Burnie and his service dog

Challenges and Rewards of Owning a Service Dog 

This blog was written by Burnie Blackmon, a long time employee of BraunAbility (actually employee #4!) and a quadriplegic for over 50 years. 

My service dog, Blitz, made his debut on the AbilityVoice blog last week.  Blitz and I have been the best of friends for over 11 years now.

Of course, most service dogs are needed for more than just companionship. They're used for any number of reasons: to open doors, turn on lights, alert you when the phone rings (for the hearing-impaired) or when you're about to go into a seizure, and probably hundreds of more possibilities I've never considered. For me, Blitz is often used to pick up things I've dropped. That's an invaluable service at times, like when I'm home alone and in bed and some show like Jerry Springer comes on. I'll reach for the TV remote and knock it on the ground in the process. Of course, the remote grows skates and ends up somewhere under the bed. I've got a few choices: suffer through Springer, wait until someone comes in the room, use the hoist to get back in the wheelchair, or just call Blitz. Since he spends most of his time resting these days, he's usually raring to help and springs into action the moment he hears something hit the floor (or at the first sound of profanity).

Service Dogs as Social Butterflies

Another thing, although introversion isn't considered a disability, it should be. It takes a lot of effort for me to overcome that tendency, and Blitz is a huge help. He's such an extrovert and wants to be friends with everyone he meets, and if given half the chance, he will. Often that forces me out of my comfort zone (or keeps me from being lazy), and gets me to do things and meet people I wouldn't otherwise.

Knowing how much he means to me today and how much help he offers day-to-day, it's hard to believe I was dubious about the value of a service dog in the beginning. For one thing, new laws had to be written to allow for service dogs in public and at work, and I'm more than a little skeptical when the government meddles in anything. When new laws are created, even though it's beneficial for one group, it's often a burden on another. I'm very fortunate to be employed by a company that is, as you'd expect, is committed to accommodating employees with their disabilities, and that includes their service dogs. Blitz rides along with me in my mobility van to work most days and has basically become the mascot of the Product Support department where I work at BraunAbility. Most days my co-workers are happier to see him than they are to see me.

Service Dog Responsibilities

While some owners believe having a service dog is a right; I believe it's a privilege that carries tremendous responsibility. If that responsibility is taken lightly, it could have detrimental effects and cause a public backlash. Believe it or not, some people just don't like dogs. Some are seriously allergic, others are afraid, especially when children are involved. I often tell people Blitz will not bite, even if you bite him first. Even so, it's important that we as owners of service dogs are always mindful of the rights of others. Just because it's legal, doesn't always make it right.

If you're considering a service dog, realize that it's an expensive undertaking when done properly. You're basically taking responsibility of a perpetual two-year-old that must be fed, watered, groomed, doctored, exercised and, most importantly, controlled. Sometimes a dog, even a well-mannered one, is just more trouble than they are worth. But if you're up to the challenge, the difficulties are dwarfed by the help they offer and the memories you'll share.

One more consideration has weighed heavily on me in recent months, an issue far too painful to contemplate. A time will come when your dog will need to retire. They'll need even more caring for at this time than ever before, and they won't be able to offer the assistance they once did. It's a difficulty that's hard to face, especially with two lives as closely entwined as a disabled person and his or her service dog.

I hope Blitz and I have a few more years of friendship to share. The relationship has been an investment, but the return on this investment has been immeasurable.

Here are some helpful service dog resources:

Other Accessible Living Articles: