Monday, February 29, 2016

Another Dog for the Deaf

There was a pleasant article (and accompanying video online) in the Detroit Free Press the other day about a black Lab named Valley, who was brought to its new service dog team member in Michigan just a couple of weeks ago.

Valley was trained at Dogs for the Deaf in Central Point, Oregon, and placed by Trooper's trainer, Laura Burke.

Valley, by the way, did her basic training at Guide Dogs for the Blind in Boring, Oregon, but couldn't quite pass the final test: sticking close to her handler and ignoring passersby and other dogs on the sidewalk.

That's not a problem with hearing dogs. Indeed, Trooper is always willing to give a big hello whenever he encounters another member of his species. Not that I don't make him stay at my side; we're working on those manners.

It's always bracing to read about the adventures of Trooper's brothers and sisters.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Please don't pet

Trooper at the Botanic Garden today.
"Awwwwwww!" cooed the Botanic Garden volunteer as Trooper, Debby and I started to pass her on the pathway to the visitor center. She stooped to pet Trooper.

"Service dog," I said.

"Oh, I know," she said.

"He's working," I said with a smile. "Please don't pet him."

Quickly she stood up. "I've been working here for years," she said, "and I know about service dogs. I know we're not supposed to pet them. "

She launched into a fervent apology for the faux pas she had committed, continuing even though I tried to wave it off. "I should have known better. I'm so sorry . . ."

"He's just too cute," I said. "Don't worry about it."

The volunteer departed in a shower of mild embarrassment despite our reassurance that she had not committed a grave offense.

This is an ongoing problem. My fuzzy little chick magnet seems to be absolutely irresistible to dog lovers, especially women, as well as small children. This results in awkward situations. I am lousy at deflecting friendly and well-meant gestures, but they must be deflected.

Half an hour later we were in an upscale market when an elegant gray-haired woman dropped into a squat before Trooper with a broad smile on her face.

"Service dog," I said quickly, before she could touch him. "He's working. Please don't pet him. It distracts him from his job."

I spoke in as calm and friendly a voice as I could muster.

But Madame Gotrocks shot back up and stalked away with a cold and silent glare, as if I had committed the unforgivable sin of rebuking a social superior in public.

You win a few, you lose a few.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Papieren, bitte!

Yesterday a packet arrived from the State of Michigan Civil Rights Division. It contained the illustrated cloth patch and a plastic card with my picture proclaiming that I am a registered service animal handler and Trooper is a registered service dog.

This is an entirely voluntary way of informing the public of our right to go anywhere (within reason, of course) in upper Michigan, where we spend roughly half the year. It does not contradict the U.S. Justice Department's service dog guidelines, which say that formal identification can never be demanded.

Most business owners who ask service dog teams for ID, however, are not suspicious Gestapo officers demanding one's papers on a train speeding out of Berlin, but make the request out of honest ignorance or exasperation about the growing numbers of fake service dogs. Official state-issued patches and ID cards can smooth troubled waters.

(For further information on the Michigan scheme, see the Jan. 22 blogpost below.)

The patch will be sewn on the top of Trooper's Dogs for the Deaf vest. Yes, the vest might look like the family station wagon on its return from the Black Hills, but I think we'll see real benefits with this one.

Monday, February 22, 2016


After 2 1/2 months at our condo, Trooper's service-dog training is now beginning to pay dividends.

For weeks he has done well during his formal training sessions—jumping up on me and leading me to the sources of three sounds: the ring of the phone, the call of my name, a knock at the door. Now he is doing these things reliably outside the sessions, which is the entire point of having a hearing assistance dog.

That is, between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.

If the phone rings or Debby calls my name after that witching hour, Trooper will just lift his head at his bed and cock an annoyed eye at her, as if to say what she wants is against union rules and he gets double overtime if he chooses to work. Which he doesn't. Go talk to the shop steward.

The goal is for him to understand that he's on duty 24/7.

But we're getting there.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Where to go?

Earlier this week, the Chicago Sun-Times (my old bailiwick) reports, O'Hare Airport opened a new indoor rest room in Terminal 3 for service dogs. (There are also three grassy spots outside where Trooper can transact his business.)

