I don’t normally watch National Geographic TV’s "The Dog Whisperer" with Caesar Millan, because the segments are just variations on one theme: the problems are with the owners, not the dogs. However, I happened across a recent episode last night while waiting for sleep to come, and what made it noteworthy was a segment entitled "Believe." This segment featured a partial quadriplegic named Anita and her service dog, a chocolate Labrador named Beau. It quickly became apparent in the segment that Anita could easily be the poster woman for what usually happens to disabled people.
Caesar quickly traced Anita’s problems with Beau back to problems she was having in general and her overall outlook on life. For example, Beau had apparently developed a fear of riding on the county-provided public transit busses for the Disabled. The truth turned out to be that Anita had some very negative feelings about the public transit service due to on-going scheduling and reliability issues. Her dog was simply picking up on her negativity and wanted to get away from the problem. Once Caesar talked Anita into not focusing on negative things, Beau immediately followed suit. One of the almost magical properties of dogs is their ability to sense the mood of their person. Unfortunately, it’s much harder for them to understand the underlying cause.
The reason why I say that Anita could be the poster woman for disabled people has to do with how her emotional state is affected by her disability. Anita admits that her self-esteem has always been low, and that’s not unusual for women. But, she has a slowly progressing disability that she has allowed to isolate her. As Anita puts it, she has become a virtual hermit because she feels that people look over her in her wheelchair. My experience has been that such passive thinking is extremely common among disabled people. Life is wearing, yes, and life with a severe disability is far more so. I can sympathize with Anita, as even I am less pugnacious than I used to be. I no longer spend time trying to convince society that I am a worthy participant. Instead, I spend my remaining time doing whatever I enjoy and can afford. Yet, I still know that a disabled person cannot afford to be passive, as that leaves you totally vulnerable to be abused by others. The world is regretfully not populated by guardian angels; you have to be able to advocate for yourself because you can’t assume others will do it for you. Sadly, I don’t think that most disabled people, including Anita, realize they matter enough to have a say. They seem to basically give up and sit there. To me, that’s just a huge waste of resources any way you view it.
Like Beau, Lilly serves in multiple roles. She certainly isn’t as multi-tasking as he is, but both know their jobs well. Both have roles as companions and social icebreakers. One of the differences in the handler/dog relationships is that Beau has to be more assertive to counter Anita’s passive nature. That’s neither intentional nor desirable, but, to paraphrase Caesar, "if you don’t lead, the dog will." Thankfully, Lilly is low-key to start with, and I’m pretty assertive. Thus, we usually agree on who’s in charge! Technically, I do have a high-powered trainer consulting, Malinda Julien of US Tactical K9s in Abilene. In practice, though, Lilly really trained herself by following me around and observing my routine. Only once or twice have I needed to check with Malinda about tweaking Lilly’s behavior. Great dog.