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  • Barbara Handelman

Alarms, Crowds, and Fire Engines, Oh My!

Humor has the proven power to heal. Service Dogs can keep us humble. If we take training seriously but also see the humor in situations that are unavoidable, we will survive the most embarrassing moments. We are, after all, fallible humans and our working dogs are not robots.


Piper and I arrived early for a doctor’s appointment in a newly constructed medical building. The exterior doors required operating a succession of two access plates to enter or to exit. The configuration of the plates was unfamiliar to Piper. Piper is the only dog I’ve known who not only hits the plates with enthusiasm, but he also remains in his “paws up” position and looks over his shoulder to be sure his action has served its purpose. If it has not, he’ll tap the plate again.






The boxes were close enough to each other, that Piper, ever the clever problem solver, stood up and put one foot on the door opener, he put the other on the fire alarm. I’d never seen a fire alarm that didn’t require a sequence of actions, and require some degree of force, to sound the alarm. Not this one, any 3 year-old-child could have accidentally activated it. What on earth were the architectural engineers thinking??







Piper set off the alarm. I was mortified! I rushed inside to report the huge “oops”, but was quickly ushered back outside. Once an alarm is triggered the ensuing events are unstoppable. Alarms sounded, and a flood of people issued forth to the parking lot where it was a sunny, hot and humid 90+ degree day. Soon fire engines arrived,

sirens and all.


Piper was quite happy to find himself surrounded by a delighted crowd all of whom quickly learned that Piper was responsible for their unscheduled break in the sunlight. I decided to allow Piper to greet people he knew and some he didn’t. His trained greeting posture is so darned cute. Who can resist an upside dog at their feet, belly up, with a smile on his face, tongue flicking a greeting, inviting the belly rubs he loves. In this instance even I could not resist watching the joyful attention he bestowed and received. Not only did Piper provide great comic relief for one and all, he also provided me with a great antidote to my intense embarrassment.


When we finally went inside, he quickly resumed his all-business Service Dog attitude.





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