What does it mean to be a young assistance dog handler?

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By Abbey & Pepper

It means walking into somewhere and worrying that everyone is looking at you, except they probably are looking at you. It means doing things with your friends needs extra planning, there's no such thing as a spontaneous trip out. It means the awkward embarrassment when you have an access issue when you are spending time with friends. But it also means, freedom, independence, and unconditional companionship. It can also mean the difference between being able to complete your education.

Being a young Assistance Dog handler brings its own challenges, such as learning to have to think "we" instead of "me" from a young age, this can sometimes mean that you as an owner have to miss out on things that your peers are doing. It's the "I wish the ground would swallow me up" after a security guard approaches you for the third time that afternoon in a shopping centre.

It can also mean that you face a lot of extra discrimination and ignorance from service providers and the public- a common thing that young handlers hear a lot is that because you are young therefore you cannot be disabled. This is so far away from the truth. Some people are born disabled, but you can become disabled at any age. If we can accept Autism Assistance Dogs for autistic children, it makes sense that other Assistance Dogs can and do benefit young people too.

Access refusals can have a detrimental effect on someone, especially if they are young. Imagine being told to leave your wheelchair outside a shop? Or telling someone they have to go home and come back later without their hearing aids? Or denying somebody to purchase something because they walk with a

 

crutch? It's ridiculous isn't it? It's embarrassing, it draws unwanted attention to you and it a reminder that you are different to everybody else. It can cause Assistance Dog owners to have anxiety and develop mental health issues, as well as knock their confidence when going out. In the most extreme cases, it can cause an Assistance Dog partnership to end prematurely if the dog doesn't get enough training / working in public.

 

This is why it is so important if you see someone out with an Assistance Dog in public, or someone with an Assistance Dog comes into your business, to think before challenging them. Is the dog behaving? Is it labelled in training / Assistance Dog? That dog is there to do a job, even if you can't see what is wrong with the person