Props to the airport. Every human member of a traveling service dog team always worries about where his buddy is gonna go. Especially when the team has just gone through security.

Practically speaking, however, Trooper and I do most of our long-distance traveling by train, and we depart from Union Station in Chicago. That facility doesn't have a canine rest room, but neither does it have Homeland Security gates. There are no grassy areas nearby where dogs can relieve themselves and not get yelled at by building rent-a-cops, so service dog teams have to be creative with light posts and the few available flower beds.

Amtrak is presently refurbishing Union Station from top to bottom, but I doubt very much that it'll provide any special space for service dogs. There just aren't enough of them on the rails to bother with. It's a nice dream, though.

Things are a little easier once the trains have departed from Chicago. At stations where there's baggage service, the trains stop long enough for passengers who smoke to take a few puffs—and service dogs to take a break. Usually grassy areas run right alongside the platforms, and train crew can often direct dog teams to the most convenient spots.

It's never a piddling matter. Just ask any service dog team.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Shave and a haircut

A shaggy little hearing assistance dog of miniature schnauzer/poodle/Pekingese heritage needs regular monthly visits to the barber shop for baths and haircuts. In February it's too cold for an  over-all cut and coat stripping, but today Trooper's mustache and goatee, ears and eyebrows needed a trim.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Trooper goes to the hospital

When my routine colonoscopy was arranged at Evanston Hospital, I told Debby that Trooper was going along with me. He wouldn’t be a full-fledged service dog unless he went everywhere—everywhere.

Debby had her doubts about that. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to leave the dog at home and maybe find a sitter for him?

No, no, I said, he goes. If the law says he can, he goes. 

Of course the Justice Department’s ADA guidelines address the subject of service dogs in hospitals. Patients have the right to take them everywhere except in situations where sterile conditions and safety might be compromised, such as operating rooms.

So Debby negotiated the matter with the hospital. It said Trooper could stay in the GI Lab waiting room with her while I went in for the two hours of prep, procedure and recovery, and afterward the doctor would come out and talk with her in a quiet out-of-the-way spot. But Trooper couldn’t come into the prep and recovery area. 

That was all right with me. He would be fine with Debby.

It didn’t work that way. After the procedure and my delivery to the prep/recovery room to gather my wits, Dr. Yen, the gastroenterologist, came by and told me what I needed to know.

Then he went to the waiting room, collected Debby and Trooper, and brought them both to the prep/recovery room. He went over with Debby what he had told me (never hurts to have her present, especially if I’m still sedative-addled).

Meanwhile Trooper stood on his hind legs, tail wagging, paws on my gurney, and satisfied himself that I had not been dispatched to a bad place.

And everyone in the hospital loved Trooper, even the security guard out front.

The news was good all around.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Troop goes to da Loop

When my old friend Sam, Trooper and I arrived at Sepia restaurant in downtown Chicago yesterday noon, Sam did not announce that Trooper was a service dog, nor did the hostess ask.

But Sam did request a well-lighted table because I am a lipreader.

The hostess immediately disappeared into the back.

I think she might have gone to ask the manager where he wanted to sit us,” Sam said later. “But they put us right up front, so I think they were making sure they did things right.”

They certainly did. Whether the extra effort was for a deaf patron, or his service dog, or both, we don’t know for sure.

But as soon as we were seated at an out-of-the-way but well-lighted table quite visible to other diners, a waiter brought an elegant glass bowl of water and placed it on the floor for Trooper. He immediately appreciated it.

These folks know how to welcome a service dog team. No sharp intakes of breath or narrow looks of suspicion, just broad smiles and a little extra effort.

Sepia, by the way, is at 123 N. Jefferson in the West Loop, two blocks from Ogilvie Transportation Center. Trooper and I had ridden in on the Metra train from Evanston.

The restaurant occupies an old print shop from the 1890s and its decor specializes in vintage Chicago memorabilia. If one runs out of conversation, one can amuse oneself just gazing around the place.

Its American cuisine, by the way, is moderately upscale and very, very good. The restaurant rates 4 1/2 stars on and 4 stars on Yelp.

