How is it that you can take Clifford into stores, restaurants and schools?
We often chuckle at the people who see us with Clifford, go out to their car and bring their dog into the store and then are stopped. It is a great reminder to us that not everyone is aware of service dogs and the rights of the handlers under ADA laws. For this reason, Clifford wears a vest, even though it is not required by law. Here is a link for your reference: http://www.ada.gov/svcanimb.htm
Clifford, by law, is allowed to go anywhere his handler, trainer or recipients of his work go. He can only be asked to leave if he is disrupting business by barking or growling or acting unruly and the handler cannot get him under control. He cannot be removed for things like pet allergies, fears or for sanitary reasons.
What is the penalty if I refuse to allow a service dog into my business?
The laws vary from state to state, as do the penalties. In the state of Illinois, Clifford is protected under the White Cane Law. This is a civil law meaning that the individual person that refused entrance is personally liable for the penalty. The penalty can be up to $2,500 and a year in prison. http://www.animallaw.info/articles/ddusassistanceanimal.htm
He is also protected under the ADA law above.
Can you prove that he is certified?
Because there are no governing units that certify service dogs, we are not legally required to prove that he is a service dog or who is handler is. He was trained by Angel Service Dogs to perform the function of alerting to whey, peanuts and eggs. He was then certified by an independent agency on those things before we took ownership of him. I was certified by Angel Service Dogs to have completed a basic two-week handler’s course with Clifford. Although there are no governing bodies that certify service dogs, there are penalties for falsely claiming that an animal is a service animal.
Who does Clifford serve?
Clifford serves both of our children. Eventually, he will go to school with Kate. Both kids have life-threatening food allergies and Clifford is able to serve both of their needs. When the kids are together, he is helping both. When there are situations that are out of the ordinary at school, Clifford will be there for Nick at this time since Clifford does not stay with Kate at school.
Why do your kids not handle Clifford?
Both kids are learning to handle Clifford but, neither is ready to be fully responsible for handling him yet.
What exactly does Clifford do?
I spent 120 hours with Clifford’s trainers learning what his unique changes in behavior are when he alerts to an allergen. There is a lot of unseen communication between Clifford and his handlers. He tugs towards and sniffs out allergens. When commanded by the handler to “seek” or “check it” he will tug and sniff with intensity and usually sit and point with his nose when asked to “show me”. Below is a recent training session:
This is a small piece of a cheese slice in a plastic container. I placed it on our grill which has never been used for products containing any of the kid’s allergens.
I then shut the case to prevent any cross contamination. I used rubber gloves while handling the cheese and removed my gloves to shut the case. There are small holes drilled into the box to release the odor in a safe way that also prevents Clifford from coming in contact with the allergen. Contact allergens are tricky and require a lot of attention to details like this! After I placed the test case, I let it sit for 20 -30 minutes to allow for a scent trail to be created. We make most of the training somewhat easy to get him excited about real life scenarios.
And then we start our search. I actually started on the other end of the house and had him search the entire area along the wall before we got to this point. Here he is definitely onto the scent. He is sniffing like crazy at the right spot.
Not the best picture with my cell phone but, he is sitting and looking at me to let me know that he has found something. He is waiting patiently to be rewarded with a special toy. I then asked him to “show me”.
He then “shows me” and I reward him. Such a good dog! He will on occasion “false” alert. I know he is falsing because he will not “show me”, be easily pulled off to continue to search or he will sit and stare at his toy instead of me. He sometimes will also alert in a slightly different location. For example, if the wind were blowing and the scent was being carried out the back of the grill, he might have alerted to the back of the grill. It is just as important that I be trained on the environmental factors that impact scent work for this reason. To him, this is all a game. He has no idea that he is protecting our children.
Does Clifford stay in your home or sleep in bed with your kids?
