When the ambulance arrived a few days ago to take me to the closest emergency hospital, I couldn’t bear the thought of going without Sky, my service dog.  I knew that some hospitals allowed service dogs to stay with their partners, but only if there were someone to walk them other than the hospital staff.  This time, I was going to the hospital alone, all the more reason I needed Sky with me in the first place.  I managed to get her into her cape and she trotted alongside while I was wheeled out.  One of the paramedics helped her into the back of the ambulance and when we got to the hospital, just four blocks away, he ran her across the street where she could relieve herself next to a big tree.

No one said boo when we were checked in.  Sky hopped onto the bed with me, hunkered down close and waited.  She’d been there before.  She’d been doing this all her life.

When she was eight weeks old, the youngest age an airline will allow a puppy to fly, I flew down to North Carolina and flew home with her the same day.  She could have passed for a frequent flier even then.  By the next week, she was riding on the bus.  Sometimes, even in a bureaucracy, you get just the right person and so Sky already had credentials that allowed us public access so that I could train her.  A few weeks after that, we were in restaurants, just for tea because she was too young to sit through a whole meal, but that changed in no time at all because my older service dog was there, too, and Sky merely copied everything he did.  In fact, that’s how she began to learn her job.  I am a big fan of on the job training or apprenticeship.  I was an apprentice myself before I started dog training on my own and found that this method works wonderfully well for service dogs, at least for mine.  Of course, I am appropriate always. I do not ask my dog to do something she’s obviously not ready for and I go slowly, making sure that when she’s young, work is not stressful and there’s lots of play in between.  I made a pledge to myself when I was first given the privilege of having a service dog that I would only make things easier for the person coming behind me, never harder.

Though hospital “rules” require someone other than the patient to mind the dog and walk her when necessary, people love dogs more than rules and some lovely young woman stayed with Sky while I had a CAT scan and then when I was to be transported to the main hospital, once again the paramedic, who knew enough to ask if I had a word to tell Sky to go, (I do), took her to a nearby tree (what we New Yorkers call a park) and let her relieve herself.

Because the woman assigning rooms is a dog lover, she was not only happy to have Sky there but gave us a private room.  That’s when I had time to think about the fact that the only thing I’d grabbed on the way out, beside her leash, was the iPhone charger,  Not Sky’s food. And anyway, how could I have?  I was not only in screaming level pain, but she eats raw.

The night nurse, a lovely man named Andrew, was sympathetic when I asked if he could find a hard boiled egg somewhere in the hospital for Sky, as if he had nothing else to do and as if the hospital were the corner deli.  He returned with a turkey and sandwich and we both smiled watching her wolf it down and then curl back up at my side.  I got to hear about Andrew’s dog – and the dogs of many other people in my short stay in our private room,including a story, from one of the doctors about how her dog had found the cancer that almost killed her and had thereby saved her life.

In the morning, someone came to tell me that Sky couldn’t stay, that there was no program in place to walk service dogs for patients and that hospital personnel could not be asked to do so.  Although there were other volunteers to walk Sky, I had asked a huge favor of Andrew.  I had asked him to walk her after his shift was over.  I knew the other people loved dogs, but Andrew had brought her dinner and had talked to me about his dog and I could not hand Sky over to a total stranger.  She would have to go, I was told, but after I had sobbed for half an hour or so, I was told, never mind, it’s OK, she can stay.

Sometimes I think of my dog as a mirror, as I am for her.  We share joy and we share stress.  Sometimes it’s easier to see this in another rather than in yourself. Pressed against me, as afraid of me disappearing as I am of being without her for even five minutes, she swallowed her stress and kept comforting me.  We shared whatever good chemistry we could.  We were all that was familiar in our private hospital room.  We were partners, a team, an example of how helpful, loving and unobtrusive a dog can be, even in a busy hospital.

My friend, Maggie, arrived in the nick of time to stay with Sky while I had a procedure, bringing much welcomed food for her.  Sky had already been given water in one of those kidney shaped things they give you if you need to throw up. We improvised, as did the staff, and before I had time to figure out who to call for the night walk, barely over the procedure, I was sent home in the pouring rain.

Throughout the whole ordeal, just a little reminder that Crohn’s disease can knock you down at any time, Sky was there for me, quietly helpful, reassuring, warming me and sharing all the good chemistry that comes when dogs and humans are connected.  Because she was brought into the job slowly, because the job stems from our attachment to each other, because she had a dedicated, beautifully behaved service dog as a mentor, because I pay attention to her needs as well as my own – or more than my own – because mutual devotion is a precious thing to be appreciated and not squandered, what a service dog can do for her partner was evident everywhere and because of that, and because of the unobtrusive generosity of service dogs, I was able to have exactly what I needed to get me through a couple of hard long nights and days.

Photo by Zachary Joubert

Thanks for stopping by.  As always, it’s appreciated.



There’s a lot of push back happening and on the way because of the huge number of people claiming their dogs are Emotional Support Animals.  Oy vey.  Such a can of worms.  Two, count ’em, two dogs who live in my building fly as emotional support or comfort dogs.  I only know who one of the dogs is and he’s an untrained, nervous little dog who cannot be left alone so the family who cheats with him kept on the kids’ nanny to stay with the dog once the kids no longer needed her.  Peacocks, snakes, hamsters, comfort turkeys, for Godssake, it’s a farm up there in the air.  And isn’t it difficult enough getting your carry-on bag up into the bin, sitting next to someone who takes the arm rest for the whole trip, smelling the disgusting food on flights that even offer you disgusting food, using the disgusting bathroom after the first few hours of a flight, feeling woozy because there’s not enough oxygen in the cabin and putting up with a rude flight attendant should you be unlucky enough to get one of those.  Do we also have to sit next to a comfort turkey?

Do animals offer comfort?  Yes, they do.  And always have.


Drawing from DO BORDER COLLIES DREAM OF SHEEP? by Carol Lea Benjamin and C. Denise Wall

So shouldn’t we all be allowed to bring our kitties, chinchillas, rabbits and our fish tank with us when we fly?  Uh, no.

The thing is that a real service dog does more than offer comfort and the other thing is that he or she is – or damn well should be – trained.  Trained?  What a concept.  A proper service dog might be asleep before the plane starts to taxi for take-off because (a) that’s what dogs do in the face of boredom and (b) dogs wake up quickly and are totally alert once they do so that if and when they are needed to help their partner, sleeping on the plane does not present a problem.  They do not bite the person in the next seat.  They do not relieve themselves on the plane.  They do not escape and run in the aisle.  They do not bark during the flight.  They are, as they are on the ground, not only helpful, even life saving, but unobtrusive.  I have never met an unobtrusive turkey but then again, I have never met a turkey, not a live one, anyway.  Alas.

I don’t suppose anyone who cheats with his dog is ever going to read this and I don’t suppose that anyone who cheats with her dog gives a hoot about the needs and rights of people with real, working service dogs.  I don’t suppose they care that people who have and need trained service dogs are given the fish eye now because the escalating number of untrained, pretend Emotional Support Animals makes people assume that everyone one of us with a genuine, trained, life saving service dog has a fake comfort animal and a cheating heart.

As always, thanks for stopping by.


Every good dog needs an education, not just the teaching of basic commands, but enough of an understanding about the ways of the human world they share with us to make appropriate decisions when circumstances require them to do so.

As many dogs do not.


Will your dog learn not to cross the street when cars are coming?  Probably not, but she definitely can learn to wait at the corner or the curb or whatever you have to separate pedestrians from traffic.  Will your dog learn the command “Use your inside voice”?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  But she can discern the difference between letting her hair down at home, so to speak, and manners befitting an outdoor cafe, a trip to the hardware store, a walk through a street fair.  How will she learn these things?  With education that is not robotic.  With education that encourages, even requires her to think and make decisions and to do so mostly for the pleasure of getting it right.  And by allowing her to figure things out when she is ready to do so.

When I take a service dog in training, meaning in my case, a puppy, to a restaurant, I do not ask her to sit or lie down next to the chair I am sitting on or under the table.  I usually tell the pup, this is your space for now, and proceed to converse with both the waiter and my companion.  Of course I do not ignore the pup.  I always watch her out of the corner of my eye.  At first, the pup will stand there.  What?  What!  What…  And then the pup, observing that I am happy to be where I am, will relax and either sit, fine with me, or lie down, also fine with me.  If you are lucky enough to be training a pup when you have an older, trained dog, the pup will merely copy the older dog.  Oh, he’s relaxed.  I think I’ll lie down, too.  Either way, the pup has made a sensible decision, and aside from perhaps an ear scritch, needs nothing from you.  Why not give a treat, say?  Because the emphasis is on the rightness, the comfort, the calmness, the satisfaction, the safety of making a carefully thought out, appropriate, sensible decision.  And the beginning of making good decisions when you are not around to give you opinion or a reward.

