Chingawassa Day attendees were treated to a tie-dye fashion show Saturday, that included not only humans, but also their canine companions.
One canine hard to miss walking down the catwalk was Tank, a 3 ½ year old English Mastiff service dog for Marion resident Nanette Lowry.
Tank may be intimidating in size, but Lowry said he’s a sweetheart.
“They’re gentle giants,” Lowry said. “He wouldn’t hurt anybody — unless you wanna hurt me.”
Even though he’s big, Tank, like a thief in the night, can sometimes go unnoticed.
“I’ve actually been in places with Tank that people did not know that he was there,” Lowry said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Tank is Lowry’s second personal service dog, replacing an English lab named Astro, who died in October.
Before she had personal service dogs, there was Chan, a Japanese Chin, who was a school therapy dog she had while teaching in Wichita. She now substitutes in Marion.
“I got (Tank) very young and was able to start training him in the schools here with me,” Lowry said, “so they’ve known him since he was very little.”
Before the fashion show, children who knew her from school walked up to Lowry, saying hello to both her and Tank and asking whether they could pet him.
“The general rule for any service dog is you do not pet, ever,” Lowry said. “Mine, everybody knows is to help me walk, so the rule that I’ve given with the kids is if I have a hold of his leash, you may go ahead and pet him, but if my hand is on his collar, that means he his helping me walk and no one is allowed to touch him.”
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service dog is defined as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.”
Lowry said Tank had to go through classes and training, which costs up to $2,500. Tank also had to pass a test, which Lowry described as grueling.
“I don’t know who it’s harder on: me or the dog,” Lowry said. “Probably me, because he knows what he’s doing.”
Lowry, who certified Tank through Canine Assistance Rehabilitation Education and Services out of Concordia, said CARES was constantly monitoring to make sure dogs are taken care of correctly.
“We are held to a very high standard and they will take them if not,” Lowry said. “They monitor what you are feeding them, and if he goes to the bathroom, I’m required by federal law to pick it up. If I decide not to, it’s a $5,000 fine.”
Lowry said she has had no issue taking Tank around Marion.
“Everybody in town has been awesome with him,” Lowry said. “I will take him into Carlsons’. I go when I know there’s not a lot of people just to make sure. Carlsons’ has been nothing but wonderful.”
Although she travels with Tank frequently, Lowry said she does not take him everywhere.
“I took Astro into an antique store one time and the poor guy about had a fit,” Lowry said. “But Astro was so well trained that he didn’t even wag his tail. Tank is so big, I wouldn’t even take that chance. He doesn’t wag his tail, but he’s so big, you got to use common sense.”
Even though it takes time and money to properly train a service dog, Lowry said some people tried to bypass the rules.
“There are people who think they can train their dog a little bit, and then send $45 to California and they get a little deal that says you have a service dog,” Lowry said. “Well, that’s bogus.”
Reports of fake service dogs have shown up in various news reports across the country, and have explained how it hurts those who legally acquired their service animals.
Lowry pointed to pop culture as what she thinks is the reasoning behind the growing trend.
“What started it, I think, is the Hollywood elite wanted to take their dogs with them,” Lowry said, “so somehow they got this all started, but it’s making it very difficult on us who did it the right way by federal law.
“The ones that are sending out the $45 and getting their little piece of paper, they’re making it harder on us who are legitimate.”
Sometimes people do not realize that an English mastiff can be a service dog.
“If I didn’t have him as well trained as I do and he went berserk, he could hurt somebody and then people wouldn’t like him much either,” Lowry said. “So I don’t worry about what people think.”
The best service dogs, Lowry said, come from places you might not expect.
“Some of the best ones have come from either humane societies or were dumped at the farm,” Lowry said. “They can be any kind of a dog, it just depends on their personality and intelligence.”