by Diana Hockley
This week we have an interesting interview with Carla King, whose life was changed by a service dog named Stubby.
KRL: Firstly, can you please tell us a little about yourself personally, Carla? Where you grew up, what it was like where you lived, and a little about your siblings and parents?
Carla: I am thirty-eight years old (soon to be thirty-nine) and am born and raised in Portland, Oregon. I spent six years working for the Disney Store and worked three different Cirque du Soleil shows when they came to town. I am a bubbly Disney personality. I grew up with both parents, 1 older brother and 1 older sister. My parents were local missionaries with the Mien people. I also grew up in church and had many people help to raise me to be true to myself and God. My mom is a five-time cancer survivor, and I have gotten her caring heart. My dad is an artist, and I have gotten some of his talent. We grew up having family businesses, so I learned a work ethic and customer service skills early in life. I was raised that family is who you choose them to be. Some of my friends have become so close they are family. I have four nieces and nephews related by blood and sixteen by choice for a total of twenty nieces and nephews ranging from 1-1/2 years old to thirty years old. I love them all. My siblings are older than me by eight (sister) and ten (brother) years. I grew up going to church and being active in it. When I got out of high school, I became a youth leader for many years.
KRL: Did you have pets as a child, and if so, what and who were they?
Carla: I grew up with dogs and cats. My siblings also made sure that I was not afraid of any animals. I love all animals. My first dog was named Ginger, and I got her as a puppy to be my pet. She was Rottweiler/black Lab/German Shepherd/Collie mix. She got Parvo as a puppy, and the vet was able to save her life but not before it affected her brain. She thought she was a person and not a dog. We loved her, and she was my best friend for thirteen years.
My second dog was a rescue from the Humane Society. She was two-years-old when I got her, and she had a litter of puppies before I adopted her. She was an American Eskimo named Ginger. We often referred to her as Ginger #2. The name was already chosen for her, but it helped in deciding she was our next dog for the family. She passed away when she was ten-years-old. She had been severely abused before we got her. We also had a long-haired dachshund named Harley for about five years. He was extra-long for a dachshund, and he herniated a disc in his back which they could not fix. We had to say goodbye to him, too. I had a cat for fifteen years as well. His name was Genteel.
I also spent eleven years owned by pet rats, ninety-three total. I helped with class pets for a science class for two years and then with a special education class for two years with a middle school. So many stories about how wonderful they are and our adventures, but that is for another day. I would help take care of class pets as well.
KRL: When did you realize you had a problem and that coping with it might be assisted by a Service Dog?
Carla: I got Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from a situation where I spent five years standing up for God/my faith at the church I grew up in. I went back to visit and ended up helping rid the church of an evil pastor. Every time I entered the church my faith was questioned, I was threatened, and he tried to chase me out. I felt that God was leading me to stay there and help. I helped a bit in getting things worked out to help the church rebuild. When I finally felt that it was ok to step away, I realized that I had trouble even going to the store or church without severe panic attacks and other PTSD symptoms. I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2012.
Carla: My family has always been supportive of me and my decisions. It was through their encouragement that we followed through with training and research for Stubby to become my Service Dog. Several people we know still believe I am faking it just to bring my dog with me everywhere. I would never do that!
KRL: What was the family’s reaction to your decision to get a Service Dog and were they supportive?
KRL: How did you go about researching Service Dog and where did you start in your quest to find the right dog?
Carla: I did not plan on having a Service Dog, but it was the best thing to happen to me. I researched after Stubby was about six-months-old and started training me on my needs. Suddenly life started getting easier, and I didn’t need to take nearly as much medication. Unfortunately, I did have a doctor who kept over medicating me for two years after she prescribed a Service Dog. Stubby and I found a new doctor in 2014 who has helped so much to get things balanced again. The American Disabilities Act Website has a lot of information and were very helpful.
KRL: Were you in a “train the trainer” situation?
Carla: It has definitely been a train the trainer situation! Stubby has trained me in what I need, and he is one of the smartest dogs I have ever met! In Oregon not many people have a Service Dog for invisible disabilities. It has been an uphill struggle, but I don’t mind. I feel that God gave me a need for a Service Dog so that I can help educate others on proper Service Dogs and people who “look fine” actually could have something internally wrong with them that cannot be seen. I have recently met several Veterans who have Service Dogs for their PTSD as well as there are programs now helping Veterans to get Service Dogs. Battle Buddies and Wounded Warriors are two of the ones I follow on Facebook. They are doing amazing things to help those who fought for our country!
KRL: I believe Stubby wasn’t your first Service Dog, so could you tell us about your first dog and specifically, how you felt about this precious animal?
Carla: Stubby is actually my first “true” service animal, but my first dog was my best friend. Ginger #1 helped me through part of elementary school, middle school, two different high schools, and the start of my adult life. I miss her every day. She was quite unique, and my parents and I often referred to her as my sister instead of my dog. She was my emotional support through all of the drama that happens through the teen years. She taught us so much about life.
