Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Undocumented feature of a service dog

This morning, while we were tramping up Central Park Avenue in the fresh air, Trooper suddenly stopped and whirled around, his gaze transfixed on something behind me. I glanced back and stepped aside just as a small boy, evidently late for school, swept past close aboard on his bicycle. Whoops. Potential accident averted.

The other day, as I was preparing to cross Central Street, Trooper did the same thing. An ambulance, its strobes flashing and siren presumably wailing, approached a block away. There was no particular danger but I appreciated the heads-up all the same.

Those and other incidents have made me realize that a hearing service dog unconsciously performs a job it isn't necessarily trained to do: alert its handler to unseen environmental sounds. Most of those, of course, don't announce oncoming perils, but some do.

This gave me pause. I lost my hearing at age 3 1/2, and I've miraculously made it to 75 without being flattened by an unseen behemoth, let alone small boy, roaring up behind me on the sidewalk or roadway. God knows how many close calls there were that I was unaware of. Blind luck, of course. I don't believe in guardian angels.

Except for Trooper. Whenever I'm out with him, I'll watch his reactions closely. Some of them are just responses to ordinary noises like barking dogs or scolding squirrels, but others are important.

He's a shaggy little Early Warning System.

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