A Woman’s Best Friend

September 15, 2016

Service dogs can be a best friend for someone with a chronic health condition. In this podcast episode Hazel Weiss, diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1989, talks about her experiences with first Hams and now Virgil. Melissa Marshall, featured in podcast episode, The Cancer Fight Song, talks about her new puppy-in-training.

Hazel mentions two organizations — Bergin University of Canine Studies and Canine Companions for Independence. You can read the policy on service animals at the City of Berkeley’s website.


welcome to glass half full with leslie krongold she shares her stories experiences and knowledge of living and coping with a chronic health condition learn about tools and resources and hear inspirational interviews that help you to live a life filled with quality and dignity with two decades of support group leadership leslie’s ready to help you make lemonade out of life’s lemons are you ready hello and welcome to this episode of glass half full today we have two guests who will be talking about their relationship with dogs service dogs both of these guests are women so i decided to title this episode woman’s best friend according to my friend and yours wikipedia man’s best friend is a common phrase about domestic dogs referring to their close relations loyalty and companionship with humans the first recorded use of a related phrase is by frederick the great of prussia it was likely popularized by its use in a poem by ogden nash and has since become a common colloquialism i wonder if anyone saw this title and thought the episode might be about diamonds i have nothing to say about diamonds nor any other jewels or gems actually most women i know including myself think of cats as their best friends as far as i know though no cats have been registered as service animals service animals are animals that have been trained to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities dogs are the most common service animals there are other service animals i once had a woman show up with a pig at my house for my annual garage sale the pig was cute all dressed up and the woman told me the pig was her service animal i stopped myself from inquiring how the pig helps her but there are people with animals that provide emotional support for them both of my guests speak to that issue as well my cats definitely help me emotionally but the idea of bringing one of them with me outside of my house to ease any of my physical or psycho-emotional issues is just plain scary

