I am not much of a Halloween fan and it's pretty obvious why. I have dogs. I have quite a few dogs. So, being that they are a little sensitive to the doorbell, I do not look forward to the one night a year that society deems it appropriate for myriads of complete strangers to don my front porch and demand my presence at the front door to hand out free crap that actually cost me quite a bit. I do, however, really enjoy fall. I love sweater weather, scarves,hot chocolate and apple spice flavored hot beverages, and most of all pumpkin patches.
As a child I remember my Mom taking my brother and I to the pumpkin patch for us each to pick out which giant orange sphere we wanted to carve up and place on the front porch. Because we lived far out in the country, we never had trick or treater's come to our place, so, my Mom would dress us kids up and take us over to my grandparents place where we could fill up our plastic pumpkin baskets with as much (poison-less) candy as we wanted. Now I appreciate the trouble my Mom went too to make sure use kids could enjoy a fun holiday where we could still dress up and remain safe.
Now, as an adult, I have a different reason for liking fall and pumpkin patches. I enjoy taking whichever service dog in training that is currently with me there for a day of fun. Last year I missed out on a pumpkin patch trip with Copper as he arrived in early October and was healing from a necessary and time sensitive surgery during the Halloween season. But this year I have Dodger who has done several public access trips with me and has done well. I was really looking forward to taking my annual pumpkin patch trip with him and having a great time.
A friend with a service dog in training herself suggested that we visit one of the biggest pumpkin patches in the greater bay area. I had passed it several times on my trips back and forth from the bay to the central valley but had never actually stopped and visited. Dell'Osso Family Farms in Lathrop looked like a bunch of fun and a great training field trip for Dodger. I had never been and I was really excited to try it out.
Most pumpkini patches I've been too are smaller and don't charge admission. This is not the case with Dell'Osso Family Farms - because of it's large size and extensive attractions for a pumpkin patch the entrance boasts a large line and a ticket booth. This is how we started out our experience.
One thing you don't realize about having service dogs until you actually handle one in public is that the public will engage with you whether you like it or not. Some interactions are pleasant and enjoyable, and others are.....well.....not. Alex and I weren't in line more than ten seconds before it started.
"That's some beautiful eyes you've got there," a tall gentleman commented who was standing in line directly in front of us. He was looking down at Dodger who was sitting peacefully next to me (like I asked him too.) The gentleman didn't start out the interaction even acknowledging me, but instead, chose to address Dodger directly. Dodger's stunning blue eyes have turned out to be the most popular thing about him when he's out with me....I have accepted this. He continued with asking, "is he a mutt or a purebred?"
Alex and I thanked him briefly, and answered in our practiced polite but typical we-don't-know-he's-from-a-shelter way but did so in such a way that politely indicated we weren't interested in chatting. The gentleman was pulling a kiddie wagon which had a little toddler girl riding inside. She was already pulling towards Dodger and reaching out her little hands towards his face. Instinctively Alex stepped in between us for an effective, but polite, block while I treated Dodger for remaining in a sit.
"So even though he's not an aggressive breed you still have to have him wear that while you're out," the gentleman motioned towards the halti head collar fitted around Dodger's face and muzzle. (For those of you not familiar with head collars and other training equipment we like to use on our outings and their training benefits click here for more information.)
"Oh, it's actually not a muzzle but a tool to help deter pulling," I don't even remember whether it was Alex or I who answered this. Oh God it's already starting I remember thinking to myself. I was prepared to work during this trip, after all I AM training Dodger, but I was so hoping I wouldn't have to do an excessive amount of answering questions. I was starting to realize that I should have known better.
The gentleman nodded and turned around while pulling the wagon forward with the shortening line. As we edged up, I noticed Dodger broke his stay next to me and swung out in front of me. While focusing on the gentleman and his child in front of us, I hadn't noticed the stroller pull up (much closer than what was appropriate I might add) behind us with another grabby little toddler. I heard the Mom tell her toddler not to bother "the working dog" but yet still parked the stroller within the toddlers reach of Dodger. I lured Dodger into a sit/stay between mine and Alex's legs to deter anymore touching. I heard the woman exclaim about Dodger's beautiful eyes, but although I felt a little rude not answering, I chose not to engage and to instead focus on Dodger's tasks. He was happily glancing up at me for further direction and treats which I happily obliged.
Luckily we passed through the rest of the line without further mishap with Dodger behaving beautifully. Upon entering the grounds, within the first few seconds, I saw a few dogs....and dogs without any service dog patches on. Oh boy I thought, guess this is a dog friendly event. Dodger was interested but not misbehaving, so I continued to treat him for good behaviors and Alex and I moved further into the depths of Dell'Osso Family Farms to meet up with our friends. As we were walking I saw up ahead of us a Canine Companions for Independence service dog lying peacefully next to his handler. (Do you know about them? If not, look them up, they are fantastic!) We made eye contact, both nodded respectfully to each other, and then we each altered our course slightly to give respect to the other service dog team. While I rarely come across another (well behaved) service dog team, when I do I always show respect and do all I can to give the team space to work and to not disturb them with my own service dog in training by my side. It felt good to see the gentleman handler acknowledge me and do the same even though for all he knew my dog was really a pet in a fake vest and not well behaved.
Upon reaching the rest of our party, which includes a friend of mine, Natalie, her sister's family and her dog, Ghost, who is a big fluffy Great Pyrenees who is currently in training to become her service dog. We decided that completing the corn maze would be fun. As we waited in line to enter the corn maze a younger gentlemen (who looked like he'd downed a few too many beers) exclaimed loudly so everyone could hear "HEY they're CHEATING! They're bringing dogs into the maze." Before I could turn to reply he laughed loudly to his cronies and sauntered off. His comment stung, more than I wanted to admit. Yeah dude, I'm cheating with my disability. I'm using it to GET AHEAD! GASP! I thought to myself. I made the same comment out loud to my friend who agreed whole-heartedly that it was super inappropriate. Her sister asked if that was normal to which Natalie replied "Oh we get stuff like that ALL the time."
We enjoyed the rest of the corn maze, while Ghost and Dodger, behaved beautifully at our sides. After finishing, Natalie and Ghost decided they were ready to go home, while the rest of Natalie's family split off to entertain the kids with some more fun activities. Alex and I decided we wanted to stroll around some more, take some pictures with the pumpkins and enjoy the beautiful day.
I am happy to say that the rest of the trip was uneventful and we didn't encounter any other misbehaved dogs, or people for that matter. Dodger was stellar and took everything in stride. Although the day started out a bit rough, I had a great time! I'm considering visiting again during the Christmas holidays and maybe even enjoy a hot chocolate while I'm there. Anyone care to join me?