Social Animal

Charli Saltzman

I am a busy college student. From network events to group presentations, from research papers to mock interviews, my schedule is full. So you may wonder. How on earth do I have time for a guide dog? This is often the argument of many people. They say they don’t have time for a dog because of their busy lifestyle. I am thankful to have a social dog.

Joba usually attends every college event I am involved in. We spend a lot of time socializing with other students, professors, and employers. Some people have asked me if Joba serves as an ice breaker between other people and myself. I am very hesitant to say yes. I don’t believe Joba helps me be more social. I have many blind friends who are cane users, and they are more social than I am. However, research does show that dogs can help when it comes to social situations.

People love dogs. I’m sure you can imagine it. You are walking your dog, and someone comes up to you and asks about your dog. This happens to me a lot. Someone will approach me, tell me I have a beautiful dog, and explain that they have a dog at home. I realized that, for me, sometimes talking about my dog can be a good conversation starter. The subject of dogs is something I always enjoy. With that, what does research say about dogs in social situations?

A couple semesters ago, I studied dogs in families that had children with autism. According to what I found, children with autism are more likely to play with other children because the dog becomes a source of play. Other children will approach the child and his/her dog and throw the ball around the backyard. Also, the dog served as a relaxer to a child with autism. During stressful situations when a child with autism was acting up, the dog by their side would help relieve some of that anxiety. With the dog by the child’s side, families felt more comfortable going out together in public. In this way, the dog did help and was beneficial in social situations.

While Joba isn’t necessarily an ice breaker for me, he does tend to attract other dog lovers. I might start talking with someone about my dog but eventually move onto another subject such as classes or work. Even though a dog can be beneficial in social situations, there may also be times when a dog guide user should refrain from bringing their dog. Picture this. A Friday night, your friends are all going out. Whether you are blind or sighted, you may enjoy partying with your friends. If a blind individual enjoys going to a bar or to a loud concert, it is probably best to leave the dog behind. A bar is generally an unsafe place for a dog to be. Let’s consider what’s unsafe about it.

First of all, you never know what might be lying there on the floor that a guide dog could pick up. There is always the possibility of spilled alcohol, people food, or cigarette butts if the bar allows smoking. Tobacco and alcohol are two of the most dangerous things for a dog to ingest. And, while some of it is okay, people food isn’t the best for dogs. The other thing that I would worry about is that someone might slip a guide dog something that could hurt him or her. Aside from bars, a loud concert is not a place for a guide dog because of the possible damage the loud sounds could do to the dog’s ears. It is required that a guide dog has perfect hearing in order to do the job. While partying might be fun for some people, a guide dog would probably appreciate being left out of that social situation.

I must say that I am not a social animal. I enjoy being around people, but I stay away from bars and loud music. I guess that means Joba is pretty safe. Most of my social activities include school, church, and my Bible study group. These are social situations where Joba is able to attend, and yes, sometimes I take his harness off and allow him to be a social animal.

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