Are you teaching your pup to heel?  Good for you.  When you say the command, eventually your dog will fall in at your side.  But the dog who has been allowed to make sensible decisions will also fall in at your side when you are walking in a crowd. And like a service dog who often will help other people when that’s an appropriate thing to do (yes, it is appropriate sometimes), your dog may begin to decide when there’s something she can do without being asked.  She may get close to you or someone else who is feeling bad or sad.  She may put herself between you and something causing you to be stressed.  She may even bring a toy or ball when you are the one who needs to play.  She may pull you into the park, but not into the street.  She may – but don’t count on it – make the sensible but heart wrenching decision not to steal the defrosting roast.  Yeah, well, maybe that’s more sensible than we can count on.  But still.

As always, thanks for stopping by.  It was the sensible thing to do!




I have partnered with INSIDE THE BOX MEDIA to sell some of my favorite drawings, as well as brand new cartoons, as lovingly enlarged prints, hand signed and ready to be framed.  These can be purchased through insidetheboxmedia.com/store and look wonderful big.  Here is one from the first series.  Please go to the site to see the others.


As requested, I am putting up a few small, original pen and ink drawings for sale as well.  These drawings can be purchased directly from me.  They are $310 each, including postage.  If you are interested in one of the original drawings, please message me via Facebook and I will tell you where to send the check and reserve the drawing you have chosen.

A few weeks ago, sitting in the hot tub after my swim, the two other people soaking away aches and pains began a discussion about Sky, my service dog, who, as usual, was parked at the side of the hot tub inches from where I was sitting.

“Isn’t it natural,” one of them asked, “for dogs to want to go up to everyone and be petted?”  Translation: Not letting me pet your dog is cruel to her.

“And what if someone on the bus is allergic?” the gentleman asked, a smile on his face as he question my rights, always nasty, always with a smile on his face.

No, it is not natural for a working dog to want to be petted by everyone.  Working dogs often have no interest in other people at all when they are on the job.  Mine will make exceptions for people in wheelchairs.  Go figure.  And I sometimes, but not always, make exceptions for cute children by asking Sky to give (insert name here) a kiss.

And no, while most service dog partners (real ones) are as polite as possible when out in public with their well trained dogs, someone else’s allergy (God, do I have stories about this!) does not take away the rights of someone with a legitimate (do I repeat myself?) service dog.  In most cases, staying as far apart as the space allows will solve the problem.  I actually shared a Via car with a mother and her allergic daughter.  As they got into the cab and the little girl got excited seeing Sky, the mother merely said, “Don’t touch the doggy.  Remember your allergy.”  They sat in the “row” behind me.  Sky was on my lap.  No problem at all.  Most issues can work out but not if the assumption always is that the person with the dog has no rights at all.  We are not all cheaters and while you can’t always see what’s ailing someone with a service dog, the dog can and she can do something about it as well.

For several decades, Crohn’s disease made me a bleeder.  If you are so lucky, so lucky, that you don’t have any health problems and that you don’t know anyone with Crohn’s disease, and that you never had transfusions going into both arms at once because you nearly bled out, then let me just state this amazing fact.  Since Dexter, my first service dog, I have not had a bleed and have therefore not needed a transfusion.

So, nope, you cannot distract my dog because you are feeling needy.  I, in fact, am needier than you are and need her attention, her energy and her help.  And yes, I can travel on the bus, even if another passenger is allergic.  Somehow, we will work it out and both get where we need to go.

The world is big enough for people who need to be saved by the generous, unobtrusive, gorgeous work their dog partners do and the rest of the population, those who love dogs and would like to pet every dog they see, those who sometimes get congested when they are right next to a dog and those who respect the rights of disabled people even when it means keeping their hands and the story of their lives to themselves.

As always, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for stopping by.



On a trip years ago, our group had a Native American guide for one day and, lucky me, I was seating right behind him as he drove.  Of course the subject of my service dog came up and of course, shortly afterwards, the idea of giving her a Native American name.  I’d always loved the ones I’d heard and found them more telling and expressive and colorful than the name I’d been given by my parents.  I’d always longed to have one myself,  But that aside, as I described my dog’s good and bad points, the perfect name was selected: Barks Too Much.