I’ll give it a 5.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Trooper and the Dog Flu

I now understand better why Trooper’s trainer at Dogs for the Deaf said not to take my new service animal to dog parks or dog beaches.

He’s already under enough risk for animal disease simply by going everywhere in public with me—to crowded places where not only sick dogs might have hung out but also humans whose clothes might be carrying viruses and bacteria picked up from their pets.

No point in adding to the perils by taking Trooper to places where dogs are concentrated, like parks and beaches.

The spur to this post was Trooper’s visit to the vet yesterday afternoon for immunization against a new strain of canine influenza that is extremely contagious (fortunately, the mortality rate is low, less than 10 per cent).

The vet's office said that although stay-at-home dogs who rarely encounter others probably don’t need the vaccination, service dogs should have it, because they are so often out swimming in the Petri dish of the big world.

The new vaccine has been on the market for only about a month. It protects against the H3N2 virus that erupted in Chicago last year and spread west, as well as the older H3N8 bug that also can cause deep coughing and fever for as long as three weeks. (Some dogs shrug off the symptoms in a day or two, and some who acquire the viruses never show any.)

The vaccine takes two weeks to start working, at which time a second injection is required to help it along. Trooper has to go back on Feb. 22 for another jab.

Good thing the shots aren’t expensive—just $35 each. That’s cheap compared to as many as three weeks of loss of a service dog’s labors.

Must watch Trooper for possible side effects, though: vomiting and swelling around the eyes. So far, so good.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Trooper goes to the movies

This morning Debby and I decided to catch the 10:45 a.m. screening of “Spotlight” at the downtown Century Theater in Evanston, of course taking Trooper along.

We wanted to see if his behavior would be as professional as it was in church yesterday: he had spent most of the time lying peacefully at my feet in a pew, as a trained service dog should.

We chose the early screening because we figured it would be lightly attended and there would be fewer chances for someone to stumble over Trooper in the dark theater. (Fewer than a dozen people came.)

But this time he was quite restless, lying for just a few minutes before he stood and pulled at his leash. He couldn’t stay down for long and wanted constant attention, especially after the movie started.

Debby and I both think the trigger for the behavior may have been the high decibel level in the theater.

When I left for a few minutes to visit the men’s, I gave Trooper’s leash to Debby. He was quite upset and tried to follow me, forcing Debby to hold him in her lap while I was gone. Whether this is a sign of separation anxiety we don’t know. (When I briefly leave our condo without him, he lies quietly on the mat by the door but does not show signs of distress.) The behavior also may have been affected by the theater’s powerful sound system.

Afterward, we lunched at a Panera Bread down the street, and Trooper returned to normal, lying quietly at my feet.

We’ll try the movies again soon. Possibly the problem was a startling and brand-new experience and he’ll do fine next time. Trooper was frightened during his first plane flight and his first train trip, but aced the subsequent rides with aplomb.

The learning process goes on—for both Trooper and me.

P.S. "Spotlight" was terrific. It truly showed how a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative sausage is made, and the performances were uniformly excellent.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Trooper aces his first funeral

Trooper passed another test today: Enduring a two-and-a-half-hour funeral and reception without the slightest deviation from approved service-dog routine.

It was a memorial for Eric Lund, an old Chicago Daily News colleague, who last month had died at 92 years of age, and it was held in the cavernous St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, complete with choir and organ.

Troop has been very good in restaurants, lying quietly at our feet while we dine, as Federal law says a well-behaved service dog must. But today brought his first visit to a church.

We were worried that when the big old organ started up and gathered momentum, Trooper would join in, making an inappropriate if joyful noise unto the Lord. Nope. He just lay quietly, although now and then he did cock his head quizzically.

All the way through the hymns, readings and interminable homily he stirred but a few times, once to be petted and twice to stretch his legs. It’s probably cold and lonely on the floor between the pews, but he lay on his side and slept.

At the reception he sat obediently by a wall for the most part, although I did have to remind him now and then with a quick “sit!” that he was on his best behavior.

We managed to get out of there without anyone stepping on him. He is a small black dog, those church floors are dark gray, and the crowd was goodly as well as godly.