my first guest is hazel weiss we met several years ago when i requested a presentation about service dogs from bergen university of canine studies for my support group hazel brought her dog hams with her to represent bergen and their service dog training program hazel is a former housing and community development manager for almena county and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1989 she’ll talk about her first experiences with a service dog hams and her current service dog virgil hazel’s life has been dramatically impacted by her experience with a service dog she even went back to school to study assistance dog education and served as a faculty member for bergen university in the podcast show notes on the website glass half full there are links to two organizations hazel mentions bergen university and canine companions for independence there’s also a link to the city of berkeley office of access services that explains berkeley’s policy and rules for businesses regarding service animals my second guest is melissa marshall melissa wrote the cancer fight song and was featured in podcast episode number four speaking about her colon cancer and coping with an ostomy bag melissa talks about how her dog helps her with both physical tasks and dealing with anxiety so now please join me in a lovely cafe in berkeley california as i meet with hazel and her service dog virgil you were diagnosed in you said 89 right so when at what point did you feel like a service dog might enter your life this is this is a wonderful story it has kept me going actually for many years i didn’t know very much about service dogs and in my mind they were for people who were much more disabled than me and basically people who use wheelchairs that was my sense of it and in about the year 2000 i was watching kqed public television and there was a documentary on service dogs and i loved dogs anyway i always have i always had pet dogs and um and being a person with a disability was of great interest to me so i was watching and the first person was somebody who used a wheelchair and so the dog did a lot related to that person using a wheelchair and then the next sort of vignette whatever yeah they they were doing stories on like three or four different people and their dogs was a woman a very short stature and she mostly used a scooter an electric scooter to get around she had a lot of trouble with her hips and her legs she could stand briefly she could walk a little bit but not so much and her service dog was a papillon this little small size dog and i’m i’m watching and so the dog jumped up on counters to get things that she couldn’t reach because she was a very short stature and i’m thinking that’s that’s wonderful and i’m appreciating and then she goes to her washer and dryer and she opens the door of the dryer and the dog jumps into the dryer and starts handing her the clothes from the dryer because it’s too hard for her to be leaning in and and i looked at that and i thought oh wow it totally hit home with me leaning over to put clothes in the dryer and take them out of the dryer is a lot of effort and particularly with fatigue from ms it’s always on my mind the energy bank we talk about the ms energy bank you know there’s only so much in there so decide what you’re going to use your energy on and i thought wow that’s something like a service dog could help me to do that and then she went out into her garden and she was saying how much she loved to garden but she had stopped because when she would go out and she’d get down on her hands and knees to be you know working and she said i couldn’t get up again it was too hot she said i could but it was so so hard i couldn’t really get up she said but now my dog i braces and i put my hands on my dog’s shoulders and she can brace my whole weight because even though she’s a small this is me just filling in here even though it’s a small dog the woman was a very short stature and she weighed far less than 100 pounds and i was like light bulbs were going off and and firecrackers were fireworks were going off because i had pretty much stopped gardening for the same reason it was too hard to get up i can get up from the ground but it it’s very hard for me to do that has been for years and i was beside myself i thought service dogs do that they help people with i could i could get a service dog and the dog could help me do the things that i need and that’s what got me thinking about i can i’m going to apply for a service dog that would be wonderful so it was thanks to public television i don’t know when or how long it would have been if if ever that i found out more and ultimately the program they gave me my first dog and my successor dog they said because i had said well am i disabled enough to get a service dog and i don’t want to take one away from somebody else who needs to talk more than me and they said if you have a disability and having a service dog will improve the quality of your life you’re eligible and that really freed me to say okay yes yeah so that’s how i it’s how i got started on the road to applying to get a service dog i discovered that there was a program called canine companions for independence in santa rosa which was you know just like 60 miles from my house and i was starting to look into that and so i had to get you know my my neurologist had a fill out of some forms about my disability that i have a disability and the level of it and there were some other letters i had to get from different people and then i had to write an essay about why i wanted a service dog and looking back now it was so big a deal and i approached it with so much care and and i had to think about everything for the longest time and like right now i could just go do an application into me you know probably in a day or something and then just get the right forms but it was part of the process accepting a different level of disability you you know your your identity was changing and you were looking for an external tool resource to help you with everyday living um it was it was it was it became then that i would be announcing to the world that i have a disability although i later found out so many people don’t know about service dogs or if they do they think i’m cheating to this day i think i’m faking it because i look like i’m okay but back then yes it was so i knew i was going to be really putting myself out there much more than i ever had and it part of me it’s my own perfectionist or my high standards of i had to do the best application i had to really make sure i i wrote what i needed to say and that i didn’t get refused and it was this very big deal which it probably is for many many people i don’t think i’m alone in that and i don’t think it was a bad thing i think it was good because it had me reflecting and thinking and you know feelings about all of what it might mean so it was it was it was very intense it was very intense process and when i started this part and saying i was very lucky they called me in july and said they called me at the beginning of july and said the end of june and said we have a match a dog who we think is a match can you come to team training in july tell me about that process because what i’ve heard is it’s pretty rigorous the training it is and so for most places it’s a two-week they call it team training they call the boot camp they call they call it a number of different things it’s for um you and your dog to get to know each other and to bond and it’s for the person to learn all the 95 commands that the dog already knows and to learn how to now the term is how to handle the dog you know as the dog trainer dog handler but in reality it’s much more personal and meaningful and individual than how to handle my dog it’s learning how what the commands are when to give them how to be in sync with your dog and um how to respond particularly when you first meet your new dog in training and the dog’s going well who are you i don’t know if i should do anything for you that’s often you know that’s why there’s a whole thing about bonding and so it’s very intense in that and for some people more so than others for me more so than others and then it was tiring because it was two weeks of monday through saturday from like starting at eight in the morning till five or six at night and then there was homework because a lot of it was learning about service dogs and about all the commands and how to take care of your dog and how to make sure your dog is in good health and how to be aware and protective that that your dog’s not in a dangerous situation and they call it bonnie bergen calls actually having a third eye always on your dog it’s much more than just you know i’ll go out and my dog’s with me kind of thing but when i got hams back with me to the room so i called my husband i said i’ve got him he came back with me i’ve got him here and i said i said honey you’re gonna love this dog he’s just like me he’s stubborn he’s persistent he’s out there he’s very self-confident and it was true and which is part of what the whole matching thing is to try and actually match personalities which in terms of bonnie bergen’s positive method of training service dogs is is what it’s all about is matching by personality the dog and the person and um that they’ll get along better if that’s the case is that a different style than other service dog organizations that you’re familiar with well at the time bonnie berg and she created the concept of service dog back like 35 30 seven years ago oh okay there there was there was no such thing there were guide dogs everybody lots of people knew about guide dogs for blind people and bonnie bergen was the first person who thought she actually took a trip to um i think maybe turkey and she saw some people um and some small burrows or donkeys were helping them and she got the idea from that to people with disabilities that maybe dogs could be trained to help persons with disabilities so she came back and she trained the very first service dog she started the very first program which was canine companions for independence she developed the whole positive service dog training methods a lot of the training before her was not a positive reinforcement there’s a lot the old ways of dog training you know about pinching the dog’s ear and jerking their leash so hard that they fall upside down and you know kind of pain and punishment was a large part of dog training and so she really was the front runner the forerunner and particularly with service dogs and she said it’s going to be all positive from day one and um and it all happens out of bonding and love and that and i’ve come to believe this totally that my dog helps me because he knows he loves me and i love him and he knows i need to help he knows that time in my life and having ms and getting a dog um he was just quite amazing and once i got him i was like i did everything i went everywhere i did everything i like nothing could stop me can you talk a little more about you know the different ways your your two experiences with two different dogs have you know helped your life one is just to get help me stay motivated to get out of the house and do whatever ranging from i keep i continued to walk more because i wouldn’t i don’t i don’t feel like doing a lot of stuff a lot of the time it’s the ms i’ll say well virgil needs to go for a walk and it wouldn’t be fair hazel for me for you not to take him out for a walk he needs to go it gets physically it gets me up and going he needs breakfast in the morning he needs you know whatever he needs so it actually helps my motivation to keep doing things that i might be inclined to let slide or let slip so that’s been true um with with both of them being a person with a disability and other people they don’t know how hard it is oh generally only other people i’ve spoken to with disabilities have a clue here and then even then some of them are they don’t have a clue either because their way of approaching it is is to say no i’m going to act like there’s absolutely nothing wrong and they sort of don’t admit that anything is difficult or hard it’s sort of been my experience and talking with people if i have to have multiple sclerosis which i would not choose to have i wouldn’t choose to have any disability i’m not grateful that i have it even though i’ve learned many things and it’s affected my life in many positive ways but i i would rather not have gotten it or not have it but since i have it getting to have my dog come with me everywhere i go is the greatest blessing and uh wonderful thing that um balances out both sort of my my positive nature and my happiness as well as i’m just being able to deal with stuff because there’s lots of little stuff that comes up all the time that no one else is when people get impatient with me because it my hands don’t work so well um like at the checkout counter it it takes me longer to get my wallet out get the card out get it slid i just had that before you and people make it clear sometimes that come on hurry up and when that starts to and whether or not they’ve identified now that well she’s got a service dog there must be something wrong but they’re still impatient having my dog with me balances all that garbage out it balances all the garbage all the negativity ranging from just knowing that he’s there because he’s always right next to me two i lean over and i hug him and i kiss him i talk to him and nobody thinks that i’m crazy because you’re talking to your service dog and so that’s perfectly fine with them he also acts as a bit of a buffer for me and i i don’t even tell him to my first dog did that too and he does it too they just seem to know like they put themselves between me and the person behind me or in front of me because people violate their space oh my gosh so much so and that’s it’s even harder for me number one just because i don’t like it that’s the person i am i don’t like my personal space violated it also throws me off balance with my ms it’s it’s scary for me and so having my dog be a buffer or if he didn’t jump to it i can just say over here and then that gives me that little bit of space so i mean for all those reasons and just the joy of getting to have my dog with me everywhere i go i mean i love him i want to be with him all the time he’s such a sweetheart he is he’s just so mellow he’s that’s the thing most often that physically if you had a child there

