when they see my service dog is a cute, fluffy puppy. What most people don’t realize, though, is that my dog is a tool. Ari is no different from a wheelchair for a handicapped individual, a cane for a blind individual, or an insulin pump for a diabetic.  Veltkamp.Ari2

Ari garners more reactions than an object would, however. As such, I feel inclined to inform you about just a few of the comments – some of them unavoidable – as well as frequently awkward situations that I’ve been through as a handler:

I don’t wear sunglasses anymore – too many people think I’m blind. Even if I’m texting while walking, I often hear passerby’s point out “the blind girl!”

For a very long time, most people didn’t know my name – to this day, many people still know me as “the girl with the dog.”

I deal with “puppy celebrity” attention daily. Even if people know my name, they will often say hi to Ari – and nothing to me.

thumbnail_Ari1It’s unavoidable that people will be surprised at the presence of a dog. I hear the whispers and I definitely feel all of the stares. But some people show more obvious reactions; for example, there are people who will stop, physically drop what they’re doing and very loudly yell “THEY ALLOW DOGS IN HERE?!”

…After they realize Ari does indeed have a job, many say, “I wish my dog was a service dog!”

You can train and certify your dog, I tell myself; absolutely. Step one, though, is to have a disability. Test that out first, before becoming the next person “with the dog!”

Plenty of people have approached me with ideas about having “alternative” service animals, but I don’t think seeing-eye rabbits are possible, and a service wombat, well, they probably won’t work out well for any job, at all.

I get compliments on Ari like he’s an accessory: “Nice dog.”, “Cool dog.” and “I like your dog.” It’s very nice of people to go out of their way to show that kindness, and I honestly appreciate the compliments. To be fair, though, I’m not quite sure how to respond, other than saying “I like him too.”

Veltkamp.Ari3I get dead dog stories. Now, I’m not saying I don’t feel for your loss – I do. I’ve lost pets before, I know it hurts. I won’t, however, be able to provide you the level of sympathy you want or need when I’m in the middle of a busy hallway. Nor, for that matter, do I really want to plan for Ari’s death at that moment.

Because of my service dog, public restrooms are very public. According to Ari, the large space under the walls is for paying stall neighbors a friendly visit.

Continuing the topic of bathrooms — I’ve received countless questions about poop from people of all ages. Also, a fair number of people have mistaken his growling as a rumbling human stomach, or worse, flatulence.

Don’t get me wrong — I love Ari, and having a service dog is a privilege and a blessing. Awkward situations are inevitable, though, and the best way to get past embarrassment is to laugh about them.

Editor’s Note: All Zircon articles are the Dordt Diamond’s semi-annual homage to the time-honored, First Amendment-protected, great American tradition of satire. The literal truths of these articles are not to be taken at face value, but we hope the hidden truths allude to the absurdities of some of the realities we faced in society today.

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