I’ve never met a perfect service dog, not one trained by a venerable institution, not one trained by a disabled partner, not one who saved my life every single day.  There is no such thing as perfect.  It’s something you reach for, but never reach. Dogs, like humans, have personalities, quirks, likes and dislikes, astonishing talents, insidious faults.  No matter what method is used to train a service dog, he or she may be very, very good, even amazingly good, but never perfect.  Because there are horses in Central Park. Or, in the case of an old friend’s guide dog, pizza on the coffee table.  Because temptations and irritations occur.  Because real life is surprising, messy, annoying, tempting and because, so to speak, we are all human.

What makes a great, imperfect service dog? Focus on her partner. The ability to learn to work, to learn the rules of your job, to bend and break those rules when that makes more sense than following them.  Yes.  That.  The ability to play away stress, because it is stressful to have a job that, in some cases, goes around the clock, that means you are alert to when you are needed even when you are sleeping.  Yes.  That.  The ability to tell your partner in no uncertain terms that he or she needs your help RIGHT NOW, even when that partner (only human, after all) does not know that that is so.  Flexibility.  The ability to disappear in public, in a restaurant, say.  The ability to walk very, very slowly in a museum, to lie quietly at your partner’s feet on a long plane ride, unless you are needed, to sometimes help another person, not your partner, when asked to do so or when you know you are needed and you know you are needed badly enough to discard the “rules” for the moment.  Yes.  That.


Barking at horses, the thud of a basketball being bounced, skateboards? Just proving that she’s only human and celebrating the wisdom of her name.

I had never even thought of teaching Flash, my second service dog, what to do in a museum.  At home, though he was with me most of the time, it never even occurred to me to take him to a museum.  I simply left him home those days.  But when traveling, there was no place to leave him.  Besides, when traveling, you don’t go to a museum and then go home – or back to the hotel.  You take a walk along the Seine, stop for tea, go to a museum, go out to lunch, window shop, walk in a park and then go back to the hotel to feed the dog and rest a bit before going out to dinner.

What would Flash do in The Picasso Museum, I wondered, our first time in Paris.  I was soon to find out.  Without me saying anything, he padded along next to me, stopping when I did, moving again when I was ready, from painting to painting.  Though there was nothing to interest him, he was interested anyway.  He was interested in me, and in doing his job, being attentive so he’d know when I needed him.

When we got to the gallery where the sculpture was, oh, my.  It took my breath away. And Flash took away the breath and heart of the guard.  The gallery was all but empty, the guard in love with my dog, so we were able to get some wonderful pictures, fun to look at now and remember it all.


Now Sky travels with me.  She has climbed a smallish mountain in Newfoundland, hiked in the shadow of Denali, visited the Louvre.  Travel not only broadens the human, it makes a service dog more easy going, more flexible, faster to adjust to changes and yes, I think, even happier, especially when a trip means doing something she never gets to do at home in New York City!


As for me, though it takes planning and work and a third of  my suitcase in order to have my dog with me, there’s an extra bonus besides the necessary care she takes of me.  She makes everything so easy, because anywhere my dog is feels like home.



It’s not only that I never go anywhere with my (service) dog.  It’s not merely that we are joined at the hip


It’s more that all my life, my view of the world has been through dog-colored glasses. When I was trying to learn how to walk, it was the family dog who walked at my side, bracing me when I tried to haul myself back up after a fall, running to get my mother if the fall made me cry.  When I wanted comfort, he was there.  My mother had been told that too much attention would spoil me.  But no one told that to Snowflake.  And so comfort became dog.  And so it stayed.

After school, I’d rush home to be with my dog, usually taking him to the beach with me when it was off season.  I grew up at the tip of Brooklyn, in a community called Sea Gate, and we lived two blocks from the sand and the ocean, and it was there that I spend hours and hours following my dog and watching him follow his nose.  When I was a teen-ager, I tried to get a volunteer job at The Seeing Eye and was told they didn’t hire women, not even for free!  I didn’t know how I’d continue to wrap myself around dogs if I couldn’t find work that included them.  So I  bought a puppy for $5 and  sneaked him onto the train I took when I left home for college.

