August 30, 2016

Honoring National Guide Dog Month

Honoring National Guide Dog Month

One advocate shares how her guide dog has changed her life for the better

Jen Pascarella is a visually-impaired mother of two from Jacksonville with a four -year-old service dog, Winter. In honor of National Guide Dog Month, we asked her three questions about the yellow Lab that is her constant companion and friend.

Tell me about your service dog, Winter.

If I could think of one word to describe Winter, it would be intense. For example, her work ethic is amazing – she’s very passionate about her job. When she’s off harness, she plays with the same the same level of intensity that she approaches her work.

It’s also interesting to note that Winter has two different paces. When she’s with just me, there is no stopping us – she gets us from point A to B as quickly and safely as she can. But when my nine-year-old daughter (who also has a visual impairment) is with us, she’s intently cautious and walks at a much slower pace. Even though she was trained to assist me exclusively, she looks at my daughter as an extension of me and protects her accordingly.

What benefits does she provide to you and your family?

One of my favorite stories to tell about Winter happened during the training process, before I took her home. We were standing at an intersection and I started to move, but she pulled me back and refused to proceed. At first, I didn’t know why, but 30 seconds later, an electric car came whizzing by. They are so quiet and hard to hear – if not for Winter, I likely would have been in the intersection when the car came through.

Winter improves my mobility, my independence and gives me a confidence I wouldn’t have without her.

I can use public transportation, go to restaurants and meet my friends at unfamiliar places because of the assurance she provides me.

What message would you pass along to others about service dogs?

One thing that’s important to remember is to always ask the owner if you can pet the dog. A lot of people have heard this, but they may not fully understand why. There are two reasons: first, if you approach and distract her, that could cause me to trip or get off center, creating a dangerous situation for me. Second, as an owner, I know when she’s just plain had enough. Even though she’s a highly-trained service dog, she’s not a robot. If she’s been on the harness for eight hours and is hot and tired, she’s not going to be in the mood to meet others. For example, even if she’s resting while on her harness, she’s not getting deep sleep – she’s always at the ready to help me get from place to place safely.

She’s such an important part of my life. I spend more time with her than I do anyone else, and I can honestly say that what she and service dogs like her do is truly amazing.