Pills on four legs: Ebony’s life as Donna’s Assistance Dog

As a stocky Labrador with doe-eyes and midnight blue hair, Ebony is an Assistance Dog par excellence, totally tuned into the trauma and stresses of her owner Donna, on and off the golf course.

In our last issue Donna* confided that she was discharged from the navy in 2004 after an accident, suffering PTSD, anxiety and chronic pain. ‘I had become a prisoner in my own mind and home…finally I bit the bullet and requested some K9 support from Integra Service Dogs Australia, and I question myself daily why I didn’t seek them out earlier.’

Since then Ebony has been hounding me to ask her about life as an Assistance Dog accompanying Donna 24/7.  Without her blue working jacket on she’s able to wag her tongue, so I ask her:

How does it feel when Donna puts on your working jacket for a round of golf?

I get real serious, like I won’t even talk to my dad much to his dismay.  Straight away I’m in working mode, my whole demeanor changes and I’m all business! I love going out with my mum especially on the golf course ‘cos I get lots of treats and all her lady friends just love me. Apparently there is a waiting list to play with me ‘cos I bring good luck to their game.

How exactly do you help Donna while she’s golfing?

I wish I could say I tell her how to play and line up her putts but that would be giving advice wouldn’t it? Sometimes I like to pull her away from her putt to give her a hint (wink wink)!  If mum gets anxious I nudge her knees to distract her and if she doesn’t stop shaking I give her a good ole scratch with my claws. If it’s a flashback, I try to bring her back to reality with another more ferocious scratch and proceed to jump at her if that doesn’t work.

In the clubhouse I tend to rest or sleep but I’m always monitoring her with my paw on her foot in case she needs me.

Did you have to jump many hoops to be able to assist Donna on the Kooringal golf course?

OMG – more school! I had to do several walk-arounds of the course to test my reaction to the environment and wildlife – oh how I wish I could chase dem ducks and birds – and to make sure that I didn’t chase any little white or colored balls. I thought about it lots though.

Then we walked around with a few of mum’s friends while they played golf to observe my behaviour again.  Of course I aced that too! Mum and I then played a few social rounds to refine my golfing etiquette, whatever that is, and await the final approval from the Board for me to become a fully-fledged 7-day member!

Truthfully, that last bit wasn’t really required. By Law (Federal Disability Discrimination Act), I’m entitled to access all public places except for food preparation areas, sterile areas of a hospital and animal quarantine areas – pretty cool huh!

What changes have you seen in Donna since being at her side?

Apart from being a star at golf, where do I start? She gets out of bed (and stays out) every day and FEEDS me, exercises me twice day, takes me out to all those places that she hasn’t been to in over 10 years (movies, bands at pubs and restaurants) and takes great care of me and FEEDS me.

I’m only a dog but I think she looks happier, not to mention skinnier – her pants keep falling down, how embarrassment eh? She baths and FEEDS me. There’s other stuff she does but its PG rated or above so I can’t tell you – like having a nightly bath with dad – oooh gross!

Apparently she’s taking less drugs too.  I guess that’s why they call us Assistance Doggos “Pills on four legs!” Did I tell you that she FEEDs me?

What does a bunker mean to you?

Bunkers you ask?  The sand, the sand, the sand…I love sand and love to dig and its soooo soft and tempting, so someone has to hold me out of the bunker while Donna hits out.  It’s a bit like being at the beach.  Sometimes if I’m on a path while mums not looking I give a little digging a go too. Digging, ’nuff said really!

What treats do you love when you’re on the golf course?

I love apples, bananas and milk bottle lollies – a girl’s gotta keep her stamina up! Oh and the bar staff always have a big schooner of ice for me when I get into the clubhouse – just like a child eh?

Other than sleep, what do you love to do most when you’re not working?

EAT, EAT and EAT! No seriously, I love to go to the beach to swim (and dig) and I LOVE to play with other doggos. I failed Guide Dog School due to having ‘issues’ with dog distraction – like how pedantic eh?

Without my jacket, my dad gets to take me for a walk to the café where I can talk to other dogs, get lots of pats and interact with people. Sometimes my (two-legged) brother Jakob takes me for a run – I still say I’m faster than him!

What would you like to say to people who want to pat you when you’re working?

Please don’t distract me ‘cos I might miss an alert from my mum and that could be disastrous for her! Distraction not only means patting me but talking to me too! There’s more on that here.

Footnote from Ebony: Woof Woof – putting my fundraising hat on: To provide a trained Assistance Dog to a veteran or first responder it takes 6-12 months and $25,000-$30,000. To help out those fine people who ‘served Australia’ and are in need of help you can make a tax deductible donation, run a fundraiser with your club or organization here.

Follow Ebony on Instagram: ebony_donna_howard

*Read Donna’s blog