I became a dog trainer by accident on purpose.  It’s what I always wanted to do – to train dogs and to write about them – and both happened in my early thirties and so finally, I had what I had dreamed of – a life where there were always dogs glued to my side.

When I wanted to understand the world, Snowflake was there.  Here’s what you do for a friend, he seemed to be saying, you walk close to their side and so you are there if they should fall, if they should need you.  And then later, another dog said, here’s what you do on the beach, you love the silence broken only by the sound of the waves and the call of the gulls and you find exciting things to wonder about – crabs! footprints in the sand! driftwood to retrieve!  Life is best when it is simple, the dog told me.

And so when I want to record a moment in time, why would I turn the camera on myself?  It is the dog who has my attention, my focus.  It is the dog who is myself, my selfie, my teacher.  Then, now, forever, it is the dog.



Flash at The Musee Picasso in Paris.

Flash at The Musee Picasso in Paris.



I was having a problem with my service dog, Sky, and it was causing me a lot of grief. Though she was working well, better than ever, in fact, away from home, she had begun pestering me at home, pawing for attention, interfering with what I was trying to do, behaving in a way that was bratty. Or so I thought.  She’s ten now.  Perhaps the work is too much for her, I began to think. I even began thinking about getting another dog, a pup I could train who would start easing into the job so that she could ease out of it.

I was sad.  I was disappointed.  I was grieving.

And then one day, on the way to the gym, seemingly out of the blue, I got it.  The “it” had happened before.  I remembered one time in the movies when Flash was “pestering” me and I was angry at him, wanting him to lie down, not wanting people to think I’d brought an untrained dog to the movies.  And then I “remembered.”  He’s my service dog.  If he’s “pestering” me, he’s trying to help, to get his head on my lap to help me release those good chemicals that lower pain.  And then I noticed (clever me) my posture, how I was crushed into myself with pain, but ignoring it, watching the damn movie.  Because if you have a chronic illness and you don’t get really good at ignoring the side effects, you will not be living a life.  You will be lying on the floor moaning and feeling sorry for yourself.  You will not be one of those brave/foolish humans who thinks, something wrong with me, you say.  Hah.  Not a chance.

So on the way to swim, a little slow on the uptake, but finally seeing the light, I realized that (a) I had fallen into a hole and (b) my good little girl was trying to help me climb out.  Without specifics about the nature of this particular hole I had fallen into, because I am not in the whining mood, I am in the how great dogs are mood, the moment I realized what was OMG wrong with my dog, the problem was solved. I no longer was thinking she was too old for her job or too poorly trained to be a service dog.  Instead, I saw the heroic nature that all good service dogs possess.  Stay calm and carry on.

Thanks for keeping an eye on me, Sky.  I’m only a dim witted human, but I finally got it.


Sky doesn’t look her age, but she’s going to be ten next month.  I make sure she eats a super good diet, gets lots of rest and very important, gets exercise for both her body and her mind.

On the way to the gym where I swim and work out with my fabulous trainer to build powerful core muscles, Sky and I play.  She doesn’t mind – in fact, she adores – playing the same game every time we go.  While I would occasionally add a new twist to an old game, now I am adding new games to challenge her mind while she’s having fun. In doing so, of course, we are both learning.  Isn’t this always true when training and playing with dogs?  I get glimpses into the way she perceives things, into the way she thinks and remembers, and so I can adjust the teaching of each new game, breaking each step into the right amount of parts.  Sometimes we have to go back and go more slowly.  Other times she gets the game as a whole, all at once. She’s a very intuitive little dog and often seems to understand sentences, even sentences I wouldn’t think she would understand.  But she has always read intent, and perhaps that’s the secret.

Even in the gym, where Sky tends to be unobtrusive, we have developed some routines that give her pleasure, make her think and sometimes, give me a break.  When we leave the pool with Sky off leash, there’s a sort of bridge that leads back to the rest of the gym.  We rarely pass more than one other person and no one seems to mind that she’s free for the moment.  At the end of the bridge there’s a bench and once, when my back was sore, I asked her to hop up so that I could put the leash back on without bending.  Now that hop is added to the routine and of course Sky has generalized and will get up on whatever’s around when I need to leash her up.

At home, we find new twists for old games all the time.  I love to see how fast Sky learns and to see the sparkle in her eyes when she gets it.  How long did it take to train that dog? I am asked.  We’re still working on it, I say, and we always will.

Scan a girl and her dog