I saw this shocking photo on Instagram and was compelled to find out more. Turns out I had a lot to learn about service dogs and the dangers of petting an animal with potentially lifesaving duties.
Hailey Ashmore of Dallas, Texas is just 16 years old. And in her short lifetime, her health issues have been debilitating.
Hailey was once a dancer on the varsity drill team, on student council, at the top of her class and a violinist in the orchestra, but her conditions have progressed to the point where she can only take classes online. She is completely dependent on a parent or nurse for care and she has a tedious medication regimen.
When Service Dogs are distracted, a life could be in danger
Hailey was hurt recently when her service dog, Flynn the Aussie, got distracted. Actually, someone distracted him.
Flynn missed a critical window.
“Seizure alert service dogs generally have a timeframe between when they alert to when the seizure actually happens,” said Hailey.
But on this particular day at her father’s workplace, Hailey was busy and didn’t immediately ask a well-meaning person who stopped to pet Flynn not to do so. Precious minutes went by.
“I am used to him giving me 10 minute warnings, so when he alerted that’s what I thought I had,” explained Hailey. “Out of nowhere I remember the world going black. I woke up with Flynn on top of my legs and my father cradling my head. On the whole left side of my face there was a terrible sting that made me tear up.”
Hailey took out her phone to check out how bad it was and saw the rug burns on her cheek and forehead. She looked down and saw the blood where her face skidded along the carpet.
“It hurt for air to even touch it,” said Hailey, who is not one to complain. “I live with chronic pain and I have a very high pain tolerance.”
Thankfully Hailey’s injuries have healed nicely, but this incident is a good reminder.
Please let Service Dogs do their job
“Please do not pet, call, or do anything to distract service dogs without explicit permission from the handler,” said Hailey. “Next time, instead of a rug burn somebody could get seriously hurt or die.”
Flynn wears a service vest to let people know that he’s working. And this is not just any job, Flynn is Hailey’s lifeline.
“To get a service dog you must be disabled to the point where you can no longer function at a normal quality of life without the assistance of service dogs,” said Hailey. “It takes around two years of intense training and thousands of dollars (if you owner train) to actually be able to call your dog a service dog. A service dog can go anywhere its handler goes, with the exception of a sterile environment such as an operating room or burn unit, a religious building — such as a church, or some federal buildings.”
Hailey and Flynn did their training through Stimming Paws Assistance Dogs.
She got this darling little puff ball in 2014 when Flynn was just 11 weeks old.
Now he’s by her side at all times.
“To call him a “velcro dog” is an understatement,” said Hailey. “If he senses a seizure he will usually jump up or paw at me about ten minutes before one happens. This allows me to get somewhere safe, call for help, and take medication. If I fall he can retrieve my medication or phone. He can even bark if I am unconscious to alert somebody.”
Talk about discipline!
Then there’s this side of Flynn.
“When he isn’t wearing a vest, he’s an insane puppy,” said Hailey. “He chews on shoes, gets into stuff, and barks at the mailman. I know every owner says this, but he is probably the most lovable dog you will ever meet. His favorite toy in the world is his tennis ball. He even sleeps with it.”
The only time Flynn and Hailey aren’t together is when she’s in the hospital. And when they’re out and about, they get a lot of attention – which is not really a good thing for someone who relies on her dog’s focus for survival.
“Having a service dog is basically like being around a celebrity baby,” Hailey told me. “Everybody stares and everything takes ten times longer, people give me nasty glares.”
Heartbreaking to hear from a teen who already deals with so much on a daily basis.
Her relationship with Flynn, however, is heartwarming.
“The moment I knew we officially bonded was when we were playing fetch and I had an asthma attack,” said Hailey. “He dropped the tennis ball and ran as fast I have ever seen him run. Next thing I knew he was sitting on my lap and barking with these eyes that said, ‘I’m here.’ Before that moment I wasn’t sure if dogs had souls, but now I can say with 100% certainty they do.”
This reminds me of a touching quote:
When I look into the eyes of an animal, I do not see an animal, I see a living being. I see a friend. I feel a soul.
~ A.D. Williams