Yes, he does stay in our home. He is a working dog, however, when the vest is off, he is all puppy. He loves our family and works very hard for us. We shower him with love but, respect the fact that if we overdo the spoiling that we may diminish his training. He sleeps in a kennel and only plays with his favorite stuffed / squeaky toys when he is being rewarded for work. We do not really take him on many walks because he goes with us everywhere. He enjoys racing around the backyard, chasing after balls and bones and playing with the kids on a daily basis.
Why can’t I pet Clifford?
There are many reasons that you should never pet any working dog. The main reason is that it distracts him from his work. He works to earn a reward and if everyone were to pet service dogs, then they would work to get public attention and not do the job they were intended to do. It is especially important that you not pet Clifford because most people wash their hands before they eat but, not after. Clifford is like a big napkin! Whatever trace amounts of food is left on your hands can transfer to Clifford making it difficult for him to work and putting the kids at risk when they love on Clifford. Surprisingly, kids win on behavior here. They almost always ask if they can pet our dog and after they are told no once, they usually ignore him. Many adults just walk up and start petting him even though he has a large patch on his vest that says “Do not pet!”. This one still baffles me. So, please be the example to children on how to appropriately approach a dog and the etiquette for service dogs. Not all dogs are safe to be petted.
Why are you or your kids petting Clifford then?
One, he works for us. He longs to be rewarded and should only be rewarded by those who he works for. Two, we wash our hands after eating any of the allergens that could do harm. We do have a rule, “when the vest is on, the hands are off”. This mainly applies when we are doing searches but, if loving on Clifford is distracting him to the point that he breaks his work mode then, he has to stop and Clifford has to be redirected.
Can I give Clifford a treat?
No, for the same reason given above and he is on an allergen-free diet. He must not eat anything that the kids are allergic to. He loves to give kisses and licking them after eating an allergen would put them at risk for a severe reaction.
Do you take Clifford everywhere you go?
No. He is a tool in the toolbox. When the benefit of using him improves the situation then, we take him. It is a lot of work to have Clifford with us and at times he slows down what we are doing. Undoubtedly, people will stop us and ask about him too. Please note we are not at all bothered by questions and welcome them! It is a great opportunity for us to educate others about anaphylaxis and life-threatening food allergies. When we are in a hurry to get in and out of a place, we leave him in the car if it is safe for him. We also leave him at home if we are doing an activity that he cannot be included in (for example, going to a water park).
How old is Clifford? How long can you use him?
His birthday is November 24, 2008. Hopefully, he will live a long and happy life. We do expect that we may need to have a second dog trained when Clifford is between 7 – 10 years old.
Where does he go potty?
Yes, even adults ask us this! He will only go potty in our backyard. He is as stubborn as a mull and was not trained this way but, it is a blessing except on vacation. He will literally hold it for more than a day if he does not have the yard and some privacy. So, no worries. The kids will not be picking up poop on the playground at school! Nor will they be asking for a hall pass to take the dog for a walk.
How much did he cost?
He costs $15,000. We did several fundraisers over a year to pull the money together for Clifford. He is worth every penny of it! I am sure that over his lifetime we will more than save that much on ER visits alone!
Does insurance cover any of the costs?
No. Service dogs are not covered under medical insurance. His expenses (food, grooming, vet bills, etc… ) are considered a medical expense though and we can be reimbursed for those expenses through our flexible spending account.
How long was he trained?
His training started the day he was born. He was with one of the breeder’s family for the first three months. After that, he went to live with a puppy raising family for nine months and then he went to live with a family that does scent detection work. Each family had children and they each adored him and loved on him. He is one well rounded, very loved dog!
What kind of dog is Clifford?
Clifford is a Portuguese Water Dog. From what we know, his parents are Westminster Show dogs and he is somehow related to “Bo”, President Obama’s dog. Clifford was specifically chosen for our family due to Kate and her dad’s severe dander allergies. Portuguese Water Dogs and Australian Labradoodles are the only breeds of dogs Angel Service Dogs will use for kids with pet allergies.
If you have additional questions, please comment and we will be happy to answer them. Thanks!