Friday, October 9, 2009

Should helper dogs be allowed everywhere?

We have a dog in our newsroom, a Golden Retriever and Labrador mix named Norton. He was trained by Paws with a Cause to help one of our reporters who uses a wheelchair.
Norton is great. He helps pull his human, Jerry, in the wheelchair and picks up pencils and papers Jerry drops. If Jerry were to fall, Norton not only is trained to help him get up, but he’s also trained to seek out another human and lead them back to Jerry.
Norton’s training was a process that went on for probably about three years. The puppy stages were spent with a foster family who had instructions on socialization and general training and then highly experienced trainers worked with him daily for about a year. After he began living with Jerry, the training continued for perhaps another a year or so.
As a helper dog, Norton is legally allowed to go everywhere Jerry goes. And generally speaking, I’m OK with that.
I know Jerry and I know the types of places Norton goes to with him — auditoriums where Jerry gives speeches, on various assignments Jerry gets here at work and to family functions, etc. That's all fine and dandy in my book.
I think, though, that we tend to forget these helper dogs are still dogs. They’re still on the lookout for a treat, a squirrel still catches their eye — even if they don’t chase it, and they still like to chew on a good bone. I could go on and on.
Back in the summer, I wrote a blog about a dog parade that was led by bagpipers. It struck me that this is the level of discord we humans have with dogs — that we would actually place the most loud, siren-like, ear-piercing noise a foot in front of a large group of dogs.
Remember learning that dogs’ hearing and smelling abilities are crazy-better than ours? That also means their ears and nose are far more sensitive than ours.
And if you stand a foot away from a bagpiper going full-tilt, I bet your ears are going to be feeling incredibly sensitive. Just imagine what a poor dog would be going through.
Some of the dogs in the parade looked so nervous and on-edge. Can you blame them?
This brings me to the point of this blog.
A co-worker shared with me that she spotted a helper dog, a mastiff, in the pit area of a rock and roll concert at The Palace a while back. The dog was limping as he pulled around his owner and looked uncomfortable, surrounded by a wall of human bodies and just feet from some of the loudest sounds we humans create.
A staunch advocate for the underdog, my co-worker confronted the dog’s owner, who seemed to shrug off all her concerns as, “The dog is fine, he’s already been to 22 concerts this summer.”
Twenty-two concerts? I don’t think we humans instituted helper dogs to help their owners navigate a mosh pit at AC/DC. For goodness’ sake, this person couldn’t even have taken a seat further away from the stage to save the poor dog’s ears? Can you just imagine how quickly this dog will be going deaf?
This I would classify as borderline animal abuse or extremely irresponsible and uncaring ownership, at the least.
My problems don’t stop there. My co-worker found out this dog is not a certified therapy dog.
Believe it or not, a lack of certification does not take away any of the legal privileges given to a helper dog. And while the dog certainly had training, here’s another issue I have — there are no mandatory certifications or educational requirements for a person to call themselves a professional dog trainer.
Anyone can call themselves a pro. This means we allow anyone-who-calls-themselves-a-professional-dog-trainer to train helper dogs to go anywhere-humans-are-allowed.
Even mosh pits.
What a world we live in.


  1. Helper dogs should be allowed to go anywhere their master goes. However just because a human can stand to have loud noises around him is no reason to assume that it is fine for the poor dog to endure the same. Common scene should come into play before laws are enacted for the animals sake.

  2. I agree 100 percent. I'd hate to see any laws put in place when it's really a matter of common sense.

    However, I'd love to see some amount of education, training or a certification program required before a person can call themselves a professional dog trainer. I don't necessarily think we need to ask people to complete a bachelor's degree from a university, but some education regarding canine behavior would be better than none. Even if it were just a requirement to pass a test designed by behaviorists.