I’ve got many different assistance tools in my house. My Oreon Webbox and Braille display. A liquid level Indicator, speaking thermometer and oh... let’s not forget the wheelchair.
If the liquid level indicator breaks, I buy a new one. The wheelchair is usually repaired by the company that delivered it and if the Webbox or Braille display decide to have a bad day, they get sent away for service repairs or they’re replaced. I’m never without an assistance tool for too long.
Did you know that medical insurance companies also cover the costs of a service dog under the same rules as they use to cover sn assistance tool? Yes, that’s right. Legally Don is seen as a thing, an inanimate object. So what if he ‘breaks’? Can I send him away and get a replacement?
I don’t think any dog owner would want to replace their sick or injured dog for another one. Regardless of whether you’ve had him since he was a puppy or adopted him later in life. Or like me, have him because he’s your service dog. They’re living beings and we become attached to them. We don’t throw away our brother or mother either when they get sick.
So as an assistance dog owner you essentially have an assistance tool that you love, care for and play with. He also helps you when you can’t help yourself and when he gets sick.. just like Don did a few weeks ago, you find yourself in an ‘oh crap’ situation.
Don’s behaviour had been different for a while. With the 40 degree heat we had this summer, that seemed logical. We get tired and sleepy in that weather, so having Don behave that way seemed acceptable. But the weather cooled down and he didn’t get better. So after a conversation with our trainer, we took him to the vet. Back pain, probably due to muscle strain meant medication and rest. No work meant no help and I found myself asking my caregiver to help me more. ‘Will you please help me take off my sweatshirt’? ‘When can we do my Laundry? In the weekend..? Oh, ok’, my caregiver works a 32 hour job and I had become more dependent on her. That meant I had to be patient. No longer being able to do things when I want to because her job has to come first.
Another conversation with the trainer lead us to the question; ‘What if Don needs painkillers for the rest of his life’? ‘What if he’s just feeling old and no longer enjoying his work’? Of course I’m not going to force Don to do something he no longer can do or no longer enjoys. The whole idea behind service dogs helping their owners is that they see their work as a game. When it’s no longer fun for them, it’s no longer fair. That’s a thought that breaks my brain.
When a service dig is ‘out of order’ you don’t immediately get a new dog. Although you have high priority, you are put on a waiting list. Dogs have to finish training before they can be matched with a client and depending on the school, that waiting list can be anywhere from three months to one and a half years. For me... and most other service dog owners, that would mean home care because we literally don’t have the ability to do certain tasks without help.
Luckily after two weeks of complete rest, Don seemed to be feeling better. His energy level improved and he started doing small work tasks. He’s now back to doing everything he helped with before, however we do have to do some things a little differently so that we reduce the risk of him straining his muscles again. That’s logical, us humans also change the way we do things as we get older.
When Don turns 8, or maybe before that if he shows signs of no longer wanting to help, we’ll be assessed by the trainer and a decision on retirement will be made. I’ll be put on a waiting list and find other ways of managing my care needs while I wait. It’s hard to predict what the future will bring and when it will bring it. One thing I do know for sure, Don’s retirement will be a very difficult day because eventually, I will have to replace him.