Good boy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Trooper's family tree

When Trooper arrived at our condo last December 7, we were told he was a schnauzer mix, possibly the offspring of a miniature schnauzer and miniature poodle. At age one he had come to Dogs for the Deaf in Central Point, Oregon, from a shelter in Bakersfield, California. His birthday was listed as May 22, 2014.

Miniature schnauzer
That was all Dogs for the Deaf and his accompanying papers could tell me about his early puppyhood.

Of course I was curious. There’s a potential book in this hearing service dog, and it would be useful to know as much as possible about his origins. Was Trooper a designer “schnoodle” or something more complicated? Maybe a DNA test could tell me.

Miniature poodle
So I bought a Wisdom Panel Mixed Breed DNA test kit for $85 on Wisdom Panel is widely considered the most accurate canine DNA test because its genetic database contains more breeds than any other.

When the kit arrived two weeks ago, I swabbed Trooper’s cheek with the two accompanying swabs, and mailed them to Wisdom Panel.

Today the results arrived via email.

One of Trooper’s parents, the results said, is purebred miniature schnauzer and the other is a miniature poodle/mainly Pekingese mix. (I’m not sure which is the father, but family trees usually put the male lineage on the left side.)

If I am reading the chart right, Trooper is one-half schnauzer, one-quarter poodle, one-eighth Pekingese and one-eighth Your Guess Is As Good as Mine.

So now we know.

The results also said that Trooper, like all dogs, has a gene called MDR1, a mutation of which can cause problems with absorption of drugs in the body. His MDR1 is normal. His vet might find this useful to know, and we’ll pass that along.

The rest of the results discussed the traits of Trooper’s three dominant breeds. Schnauzers tend to be intelligent, active, alert, quick learners, show a high prey drive and are sometimes suspicious of strangers. Poodles are intelligent, athletic, playful, eager to learn, reserved with strangers and tend to be barky. Pekes are alert, calm, intelligent, stubborn, barky and defensive.

Trooper displays most of those shared traits. Most important, he’s smart, eager and highly trainable—that’s why Dogs for the Deaf chose him for training.

He will bark at strangers in certain situations, such as at our condo’s elevator doors if someone he doesn’t know unexpectedly steps in or out. (He never barks when he’s at work in restaurants, shops, supermarkets and the like.)

As for the unknown mix, it's most likely a combination of terriers. His shaggy coat is neither rough (schnauzer) nor curly (poodle) but soft and silky (probably Peke).

High prey drive? Whenever he spots a squirrel on our walks, his 17 pounds on the other end of the leash damn near dislocates my shoulder.

He’s 100 percent dog.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Garden's reply

Here’s the response from the Chicago Botanic Garden to my February 1 blogpost, below this one. Those new to this blog might want to read that first.

"Mr. Kisor,

"Thank you for your recent visit to the Garden.  We thank you for your candor in your blog posting about your recent experience. We apologize for what occurred and the outcome that lead to you and Trooper wearing the green stickers. As you can imagine, many people do try to bring their pets into the Garden which is not allowed. Clearly this does not apply to service animals. Not all service animals wear identifiers and this can sometime lead to some visitors being questioned during their visit by our staff. In order to avoid this, we offer only as a suggestion that the animal /handler/owner wear our identifier so that staff throughout the Garden are aware that this is a service animal and thus allowed to be on Garden grounds. It is not a requirement, and we are sorry if you were informed so. Our staff member was most likely reacting out of concern that you have a peaceful visit and NOT be approached by Security. 

"Since we strive to enhance the visitor experience to all visiting, we will be working closely with our front line staff to reiterate the protocol for guests with service animals and other components of the ADA law, and improve communication throughout the Garden grounds. Thank you for eloquently bringing this to our attention, and we hope you have a more pleasant experience on your next visit.

""We would like to extend you, Debby and Trooper the opportunity to return to the Garden to see our upcoming Orchid Show, which runs February 13 – March 13. If you would like to private message us with your address, we would be more than happy to send passes out to you.

Again, we are glad that this break in the bitter cold, allowed you all to come and visit the Garden in its winter splendor.

