In March of this year, while walking my dogs at a local park frequented by many pups and people daily, my older dog, Nook, was viciously and without provocation attacked by a pit bull. Come to find out, this particular dog already had a history of (unreported) violence at the park. I took note of the muzzle held by the owner as the pair approached us, and even wondered to myself why someone would carry a muzzle in their hands while allowing their animal to interact with others off-leash. Clearly they had this muzzle with them for a reason.
Before I had the chance to remove myself and my dogs from a potential situation, the other dog latched onto Nookie’s face. As my sweet girl howled in horrifying pain, I pummeled the pit bull with my fists and even idiotically put my own hands inside the beast’s mouth, in hopes of freeing Nook from its jaws.
Screaming bloody murder at the top of my lungs, and with a sickness in my gut that I’ll never forget, I dropped to my knees and cried out for someone to please help me. Meanwhile, the owner of the pit bull stood there, ape-like and incapable of a proper response or reaction to the severity of the situation. It took the help of several men who came running to my rescue, and, at long last, the pit bull let go.
Due to the severe laceration from the attack, Nook had emergency surgery that night to remove some of the damaged skin and flesh from the side of her face. We had to sign a waiver stating we understood the danger and associated risk of placing a senior dog with a heart murmur under anesthesia. They warned that she could possibly go into cardiac arrest. I was beside myself. I’ve written before about how much this dog means to me, and as I sat in the waiting room, my heart felt like it was going to shatter into a million pieces. The tornado of sadness, worry, and anger made my body ache and my mind race.
In the end, Nook was fine. Her face has now healed and you’d barely know anything ever happened at all, besides the fact that her hearing on that side seems to have been impacted a bit. I, myself, needed a visit to my doctor for both a tetanus shot and an antibiotic prescription. The injuries I withstood were quite minor but the anger I felt surrounding the incident was anything but.
I chose not to pursue anything legally with the owners of the pit bull. After involving the police and local animal control, it came to my attention that the family resided in government public housing and that this particular woman was troublesome. This was overwhelmingly evident to me by the content of her Facebook page as well. I was told I’d be lucky if they even showed up to court, let alone pay for the damages and expenses I incurred due to their irresponsibility and negligence. This frustrated me, but, it wasn’t the first time I’d dealt with individuals who are less-than-reputable members of our society, so I had an understanding that nothing could be done. It was hard to come to grips with the fact that I would likely never feel a true sense of justice for what happened to Nook that day.
That was until the housing authority in my community reached out to me. In hopes of having me testify against the owner of the pit bull, they requested my presence. It turned out, the proper channels of having an animal reside on the property were not taken, and the woman was due in court for an eviction hearing.
I happily agreed to provide my testimony to what happened that day at the dog park. It was my primary concern that without some kind of disciplinary action taken against this woman and her dog, another incidence would likely occur. How terrible it would be if the outcome was anything like what happened with my dog, Nook.
I had never been to a courthouse before, and I have to admit, I was a bit nervous. Luckily, it was on a work day, and to make my life easier, I brought Hawkeye, my Diabetic Alert Dog, along with me. I don’t always bring him everywhere, as I like to make sure I can give him the proper attention, and use the right enforcement of his skills and training, if he is going to be leashed and vested. I knew that this would be a wonderful opportunity to not only continue Hawkeye’s exposure to all sorts of scenarios, but, it would also be another chance to educate and provide awareness for the people in the community.
I arrived that day with Hawkeye by my side, and soon found out a bit more detail surrounding the case. Apparently, the woman was claiming that the pit bull is her “emotional support animal” and that she “self-identified as disabled” (their words not mine!). It seemed to be, since she referenced it several times during the court proceedings that she suffers from “anxiety”. However, on a day that one would think would be the most anxiety-producing of scenarios, being in court, this “emotional support animal” was nowhere to be found. This was because this woman was pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes… or so she thought. The fact that the housing authority was allowing her to even entertain the idea of submitting paperwork due to her “self-identification” was the first problem I saw in all of it, but that is a conversation for another day.
Supposedly, she was claiming that this dog was a medical necessity and that she could not live without the emotional support the animal provided. The people from the housing authority must have realized what a jackpot they hit with me, since not only could I testify against the dog and owner due to the violence that occurred against Nook, but I was a real, true example of an individual with a legitimate service dog for a legitimate condition.
