Service dogs assist individuals in a variety of ways. There are the more commonly recognized guide dogs that assist the blind or visually impaired, as well as dogs that assist the deaf or hard of hearing by alerting their owners of alarms and other important sounds. Service dogs also assist the physically disabled by retrieving objects, pulling wheel chairs, turning off light switches and performing other tasks to help in everyday activities.
In addition, there are service dogs that assist with invisible disabilities, such as diabetes and anxiety, alerting a person of a physiological change. These dogs are able to sense a variation within their owners and react accordingly, for instance seeking out another human in the case of their owner collapsing into a seizure.We wanted to learn more about how service dogs help their owners on an everyday and personal basis, so we asked several service dog owners to share their stories with us.
Seth Webster and Bamboo
After applying for a guide dog from the Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, CA, Seth Webster was introduced to Bamboo, his now 4-year-old Black Labrador Retriever, on April 24, 2008. “I was not even a white cane user so it did take me some time to get myself ready for this life changing partnership,” said Seth of this new situation. But when Bamboo entered his life, he knew that everything was about to change.
Prior to losing his vision, Seth was an active young man, particularly serious about cycling. The loss of his vision made him feel isolated from all that he had known. But as soon as Bamboo arrived, Seth became active once again.
“Now I can go hiking, meet up with friends, and even strangers want to talk to me,” Seth said. “I can’t see very well, but my vision is infinite! I feel no limitations with a dog as my constant companion, and consider it an honor to have such a devoted friend that I get to take everywhere I want to go.”
The Guide Dogs for the Blind facility had trained Bamboo to accomplish various tasks to assist Seth, including finding available seating in public areas and locating the mailbox. Bamboo was also taught “intelligent disobedience,” which is the ability to ignore unsafe commands. Should Seth give the command to proceed off a curb while a car is approaching, Bamboo will not follow the command and stop Seth from proceeding with the action.
“It takes a super confident dog secure in its role to pull this off,” Seth said. “Our guides are really unique dogs since they are in front of the handler using their own initiative to make decisions without direction, but still willing to follow direction when given from someone like me.”