"Thank you."

MY REACTION: It's a decent and well-crafted if slightly patronizing corporate apology, albeit heavy with floral marketing-department sentiments, and it arrived quickly, the same day I made the original post.

I'll accept it while still pointing out that the apology does not really address my argument about the futility of the Garden's attempt to finesse ADA requirements. I still believe that it's the obligation of the Garden to honor the letter of the law for visitors with disabilities, not to provide handy "identifiers" for its staff. Service dog handlers are quite used to dealing with challenges from Jacks-in-office.

As for the proffered freebie, thanks but no thanks.

(Full disclosure: I'm taking the Garden's special Orchid Show photography class and have already paid for it. I shouldn't be so arch, but my hackles are still up. Yes, Trooper is attending with me. Debby will hold the leash while I press the shutter.)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Mark of the Neon Green

Yesterday Debby, Trooper and I drove to the Chicago Botanic Garden, one of our favorite haunts. As we arrived at the visitor center, a woman at the desk beckoned us over.

“Is that a service dog?” she said, even though Trooper prominently wore his bright orange “Dogs for the Deaf” vest, as he always does in public.

“Yes,” Debby replied behind me, knowing I hadn’t understood the woman.

“May I see your credentials?” she said.

I just looked at her and didn't respond. Demanding identification of service dog teams is a no-no, according to Justice Department guidelines for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Wear these,” she said, handing me two large round neon green “Chicago Botanic Garden” stick-on tags.

Without really thinking, I took them and put one on my lapel and one on Trooper’s vest.

Outside, I turned to Debby and said, “Hey, that was illegal.” I'm sometimes slow on the uptake. But then I'm 75 and slow at everything.

The ADA guidelines say that a service dog team needs to wear no identification of any kind as well as possess no credentials. Medical information about disabilities—a service dog is legally an item of medical equipment—is private.

All anyone is permitted to ask is whether the dog is a trained service animal, and what task the dog is trained to perform for the handler.

I don’t mind if the public knows I’m deaf. At my age that’s not a bad idea. Hence Trooper wears his vest and orange “Hearing Dog” leash and collar whenever we’re out and about.

But as Debby, Trooper and I strode over the bridge to Evening Island, I began to feel awfully conspicuous with those neon green tags, like Hester Prynne wearing that scarlet letter through downtown Boston. 

“On the way back I’m going to have a talk with that lady,” I said.

And so I did. It was a quiet and civil conversation.

“Requiring that we wear these tags is illegal,” I said, as pleasantly as I could.

“We want you to wear this so people won’t challenge you,” she replied.

“Thank you,” I said, “but that’s their problem, not mine.”

We left, telling her we hoped she would take our advice and study up on the Justice Department's service dog FAQ, and perhaps Garden management would as well.

Part of the problem, it turned out later, is the Garden's own published policy (found on a dark cranny of its web site). It says:

"Service animals are permitted on Garden grounds. No pets please. Please understand that our Security personnel are often unable to discern service animals from pets and may approach you for verification during your visit. To show that an animal is a service animal, and provide you with the best visitor experience, we suggest that you bring one of the following with you on your visit: animal ID card, harness or tags, or written documentation. If you are not displaying an identifier and would like to be issued a temporary identifier, please visit the Information Desk when arriving on grounds."

Good thing that these are only suggestions, perhaps devised by a lawyer to finesse the ADA and shift the onus of identification to dog and handler.

But they're not really solutions. Identification, harness, tags and documentation often are falsified by people to pass off their pets as service animals. All security guards can legally do for verification is to ask those aforementioned two questions—and to watch the behavior of the dogs. If they growl or bark or otherwise threaten public safety, they can be banished.

Possibly the woman at the desk had been overzealous in interpreting the Garden's policy, but I believe that policy is mistaken in the first place. The burden of proof should never be on dog and handler. 

I’m going to suggest to Garden management that it drop those identification "suggestions" and make abundantly clear to service-dog visitors as well as its staff and volunteers that those neon green tags are an option, not a requirement.

As for me, to get "the best visitor experience," I’ll just rely on Trooper’s orange. Neon green clashes with it, anyway.