Service Dog Finds Working on Hill No Easy Task

August 7, 2013
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West Cedar Street resident Anne Szabla was paired with service dog Sienna less than five months ago, but she soon might have to give up the golden retriever following a traumatic encounter with another canine on Beacon Hill.

Szabla and Sienna were walking by the CVS pharmacy at Cambridge and Charles streets on Memorial Day weekend when a woman and her pet boxer passed them. Per her training, Sienna ignored the other dog until it lunged forward and bit her leg. The boxer’s owner struggled to restrain the dog as Sienna cowered behind Szabla. Throughout it all, the boxer barely acknowledged Szabla’s pet corgi, who was also along for the walk and standing only inches away.

“A dog in a harness and vest looks strange to other dogs and makes them want to attack,” Szabla explained.

Since the incident, Sienna, who was selected as a service dog because of her docile and submissive disposition, has begun barking at other canines. Szabla has taken Sienna to classes, tried training techniques and given her treats as an incentive to ignore other dogs, but so far, none of these methods have successfully remedied the problem.

“I might have to give Sienna back, which is really sad considering a lot of money, time and volunteer effort that went into training her,” Szabla said. “I’ve also already bonded with her, and she’s a sweetheart with people.”

Szabla, a 25-year-old concept artist for video games, suffers from type 1 diabetes. She received Sienna in mid-April from CARES (Canine Assistance, Rehabilitation, Education and Services), a Kansas-based private corporation that provides service dogs to disabled and elderly people nationwide. Sienna was trained to use her sense of smell to detect when Szabla’s blood sugar drops too low and alert Szabla to the condition by pawing her; Sienna would then help Szabla up and lead her to a safe place. Without the service dog, Szabla said she wouldn’t be able to live independently.

“Sienna needs to be bomb-proof around other dogs, especially if I’m dizzy or not cognizant,” Szabla said.

Less than two weeks ago, Sienna’s mettle was tested again when she and Szabla came upon a rambunctious Labrador retriever and its owner near the same CVS. The other dog owner was convinced the two should play, and Szabla had to physically push the Labrador back as it rushed towards Sienna.

“Dogs on leashes that aren’t really under control seems to be the case a lot around here,” Szabla said.

Szabla offers this advice to fellow dog owners: “If you see another dog, just give it some space because you don’t know if it’s friendly or not, and if you see a dog with a vest or harness, please step aside because clearly it’s wearing [the gear] for a reason.”

Today, Szabla is on the waiting list for another service dog, and Sienna might be retired if she can’t overcome her anxiety around other canines.

“At this point, when they have another dog for me, we’ll probably switch,” Szabla said. “And hopefully, this won’t happen again with another [service dog].”

  • Cindy Morgan

    Very good advice, and I hope you get your dog soon. Also I hope the golden recovers. People, service dogs are “durable medical equipment” just like a wheelchair, cane or other medical device. They are not to be petted or played with the same as a wheelchair. Ask yourself would I pet someone’s cane? Wheelchair? White cane for the blind? A hearing aid? Well if the answer is no than please don’t pet or play with our service dogs and keep your dog in control around us, thanks!

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