For Robert Gaylog, his service dog, Callie, is essential for navigating public spaces and maintaining his health. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and needed someone to help him after his wife died. That’s when Putnam Service Dogs came along and provided him with a free mobility dog, a moment he says was life changing.
“We are a good candidate because Callie is an excellent sailor. I have trouble with the steps. I have a cane that I use. Most of the time [when] I fall because I don’t have my cane. When I take Callie out, I don’t use a cane.
Now the rescue lab mix guides him through the grocery store or supports him when he steps over a sidewalk. She also allowed him to engage with the world in a way he hasn’t done in some time. A few months ago, the couple attended a veteran’s funeral and Callie noticed her family and friends making their way to the casket to say their goodbyes. It was then that she stood up and directed Gaylog so he could do the same. He remembered that moment, tearfully saying that was when he put all his trust in her.
He wasn’t always sure he wanted a service dog. Having Callie around meant giving up any possibility of existing in public spaces without being watched, or sometimes even being denied services. That’s what happened to Candace Camper when she tried to enter a restaurant with her service dog Clea last year. Often the general public has misconceptions about what service dogs do and what the law requires, Camper explained.
“The two questions that business owners are legally allowed to ask, that some people are afraid of, are ‘Is the service dog needed due to a disability and, if so, what tasks the dog should- accomplish it? “”
Camper also says that sometimes companies ask for service dog identification cards, which is illegal under the ADA.
But dealing with uncertain audiences isn’t the only hurdle trainers face when their disability requires the assistance of a trained animal. Getting an assistance dog in itself can be a difficult task, which can cost between $15,000 and $50,000. Fortunately, there are nonprofits like Paws4People to support those in need, like retired veteran Seth Eure.
“She kind of picked me in 2019, so we do what’s called a bump where we run multiple dogs in front of the client and see which one is the best fit,” he said of his assistance dog.
Paws4People provided years of training for Eure psychiatric ward golden retriever Harris. And all he had to do was try to raise money. Beyond that, the cost was covered. Now, Eure works for the nonprofit as a client training program manager, teaching those in need how to work with a service dog.
Service dog handlers say the pair are meant to work as a team and the support of that team can be life changing.
“One of the best feelings is being able to help the next person going through the process,” Eure said.