ON HAND: Hearing dogs

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

As I walked into Target, I saw a beautiful yellow lab in front of me wearing a yellow hearing dog vest. I quickly checked if the woman walking the dog was anyone I knew, but she wasn’t. She went to the customer service desk, somewhat struggling to walk the dog as she pushed a cart, and started speaking easily to the customer service representative. Obviously she was either hard of hearing or could speak well (she had no hearing aids on, but seemed to understand the representative’s spoken words as she looked away)–and I started thinking. Why would she need a hearing dog in Target? Why would anyone, for that matter?

Mind you, I think dogs are the best companions on this earth. Ask my friends and they’ll tell you I can literally talk for hours about dogs. I am blessed with two dogs, and wish every single day that I could own thousands more. I probably can understand better than anyone why people would want to bring their dogs anywhere. I believe hearing dogs serve a wonderful purpose, especially when at home. I’d love to have one someday.

But hearing dogs in Target? What’s up with that? Are there dangers lurking around every aisle corner in the store? Running children and aggressive cart-pushers will be in your way, dog or no.

Once, I helped organize a health care reform panel, with distinguished panelists. A deaf panelist brought her hearing dog–an adorable mini-poodle–up on stage with her. I wasn’t sure what the dog’s role was, when all the participants were deaf and there were interpreters standing by. Needless to say, it became distracting to watch the dog instead of the panelist.

Many people have gotten fake IDs or claim that their dogs are hearing dogs in order to have their dogs travel with them on planes and go into specific places. In fact, I did that once. I went on a solo camping trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park, and found out that they didn’t allow dogs on most trails. Since I was alone and couldn’t just leave the dog in my truck, especially after driving hours to get where I was–I decided to tell the park ranger that my dog was a hearing dog. I didn’t have an ID or anything, and would have left if they said no. But they believed me, and we hiked happily all day. I think this is called working the system.

Still, would I ever try to bring a hearing dog (or claim that my dog was one) in a store or a movie theatre? I don’t think so. I like to believe that I’m independent enough that I can navigate a movie theatre or a restaurant using the best tools I have: my eyes and common sense.

To each his own.

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