SERVICE DOG PROJECT

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It started as a thought in my head.  I would say it was fleeting, it was not.  It persisted and pushed me.  I find it interesting that dogs, once a more significant symbol of status were allowed inside many public places including museums many generations ago.  The only time dogs these days cross that threshold are when they are service dogs.  They serve people with physical disabilities and mental illness.  When researching the different types of service dogs for this project, I found out that they serve people by assisting with things around the house, acting as a sighted guide, alerting others to medical conditions, such as seizures as well as comfort and companionship to people crippled with anxiety.  I also discovered that pigs and mini-horses are also utilized for the same reason.  A pig or a mini-horse would be a bit more difficult for me to come by.  A dog seems more acceptable…easier to sneak by.  There is a variety of paperwork you can attain for service animals.  Due to privacy rights one does not have to provide them.    This is a nice feature.  My goal is to bring a non-service dog, dressed as a service dog to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and go virtually undetected.  If this had been 400 years ago, I was wealthy and chilling with a dog, no issue.  Today you have to be perceptibly physically or mentally debilitated in order to do this.  This is a significant shift in class as well as acceptance within the institution on one hand and total rejection on the other.  It is my belief that the perceived and accepted social norms will make this possible.  The understanding nonverbal nod I get when people realize my brother is special needs, is what I expected and is mostly what we witnessed.  As if the stranger is sympathetic to the situation.  I can always spot a member of the “tribe” because they do not nod and most times will wink or smile.  It is a secret shared among families of the disabled.  An unspoken secret, that the perceived tragedy of our family member being “retarded” or “handicapped” has somehow crippled our family, when in fact that family member is a blessing, a saving grace, in my brother’s case the reason I am able to see the world differently.  It is also why I know what to question and know that others will not.  Being that once in the museum it puts the institution in a position of moral issue, if they do question it would be a violation of the handlers human rights, an invasion of their privacy.  In this case, we could have been asked to leave.  We were never questioned by museum staff or security as we toured the museum with Rosemary.  In fact, as we entered the guard joked apologetically that the painting of dogs playing poker was not on display.

I went onto amazon and purchased a red and black service dog jacket with reflective trim.  The patches that attach to either side of the jacket are black and are printed with “service dog” in reflective text.  It also came with a red leash that has the text service dog on it.  A friend of mine has official garb for her service dog and it is red with blue trim.  There are a variety of choices.  I almost got ID’s made up; I just do not think it will be that complicated as long as I am confident.

The first dog, Lincoln, required an understudy, Rosemary.  Lincoln is handsome, six years old, black lab with a white chest vest.  He can be naughty though.  It is important that the dog feel safe and not be taken advantage of while participating in this project.  Lincoln gets anxious sometimes, his owners grew concerned and they pulled him out.  I respect this. It is important that the dog’s needs are met as well.  This is where Rosemary came in.  A beautiful asymmetrical dog white, with brownish tan spots and black outlines.  She was rescued from Georgia, by way of Lakeville, Massachusetts.  She now resides in Plymouth and her ears are fabulous…I hope to get an incredible picture of those ears out while she is gazing at a painting.  She has a great disposition and does not find herself in as much trouble as Lincoln.  Her owner #17 is a dear friend and a fellow artist I met years ago when she signed up for my Abstract Expressionism painting class.  Her daughter 8.5 was a private student of mine for a couple of years before she went to college and is now a sophomore at MassArt.  We are taking Rosemary to the MFA.  It finally happened, this creative occurrence on Saturday, November 1, 2014.  The very day after Halloween, it was windy and rainy.  Rosemary, looked great in her service dog costume.  We broke so many rules.  Once we were in with the dog we had her wait with me and 17 used the bathroom.  Normally the dog would go into the bathroom.  If someone was well versed in service dog methods they would have known right away this was a dog with a jacket on that said service dog.  She was rolling around in the new wing.  She seemed to enjoy the many smells the Art of the Americas had to offer, especially in the rebuilt rooms installed with all the antiques.  She also liked the exhibit by Snik that is a bit more contemporary than that.  She even burped while viewing the impressionists.  She thoroughly enjoyed a drink of water at the café and we got magnets at the gift shop that quoted Degas, “Art is not what you see, it is what you make others see.”  Exactly!! No one knew that they were involved, that they were participating, that their own perceptions of  sensitivity to abnormalities within normality allowed me to move smoothly between the museums’ spaces undetected.  I ended up being more interested in what served the dog than the service a service dog provides.  I wanted to be sure it was safe for the dog.  I wanted to make sure she had snacks she likes; we shared a piece of donut on the way in and 17 kept snacks in her pocket.  I was concerned with what she wanted to see and how to make that possible.  She guided us and we followed.  I noted that out of everything she especially enjoyed the automated doors installed for handicapped access.  Ironic.  She would patiently wait while it opened and then enter the gallery.  She would sit randomly at times and we would photograph her as a way to document this actually happening.  Then it would fade into some collective memory or story that becomes questionable as to whether or not it actually happened.  Rosemary’s performance lasted just over an hour and a half.  Upon leaving she saw some geese and all the barking she held in came to surface.  She wanted their soft black neck in her mouth and shouted to let them know.  Once the scattered she proudly sauntered back to the car.  This dog knew when she was in the museum she was doing a job; it just wasn’t the job of a service dog.  It was the job of an artist.

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