we don’t know it that’s the truth but that’s the most frequent comment people say is he’s so mellow and he’s he’s doing his job

there’s federal and state law the americans with disabilities act basically provides access for a person with a disability accompanied by a service animal which is a dog which is specifically or specially trained to do certain tasks to mitigate that person’s disability so under title ii local and state governments requires access title iii is all public accommodations businesses and theaters and public conveyances and buses and just about any everywhere that the public is invited or welcomed is covered under the ada and even in employment now that it’s a little bit different title one of the ada it’s not quite the same but there’s still an employer is required to accept a request for an employee to have a service dog and to pretty much grant the request unless there’s a good reason not to in fact i often say when i’m having a bad day which however however often it happens or i’m having a hard time in the middle of the day or whatever and somebody will say how are you doing i’ll say well you know i woke up this morning and i was able to get up out of the bed i could see because i actually had some optic nerve damage from the ms in the early years and i could get up and stand and i have my family and my friends and my dog i’m okay that’s probably one of my most profound things that i’ve said glass half full attitude yeah absolutely absolutely well thank you so much my pleasure thank you very much for asking me to do this yeah

also the most difficult time for me now is going to sleep period that is the time that normal people allow themselves to fall into you know a rem sleep and relax and let their bodies be well my body does not stop producing waste and so sometimes there are accidents these situations when it happens it’s been mortifying i think that has been the hardest thing for me to um deal with and to to not break down constantly and just just keep going i mean that i it’s very hard um i’m scared to sometimes go to sleep and sometimes i’m perfectly fine sometimes i’m not um what i’ve learned is it can all be cleaned up and uh it disrupted it disrupts my sleep but the next morning there you go and you start another day um the best thing that that has happened to me just recently is that i did uh get a puppy who is now a registered service dog she’s in training and uh she’s tiny her name is mari actually her name is mariposa which is butterfly in spanish and she’s part papillon and um maltese she has really really helped me and my anxiety i never used to be an anxious person i never you know really had that problem at all but now um that is the that is where the height is for me is if if i do have an issue where i might have a leak and sometimes these do happen she keeps me calm and um eventually she is going to be taught to retrieve my ostomy products either out of my purse or wherever they might be if i’m in an inconvenient point that something happens

yes my well she she really has been a blessing now i had to

plead bribed my husband um to to get her he did not want a dog at all but um but she really has been such a joy and she has helped me to um just just to relax and to feel more comfortable sometimes if i’m in a crowd or whatever because she is so darn cute that she diverts all of the attention to her so people aren’t really paying attention to me anymore so that was that’s just the irony but she really is quite adorable

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