KRL: How did you get Stubby? What breed of dog is he?
Carla: Stubby is a Shiba Inu/Corgi mix. My family and I call the breed a Shorgi Inu. He turned six on January 21, and I have had him since he was eight-weeks-old. At six-months-old, he was on the job.
My dog Ginger #2 had passed away in 2010, and I finally decided near the end of 2011 that I wanted another dog to be my pet. My parents had gotten another dog within a week of Harley and Ginger passing (they passed three weeks apart), but it was not my dog nor bonded with me. I do love her, though. I spent about four to six months trying to find my new dog and was getting really bummed out when a co-worker, remembering I loved Corgis, asked me if I was interested in corgi mixes, as she had found someone selling puppies that were Corgi/Shiba Inu mixes. I did research to make sure the place was not a puppy mill and was pleasantly surprised! I contacted Cheri at Shiba Country (now Mini Husky Connection/Country). Stubby was available for adoption!! He was also the only one with a naturally docked tail like his corgi mother. It was love at first picture. Cheri is wonderful and sent weekly pictures and videos until he was old enough to come home with me. I picked up Stubby at eight-weeks-old and he bonded right away with me. He was about six-months-old when I had my first PTSD attack, and he already knew what to do! I was shocked! Everything just went from there.
As we started puppy and adult classes at Petco, I started to do more research about Service Dogs and the difference between Service Dogs for medical needs and therapy dogs. There is actually a big difference. PTSD is the only recognized emotional condition that is allowed a full-Service Dog. Autism, seizures, diabetes, and the like are all classified under medical needs. Depression, anxiety, and the like are considered emotional needs and you can get therapy animals for them, but they do not go everywhere like true Service Dogs. If the dog is not well-behaved and properly trained, it is not a TRUE Service Dog.
When I moved out on my own five years ago, Stubby started waking me up from nightmares by licking my nose. Then he will sleep on my pillow and watch over me until I fall asleep again. When I am sick, he won’t eat if I don’t so I have to make sure to eat even if it is just a popsicle. I have never had a dog so in tune with me that he knows if something is wrong before I do. I would be totally lost without him.
KRL: How does your community view Service Dogs and are you and Stubby well known and acknowledged when you are out and about?
Carla: Stubby and I are getting well known around the community. Most people are ok with him once we enlighten them about Service Dogs. I am always open to questions and often parents try to get onto their kids for asking. Child innocence is wonderful, and I like those questions best. If someone is rude, then I often just state he is for medical needs and go about my day, but I am always willing to talk to someone who is curious and would like to know more. I was given a need for a Service Dog to help others learn.
Sadly, the people who have rejected us the most have been churches and some people who knew me when I was a teenager. Those are the ones that say I am faking my need because I didn’t need a Service Dog when I was a kid. After years of searching for a great church to be a part of again so that I could start to heal, Stubby and I went to a church we had visited shortly after he became a full-Service Dog that had asked me to leave before I even made it in the church doors. God led me back there in January of 2017. There was a new pastor as well as a few family friends I grew up with at my old church. The pastor and one of my friends checked on me every Sunday for at least six weeks to make sure I was ok and that the congregation was ok with Stubby. He is allowed to sit in the pew with me as well.
KRL: I understand that Service Dogs can accompany their charges at all times so do you have any problems being admitted to cafes, restaurants and other places with Stubby?
Carla: Service Dogs are supposed to be with their person at all times, and they are to be allowed into all kinds of places. There have been several times that we have had issues, but most often it is just taking the time to politely educate people. Most restaurants are very understanding and once they see how well behaved Stubby is they fall in love with him. When he has his service vest on, he knows he is working. Sometimes I get flustered with the places that try and refuse entrance, but I take a breath, Stubby leans into my leg, and we discuss it calmly with them. We have gotten to meet some wonderful bus drivers this week on Trimet (our public transportation system in the city). Stubby and I are starting our commute to/from work. My job also loves having Stubby around and brings his own dog to work.
KRL: How do you cope with your Service Dog’s toilet needs when you are out in public, and how long can you be away from home without finding a patch of grass?
Carla: Stubby will actually let me know when he has to go to the bathroom. He is polite about it, but he stares very intensely at me, and if it is urgent, he will start tapping my foot or leg. I always carry doggy doody bags to clean up after him.
KRL: Do people love to pat your dog, do most ask, and have you a signal with which you tell your dog he can be friendly?
Carla: Often people want to pet and love on Stubby before they see his service vest. Once they see the vest they apologize or talk to me about it. More and more people are asking first, which is wonderful.
KRL: You are now training your niece to train a Service Dog for herself. Is she doing well, and is she happy and confident with this?
