Arlington Celebrates National Service Dog Month
By Jessye Best, Mayor's Committee on People with Disabilities
Posted on September 16, 2020, September 16, 2020

Guide Dog

A floppy-eared, wet nosed black lab eagerly awaits being put in her harness. She is excited because she’s about to do what she has been trained for; She is ready to help improve quality of life for people with visual impairments. September is National Service Dog Month, and these phenomenal creatures absolutely deserve to be celebrated.

These dogs are more than just a family pet. They have a very important job that they start training for from birth. They are bred on the guide dog campus and socialized while still depending on their mother. According to Guide Dogs for the Blind, these puppies are raised in homes of vetted volunteer trainers that prepare them to come back to the guide dog campus to complete their training. These puppy raisers teach the dogs basic commands as well as obedience, house manners, and more socialization specialized for the job they are getting ready to learn. The dogs then return to campus to complete a several month-long training program that teaches them to safely guide their handlers around obstacles and keep them from dangerous situations.

The dogs are said to leave this training program with the ability to comprehend language as well as an average 2- to 5-year-old child. They are trained to keep their handlers from dangerous situations. This is called intelligent disobedience. Service Dog Central defines this as a dog knowingly disobeying a command with the goal of protecting their handler from something they portray as dangerous. This allows dogs to keep their handlers from crossing busy roads when it is unsafe or running into a low hanging branch.

Donna Mack has been a part of a guide dog team for more than five years. Mack says in a 2019 interview that her guide dog Wella will often make course corrections by insisting on taking her a certain direction when she veers slightly off her intended path.

Mack described her relationship with Wella as “fun” and even referred to Wella as her “partner in crime.” She said she feels that her life has become richer with Wella around for many reasons, but one of the most notable changes is that more people approach her and speak to her now that she has her service dog by her side. Mack mentioned that people will now often come up and speak to her and Wella, but she remembers hardly ever receiving random greetings from strangers in the past as a cane user. As an extrovert, Mack said she loves this bonus of having Wella around.

As a guide dog, Wella is allowed by federal law in any place that is open to the public. This does draw a lot of attention, but this also can pose a problem for Mack and other handlers as they must constantly tell people to not interact with their dog while they are working. “It’s hard to keep people from interacting with Wella in public,” Mack said.

It’s not all business though. At home, Mack says Wella is responsive and has a huge personality. Mack recalls a recent visit from a friend who was going through a tough situation and came over to vent. She mentioned that Wella put her paws on her quads or shoulders and licked her face, Which Mack lovingly referred to as “giving hugs and kisses”. This behavior first started as a response to Mack’s emotions, and has now carried over into the emotions of other people in her life.

These dogs play such a huge role in people’s lives not only as a part of a team trained to help navigate and explore the world, but also as a best friend and furry partner in crime. They make people’s lives easier and are adorable while doing it. These sweet little hard workers deserve all the appreciation and metaphorical belly rubs this month and every month.

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