Someone came in and instructed those present to rise. Hawkeye followed suit with the rest of us, and I giggled to myself as I watched him stand and then sit in unison with the other people in the room. When it came time to take the stand, I confidently made my way to the front, displaying how perfectly behaved Hawkeye is on leash in public. I addressed the room and spoke of my interaction with the woman and her pit bull. It was nice to have the opportunity to talk about my experience that day at the park, as painful as the memories may be, and being able to speak directly to the woman, really made a difference in how I felt. I may never see the money it cost me to deal with what happened, but at least I now have the satisfaction of having had the opportunity to confront the piece of trash who let her dog maul mine.
I was asked a bit about Hawkeye as well. I told the room of his North Carolina origins and how he had been imprinted with the low-scent as a young puppy. I talked of the public access training he had received and of our continued and constant reinforcement of what he had been taught before becoming mine.
Sometimes I can feel strangely about not having a “fully-trained” Diabetic Alert Dog, but, I realize even the dogs that cost thousands of dollars, need consistent work each day with their scent training and capabilities. Being in the courtroom that day with a woman trying to pass her violent family pet as a service dog (as she self-admittedly confessed the dog had had ZERO training whatsoever to attain skills that could assist her and her “disability”) provided me with some perspective that I didn’t know I had been missing. Listening to the garbage she spewed made me that much more confident in myself.
I don’t have Hawkeye because I want to have a dog live with me or join me wherever I go. In fact, Hawkeye is A LOT more work than other dogs. Sometimes, I even choose to leave him home because I fear the environment I’m going to won’t be good for him, or that I may not be able to commit to giving him the right attention he deserves. Whether he is in “working mode” or not, I must make sure I do everything I can to provide him with the skills necessary to succeed and be happy. I love him and respect him too much not to.
I never thought I’d have a service animal this soon in life. I always envisioned getting one someday when I was married, with a house, and planning to start a family. However, after seeing Hawkeye’s photograph online, I felt compelled to pursue this adventure. I am someone who cares a lot about advocacy and awareness in the diabetes community. I am very personable and outspoken and I really enjoy talking about my condition and management to others. I’m also someone who really loves dogs (all animals, truly) and thinks that we should keep all the tools that may work for us in our d-toolbox if we can. It is my hope that by taking this journey with my little man Hawkeye, I may be able to hone my skills of training dogs to do scent work to help those with diabetes. It would be an absolute joy and pleasure to train more dogs in the future, not just for myself, but for other people with T1D that are in need. It would make my heart feel so full to provide that comfort and sense of security for both T1 patients and T1 parents alike.
It bothers me immensely that there are those out there who blatantly, through lies and deception, abuse the right to have a service animal. It honestly makes my life (and the lives of other working teams) more difficult, because I constantly am facing ridicule and criticism (both outright and just what I perceive from intuition). Though I have certainly received a lot of support and encouragement, even people who understand that I have Type 1 diabetes, don’t always fully grasp the concept of my need for a Diabetic Alert Dog. I don’t expect everyone else to get it, even those with T1D, as it is a personal choice and decision not to be taken lightly. This is a commitment for life (both theirs and yours).
It’s sometimes too hard to explain my vision for helping others in the future, and I rarely reveal the deep-seeded fear I have of possibly having a child with T1 someday. This fear is not something I choose to talk about often, and it’s not even proven that there is a direct genetic correlation anyway. But, still, I worry. If I were the mother of a child living with Type 1 diabetes, I would do everything imaginable under the sun to protect them. This includes having a Diabetic Alert Dog, because technology can only do so much and go so far. Natural animal instinct in combination with actual scientific technology, mixed with a little mama bear emotion and dedication to vigilance, would be my game plan, for sure. It scares me to my core to think of going to bed at night without an added level of protection for my child, and despite having T1D myself, I still can’t imagine what parents go through.
Going to court with Hawkeye was certainly an interesting experience and I am thankful we got to have the chance to speak, giving us a bit of justice for Nook. I wish she could have been there that day too! Going forward, I will continue to do what I can to spread awareness about living with diabetes and having a service animal to assist me from time to time. I know that I am a lucky girl to have Hawkeye in my life and someday, I am going to put more goodness back into this world as a repayment for wonderful fortune that came my way when he entered my life over a year ago.