Dogs give love, and want love. Unconditionally. Just as humans do.
Yes, I was now aware that I had a rather hybrid of a situation: A dog now used to going anywhere and everywhere with me, but legally and honorably she was bound to limitations. I had become corrupted morally. Truly. Taking her where she does not belong with an almost arrogant style, because after all this dog was prescribed for me, right? Peanut had zero experience being left alone. I did run a few trial efforts of leaving her in my apartment by herself, setting up my GoPro to film her. Yikes. Watching those videos revealed the disaster she was. Hi-pitched howling, running around the apartment on loop barking her sharp, piercing yelp. My neighbors would text me asking if Peanut was ok....Unworkable, to say the least.
Get an in-house trainer? Move? Reduce my external activities? This was a tough spot. I even caught myself avoiding social and personal business events for the sake of maintaining a quiet and happy dog. I found some pet-sitters to alleviate this, but this left Peanut frozen in her development that, (like me), being alone is OK and that is part of life. Only as I write this does this realization hit me: I was prescribed this dog for my dealing with loneliness, and now I was confronted with working my emotional support animal into accepting her own experience of being alone. What a trip. We can learn so much from helping others learn.
Admittedly, I was still pushing the outside world boundaries with Peanut. In fact, at times when I would hit my routine grocery or coffee trip without her, the workers would all be clamoring over me asking "where is Peanut?" (Indeed, she had become a local "star attraction"....) I was in a space of morally adjusting the rules to fit my own selfish needs. This is NOT integrity by definition. Smile and wave and pretend everything is OK. Right?
I began dating a very special woman, who happened to be quite the expert on canines. She ran a business fostering, rescuing, adopting dogs. Over 600 canines she had helped place in homes!! One of her specialty successes was changing the public's perception of Pit Bulls, even turning discarded bully breeds into support and service animals. Over the months I absorbed and learned first hand a great deal about breeds, training, shelters, breeders, fostering, and a crash course/reminder that MY dog was NOT a service animal. Peanut at my hip. On dates in southern California. Cute at first. Then binding and constricting. The woman I was dating become quite direct with me helping me frame a new approach and drew new boundaries on my integrity-bending behavior, and tips and directives to transform Peanut into a "regular" dog. There were some very tense discussions. She would not date a man with the character that abused the ADA rules. I had to "get it." MY dog deserves to be treated like a DOG. Not like the winner of Wonka's golden ticket, carte blanching it around the world. Changes HAD to be made, or this new romance of mine was at risk, as well as my own peace-of-mind which could only be restored by playing by the rules. That was my character to regain.
A major breakthrough was soon appearing. This apartment lease was up for renewal, my kids now staying with me more frequently, it became clear a house would be more comfortable for us all, and a private backyard for Peanut to enjoy having to learn to "be a dog." (No dog should live in an apartment, my opinion stated here.) A few months of searching and we found one. Coincidingly, I shared the boundaries and legal terms of a support vs. service animal with my kids to get us all on the same team. Time for Peanut to become a dog. Today, we live in a way where she stays at home, alone, watches for squirrels, sleeps, barks some, and is beyond excited to see us when we return. She still gets to travel with me, but not to stores, theaters, hotels, rather to visit my girlfriend and her dogs.
Peanut still provides emotional support, (to me and others), because THAT's WHAT DOGS DO by their nature. Unconditional love. There is no "tag" or licenses or certifications that could ever allow or disallow what dogs truly OWN inside them: To show love. Lessons learned. Thanks Peanut.