Wolfhound provides an important service
Brody is only 8 months old and already weighs 130 pounds. He could weigh up to 180 pounds at the age of 3.
Despite its massive size, the purebred Irish Wolfhound has the perfect gentle disposition of a service dog. Like all service dogs, Brody helps his owner, TJ Harmon Fisher, lead a more independent life despite his disability.
Harmon Fisher wants people to know about the important role service dogs play in people’s lives and the differences between them and emotional support animals.
Thoroughly trained service dogs to perform medical service. This differentiates service dogs from emotional support animals, which provide comfort and companionship to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities.
Brody provides more than just companionship to its owner, Harmon Fisher. He is trained to help him with mobility and balance. Harmon Fisher is the Chairman of the Board of Garage of Blessings, an Oak Harbor nonprofit that provides free clothing, toiletries, household items, and other items to those in need. With Brody’s help, she is still able to work and give back to her community.
Harmon Fisher had a serious car accident a few years ago. She broke her neck and as a result lost a lot of nerve conduction and left side muscle control.
“It upsets my balance,” she said. “So I can walk and suddenly fall, or think my foot is where it should be and it’s not.”
Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes. An Irish Greyhound is perfect for Harmon Fisher’s needs, she said. Brody’s impressive height helps him stay upright.
“When I start to lose my balance, he literally controls my hip,” she said.
Brody is also able to tell when her blood sugar is too low or if she is at risk of having a seizure by pushing her until she sits down. If she falls, he is trained to alert others by barking or finding another human since she lives in a remote rural area.
Brody has been training since he was 10 weeks old. Harmon Fisher bought it from an Irish Greyhound breeder, where she got her former service dog who died suddenly last year.
One of the big challenges for people with disabilities who depend on service dogs are “people who ask for emotional support dogs, or another type of animal, or an animal that is not trained as a service dog,” Harmon Fisher said.
There is no federal registry for official service or training dogs. Owners can go through a professional trainer or train their dogs themselves.
Brody has been professionally trained and has received Canine Good Citizen certification from the American Kennel Club.
“It’s not service dog certification, but it does make it a welcome member of the community when out in public,” explained Sarah Bank, associate public relations manager for the American Kennel Club.
Harmon Fisher recently had an experience at a local restaurant where a service dog was misbehaving and asked to leave the restaurant. Improperly bred emotional support animals or service dogs that have not received enough training can sometimes give service dogs a bad name. Businesses are allowed to ask service animals to leave the facility and can make the decision not to let them in.
“An emotional support dog does a wonderful, wonderful thing,” Harmon Fisher said. “I don’t undermine them at all.”
However, emotional support dogs are not intended to provide medical related work and therefore are not considered service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“A real service dog lies next to your seat and doesn’t react to food, doesn’t react to people,” she said. “They’re lying there and behaving until it’s time to leave.”
Brody hasn’t finished his training yet. Generally, it takes two years to fully train a service dog.
Harmon Fisher takes it everywhere. People who come to the Garage of Blessings will see him by her side as she works. If Brody is working, she will ask people not to pet him because he has to focus on her. She travels with him and can take him on airplanes when she sits on a bulkhead seat so he has enough leg room. She relies on him every day.
“I ask people to treat it like any other medical device,” she said. “It’s like someone who needs a wheelchair.”