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The dog in the red vest has an important job to do: Send us your pet rescue stories

June 21, 2018 GMT

The dog in the red vest has an important job to do: Send us your pet rescue stories

NORTH RIDGEVILLE, Ohio -- Perhaps you may have seen us out and about, at Walmart or the local grocery store, a drugstore or even the library. Seventy-five percent of the time, I am with my working service dog, Raphael Harry, an American bulldog. Other times, it is just me and a cane. Funny note: Unlike my cane, I’ve never accidentally left the dog anywhere.

And in the four years I have had Raphael, I have not fallen once.

What I’d like to do is share some educational information about Working Mobility Service Dogs. My dog, like other service dogs, is protected under the ADA rules and guidelines. My dog is not to be confused as a companion or therapy service dog. He is a working service dog with a task to do. 

He is not to be petted or talked to while he is wearing his red working mobility dog vest. When he is working, I am the only person in his world, and he should not be distracted from his task of keeping me balanced. 

We may outwardly appear as any person out for a walk with their dog; however, keep in mind that not all disabilities are visible. Raphael takes the place of my having to use a cane. He is trained to move when I move; he moves in sync with my walk, and he does this effortlessly. By anchoring myself to his leash, I am steady and I can move naturally. I rely on him to keep my path straight. Raphael walks in a straight line; unfortunately, I do not. 

Prior to getting Raphael, I had two full-size collies who walked with me. Those two beautiful collies came into my life after my husband and I were in a horrific car accident, and those rambunctious collies made it possible for me to walk. The collies lived a full life, and it was a sad time having to part with them after so many years. 

I needed another dog who could take their place to guide me through this world of ours. Finding such a dog was not going to be easy. It would be four years before I found another dog who was strong enough and smart enough to learn the job. 

Enter Raphael Harry, aka Mr. Wiggles. He was a 3-year-old, neglected American bulldog that was rescued by Paws Inn The Woods. When I first laid eyes upon this dog, then housed in a dog pen at his rescuer’s, I knew in that instant, he was for me. 

He was a load of energy, a dog who couldn’t or wouldn’t stop wiggling, hence the name he was given by his rescuers, Mr. Wiggles. I needed a strong breed of dog, and he is quite powerful and can easily knock a person down. Being a good-sized dog – and all that wild wiggling -- probably deterred him from getting a forever home. Or, as I’d like to think, maybe he was just waiting for me to find him. 

Mr. Wiggles knew his basic commands, although his indoor behavior was appalling. He was everywhere all at once and wiggling uncontrollably. Our training began the day he stepped foot into our home. The first five months of training was done with absolute patience on our part. Raphael soon learned that good behavior brought good rewards.

Raphael is one smart dog. He quickly learned the wiggling would not be rewarded. After the initial training period of behavior and commands, he was then tethered to me for almost seven months to learn my every movement. When people asked how he was trained, I simply answer, “By my patience, loaded with lots of love.” 

On our few first attempts at taking him into a retail place, he became anxious. He thought he was going to be left there. But once he that he would be returning to our home, he began to love his outings. All I have to say to him is, “Do you want to go to work?” and he sparkles with excitement. 

I’d like to point out that many people ask why he is muzzled. It is not a muzzle. Raphael wears a Gentle Leader Collar, which is often mistaken for a muzzle. The Gentle Leader Collar does not restrict his mouth from any normal movements whatsoever. The Gentle Leader just allows him to know which way I am moving more effectively than a neck collar would. 

When the red vest goes on, Raphael’s demeanor changes to all business; his look is stern and his attention is on me. Yet when the working vest comes off, Raphael turns back into “Mr. Wiggles,” full of pep and energy and wanting to play. 

He knows the difference between his two worlds -- the working one and the non-working one. So when you see us, please don’t ask to pet him; please do not touch or talk to him. Raphael also understand these working rules very well and will look annoyed at you if you break them. I am also happy to answer any questions you may have concerning a service. Just ask. And remember, we both always appreciate a friendly smile.

Karen P. Snyder

North Ridgeville

Do you share your life with an animal that is near and dear to you? Tell us something about your pet - all species are welcome - and send along a photo of the two of you. Be sure to tell us which Greater Cleveland community you live in. Send everything to Ann Norman at anorman@cleveland.com.