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Through My Dog’s Eyes: Navigating Grad School with My Service Animal

Hi everyone! My name is Chloée, and I am currently in the first year of my MA program. Through my blog series, I will attempt to provide a broad scope of my experience as a disabled student.

In this first edition, I thought it would be interesting to bring some awareness regarding service animals – in particular service dog. As a handler, there has been instances where I wanted to address this topic. I believe this is the perfect platform to do so. As such, this week, I am giving voice to my service dog as she explain how we navigate grad school… through her own eyes. This will provide a brief overview of our daily triumphs and struggles as a team, but must not be generalized as a uniform experience for all service dogs and their handlers. Enjoy!

White standard poodle sits under a tree with orange and yellow leafs. Sparkling water is in the background.

Hello there. Some of you may already have crossed paths with me on campus or within the greater Kingston community. I am usually trotting alongside my handler while she navigates daily life – yes, folks have previously referred to me as a miniature horse when I walk. My name is Denise, and I am a cream coloured standard poodle. I am also a service dog, which is why I wear a vest while in public. Being a service dog looks differently for all of us, but for me is to remain cognizant of my handler’s needs. We have worked together as a team for almost 4 years, and can predict our subsequent movements. However, I am easily distracted with folks who attempt to give me attention, and this hinders my capacity to remain present and responsive to my handler’s movement.  Therefore, it is challenging for me to react quickly when my handler gives me a command because folks are talking or gazing at me. Even when it seems as though I am sleeping, I remain on alert to my handler’s needs and react accordingly.

Folks are often curious of the duties I perform on a daily basis, and she usually provides the same answers. My handler leads a very hectic lifestyle, which results in my days being unpredictable. This keeps life interesting – and me on my ‘paws’. Somedays I may sleep for hours beside my handler’s desk as she works in her office while other days we are navigating the bus system and head on train rides to explore different cities.

My handler and I experience stigmatization because folks are still unfamiliar with the role of service dogs, which is one of the most challenging aspect of my jobs. I must wait longer for my handler to voice what I need to do, and some folks believe it is easier for them to jump in. On the contrary, I find it more difficult to obey a command while someone I do not know also attempts to address me simultaneously – especially when we are faced with a challenging situation. I get confused during these moments and can react accordingly.

Chloée here. I hope that these previous paragraphs were somewhat insightful. Do you have anything to add? Comment below and let’s start a dialogue!

Are you interested in reading about a particular topic pertaining to accessibility and disability in my next blog? Reach out to c.godinjacques@queensu.ca and let me know.

White standard poodle is in a sitting position beside owner who is in kneeling position. Both are sitting on a white blanket, facing water with trees reflecting on it.

Posted in Accessibility, Disability, Service Animals

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