Carla: My seventeen-year-old niece is on the autism spectrum. She is “normal” per the standards, but sometimes she has a hard time. She has also been through all the bad stuff with me that caused my PTSD. I got her a mini Husky/Japanese chin mix from Mini Husky Connection/Country to be her pet two years ago. His name is Sakee. Sakee was from an accidental litter of two puppies. I contacted Cheri (where I got Stubby) and inquired about getting a dog for my niece. Sakee is full grown at eighteen pounds and is the cutest little thing and is so in tune to her needs. She is getting better and enjoys training him.
KRL: You mentioned an accident. How did this come about, and was Stubby with you at the time? Also, you mentioned that Stubby was allowed into the ER with you. I have heard of dogs being allowed into hospitals in the USA, but have not come across that in Australia. Is this a recent thing?
Carla: I was in a serious car accident in February 2015. Stubby was in the car with me. It was a road rage incident (not me), and the guy chased me for two miles then slammed into my car when I was stopped. Put my trunk in the back seat of my car. He had several vehicular assault charges before the accident with me and several after. I made the mistake of getting out of the car not realizing I had hit my head on the steering wheel. The guy was yelling that he was going to kill me. Stubby jumped out the car window that was down and stood between us. I was on the phone with 911 during all of this. The guy saw Stubby and backed off. He just paced back/forth in front of me until the paramedics got there and would not let this guy get near.
When the paramedics arrived, Stubby was ok to get back in the car. My mom took me to the ER where they had no problem with Stubby staying with me, though it’s a newer thing that dogs are being allowed in hospitals. Stubby even got to visit my mom in the hospital when she had her heart attack in May this year.
KRL: You mentioned that you educate people about Service Dogs, so are you visiting schools and other places?
Carla: I have not done much visiting of schools and other places like that, but when we are out, I am always helping people learn. I often get told “You look fine; why do you need a Service Dog?” This gives me the chance to tell them that they cannot physically see what is wrong with me as it is internal. I have also helped stores learn the actual Service Dog guidelines via the American Disabilities Act.
KRL: Could you please tell us about the difference having a Service Dog has made to your life overall in terms of work and social life?
Carla: Having a Service Dog has helped me so much. I am able to lower my medication dosage as well as have a healthy daily life. I am able to have and keep a job as well as go out in public. Stubby likes going to the movies and shopping is his favorite hobby. I am able to be active in church again and help with all the fun stuff with my nieces and nephews. Without a Service Dog, I would probably be living with my parents and never leaving the house. I am now able to do simple daily tasks that others don’t even think about, through caring people and a great job where I am understood. Someday I hope I will be recovered enough to not need a Service Dog, so Stubby can just be a pet again.
KRL: What advice would you give to someone who is suffering anxiety or depression, PTSD, and how young can a person be to acquire and manage a Service Dog?
Carla: It is important to know the difference between a Service Dog and a therapy/companion animal. Depression and anxiety are classified as emotional and only have companion/therapy animals. When it is combined with Autism and other diverse abilities like that it is for full service. Those who suffer from PTSD know that you are not alone and that there are options for help. A Service Dog is one way. Just please do the proper training and make sure they have proper behavior out in public. Rescue dogs can be Service Dogs, too. If the dog has a connection with you, then go for it with the training. There are no current mandatory regulations but that will be changing over the next several years as so many people have abused the Service Dog policies.
Please just be mindful of the rules and policies regarding classifications of Service Dogs. Only dogs and miniature horses can be Service Animals currently. Also, there is one county in CA that a rat is a seizure animal but that is only in that county. Please check out www.ada.gov for information as well as call them to discuss any questions. They are a wonderful resource.
KRL: Is there anything else you would like to add which I have neglected to ask?
Carla: Stubby is a doggy fashionista. He loves his clothes. I have been dressing him since he was a puppy. He has favorite shirts that he wears when it is colder out. He loves his bandanas as well. He has lots of bow-ties that are hair bows I have converted for him. He chooses what he wants to wear and if he doesn’t want it he makes his opinion known. He is quite the character! Last year when I was going to be spending several weeks at my parents’ place, I was packing my clothes to take in a re-usable bag. Stubby ended up packing his two favorite hoodies. I did not find them until I got to my parents’ place!! He packed his own clothes!! He has a whole huge Rubbermaid bin of clothes. He also chose his dog beds. When he is at home with me or we are at my parents house, his personality shines more and more. He is not much for dog toys, but he has a stuffed animal we call blue-cow that was his first toy when we got him. He keeps it safe and sometimes still sleeps with it.
He has quite the personality and I would be lost without him!
KRL: Thank you so much for speaking with KRL today, Carla. We wish you and Stubby and your niece and her dog all the very best for the future.
You can check out more animal rescue & pet related articles in our Pet Perspective section.