After fourteen years with too numerous to count misdiagnoses, this is my daily journey living with an unknown disease that has made me fully physically dependent, living by the help from my family, friends, and beloved service dog. It is how I have chosen to define myself to remain whole in spite of it.

Service Dogs – Off Duty

Service Dogs – Off Duty

I recently came across in a story that you can simply tell a service dog they are “off duty”, regardless the circumstances or surroundings. I found this as amusing as I did dumbfounding. Service dogs are not only trained to know your needs, they are trained to help you with them and over time the relationship can develop to the point where they anticipate them before you can verbalize them. An amazing dog like Camelot can react so quickly at times it’s like snapping your fingers, (if I could do that). But, just as the dogs become so highly trained and intuitive that they take the initiative, this can also bring its own set of challenges—including making laughable being able to tell them to go “off duty”.

Why? Isn’t the holy grail of service dogs to be able to command them to do anything? For me, at least, no it’s not. The holy grail is to have a dog so in tune with you, to be so connected, the lines of who is “handler” and who is “follower” are blurred.

I’m not implying my white, moderate sized, standard poodle, Camelot is perfect. Far from it. He’s smart, he’s sassy, and he is so in-tune with circumstances that sometimes, especially as he’s gotten older, when I ask him to bring me certain things, he looks at the other human in the room, telling them to do it. (He really has mastered the art of delegating.) But when we’re out of my house, or my body is in trouble, Camelot is right there, and his instincts are supreme to whatever “order” someone might give—even me in certain circumstances.

In fact, you can pretty much ask anyone who has been around me in those tricky instances, and they will all tell you they have been scolded by Camelot at one time or another. His rebuke is either his glaring at them (yes, he maintains eye contact and can bring even the proudest to lowering their heads first), with utter disdain at their incompetence when my body is struggling to function; or turning his back on them in complete dismissal and rudely ignore what they’re asking him to do in his belief he knows best. Then it’s up to me to assess and decide which is right—when I can.

If you’re wondering again is this a dog or person, and who is the alpha in this relationship—I remind you that it’s the holy grail of service dog—handler relationships, because the lines are blurred.

Camelot has—literally—saved my life a few times, and thus has earned my doctors respect and my family’s unwavering love. He also has spot on intuition; he puts the responsibility on himself to keep me from over pushing when my body is tired, and I still have tasks left unfinished. He has been known to try and lift the keyboard out from under my hands, shove my iPad screen away from me, and yes—he one time brought my aunt her shoes when he decided it was time for her to leave so I could go to sleep. (And when she didn’t automatically leave, he simply sat in front of her and stared at her. I giggled so much, it kept me awake a while longer.)

My mom can tell you loads of stories of how Camelot has directed her care of him when I’m in the hospital, as Camelot is with us, but Mom oversees him for his outside needs, walks, and when I have surgical procedures, etc. One of my mortified favorite’s is how Camelot made Mom stand up in the doorway for a 2-hour surgery, because that was the only place he could see the doors that had “taken me away”. When Mom tried to get a chair, he refused to budge. Further he ignored the “stay” command when Mom dropped the leash to get a chair, and immediately investigated where the button on the wall was to let him back to the surgical unit. Thankfully, Mom grabbed him before he got to the button, but not before she could get a chair...So she stood until I was wheeled back out.

This is a perfect example of the bond. Does Camelot know the “stay” command in any circumstance? Of course. But he overrides it when his judgment says to, because of his love for me. My mother also learned an important lesson. After that, whenever possible, my mom stays inside the surgical wing, waiting in the hallway—with a chair—outside the operating unit until my gurney once more appears.

Camelot is my second service dog, and one can aptly say I have been twice blessed. My first service dog Zella served me differently than Camelot, and yet, she was there for me when it counted. Hence how I know the holy grail so well.

It is an unbreakable bond. Certainly, one without an “off duty” sign. Though, like everyone needing rest, Camelot, (and Zella too), assess access for themselves when they needed a break. Usually they would go somewhere else in the house and just “be” for a couple of hours, then return ready to go. Camelot has even trained one of my mother’s dogs to stay with me when he takes his break. One of those times, I, in human ignorance, interrupted the system and received my own scolding from Camelot. Well, that’s another story.

The point: the bond between service dog and handler goes beyond training, for which I am ever so grateful, and “off duty” is well, sheer nonsense.

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The Search-Lorenzo’s Oil

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The Summer Conundrum