Service Dog Helps Manatee County Staff Member Excel

MANATEE COUNTY, FL (September 1, 2015) – Terri Simon has been hearing impaired her entire life, and she spent her 29 years working as a Library Aide for Manatee County without any help. She’s an expert lip reader whose main function at the library is customer service.

  

So when Simon approached Library Administration about the possibility of allowing her to bring in a service dog, she received some surprised looks.

 

“I had never mentioned wanting or needing a service dog,” said Simon. “I’ve always tried extra hard to pull my own weight.”

 

Recipient of the September 2015 Manatee County Employee of the Month Award, Simon has earned a reputation for providing good customer service. But she felt having a service dog might help some patrons realize she is hearing impaired when they are calling for her when her back is turned to them and help her take on new job tasks she had been unable to perform.

 

“The one time I remember the most is when a patron actually wrote a comment stating that I was very rude to her when she called for me four times and I failed to respond,” said Simon. “I was shelving DVDs at the time and didn’t realize she was calling me.” 

 

In early January, one of Simon’s friends told her she found the perfect dog for her: a brown and white long-haired dachshund, named Mister, whom she had just rescued.

 

Simon took Mister to Florida Dog Guides FTD (for the Disabled), Inc., a Bradenton organization founded in 1984 by the deaf community, which certified the dog of one of her hearing impaired friends.

 

The first step was to have Mister’s temperament evaluated to see if he would be a good fit for this program. This included screening for health issues, intelligence, sound awareness and aggressive behavior. Once he passed the exam, Mister began 12-week training certification process, with Simon training with him through the whole process.

 

As soon as Mister had learned his basic commands, Simon sought approval to take him to work. Simon was the first library employee to make this request in order to enhance her skill set with a service animal so it was unknown how long the approval process might take.

 

Central Library, where Simon worked, presented a couple of challenges in and of itself.

 

Located along Riverwalk, Central Library is the largest of the Manatee County Library System libraries with over 26,000 card-holding patrons. It has the youngest user base with 21% of its patrons aged five to 19.

 

It also has two floors, which Simon, who is in the Circulation service area, used frequently throughout the day to reshelve and search for books, audiobooks, and DVDs. This put her frequently among the public so Mister would need training to recognize verbal cues and make Simon aware.

 

Simon proceeded with the certification with Mister in the hopes that the process would move through Human Resources.

 

Shortly after, a Library Aide position opened up at a smaller branch, South Manatee across the street from State College of Florida, which at 11,157 has less than half of Central’s users, only one floor and a larger senior base of patrons. And it was much closer to Terri’s house, only seven minutes. So Administration transferred Simon, and Mister was approved for a trial run. He and Simon’s first day was Saturday, June 6, and Simon said they both adjusted to their new environment quickly. Their assignment will be reevaluated by administration after three months to determine if things are working out.

 

Ava Ehde, Library Services Manager, hopes having a service dog working alongside a library employee might benefit the community by seeing their working relationship firsthand.

 

“Terri genuinely enjoys her work with the public and has never allowed any limitations to hamper her. She has always been a terrific customer service representative, but Mister enables her to excel,” said Ehde.

 

Library Operations Supervisor, Kevin Beach, added that having an employee with a service dog  provides a learning opportunity for children.

 

“Seeing the dog provides an opportunity for children to ask questions and be better informed about how differently-abled people can still contribute to society,” said Beach.

 

One question Simon gets asked is if Mister can be petted, prompted by the “PLEASE ASK TO PET ME” vest Mister wears.

 

“I ask that people wait until he is off duty, meaning not tied to me, so he can stay focused. He will bark at you as a warning if people still try to pet him,” said Simon.

 

Simon said patrons’ usual questions are also about the type of services Mister provides.

 

“Most of our patrons are curious as to what type of service dog he is. When I state a hearing dog, some of them ask what type of things can he do,” said Simon.

 

Mister lies down on his blanket when Simon works the service desk. Trained to recognize both words and sounds, Mister alerts Simon when the computer system beeps to indicate an unusual check in.

 

When Simon is in the public area, she ties Mister’s leash to her belt, now a regular piece of her work attire, to free her hands. And with a stroke of his paw to Simon’s leg, Mister alerts Simon to any patron needing her help.

 

“At work he has alerted me when someone is in front of me when my head was down,” said Simon.

 

Mister also has helped Simon become less dependent on a personal basis.

 

“Mister helps me on a daily basis to feel more independent and less dependent on others. I was always afraid to move out on my own in case I didn’t hear if someone was in my home or an alarm went off or if I had forgotten to turn something off of the stove because I didn’t hear it beep,” said Simon. “One time I left water on all day long because I didn’t hear it running. Now that I have Mister, I could buy my first alarm clock because he could wake me.”

 

Terri and Mister continue to attend advanced classes on Wednesday nights, which reinforce the training Mister has already received and provide any new training based on situations unique to the library.

 

“I know that as long as I take care of him he will take care of me. It's a great feeling,” said Simon.

 

About Florida Dog Guides FTD (for the Disabled), Inc.:

A non-profit training school designed to assist Florida residents. Founded in 1984 by the deaf community in Manatee county, the organization has expanded its training to meet certification for  D.A.V.I.D.'s Program, Therapeutic, Mobility Loss and Therapy and Specialty Dogs to help with multiple disabilities. They offer six-week training programs for Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced. Call 941-748-8245 or visit http://www.floridadogguidesftd.org/ for more information.

 

About the Manatee County Public  Library System: A Florida Library Association Library Innovation award winner, the Manatee County Public Library System supports the County’s growing community and visitors through a wide range of educational and technological resources and programs at six facilities in downtown Bradenton (Riverwalk), the east county region, the south county area, Holmes Beach, Palmetto and Ellenton. Last year, the Library System was visited by over 963,000 patrons who made use of its resources over 3.5 million times (a record high) and provided over 2,500 informational and educational programs which served an estimated 57,000 patrons. For more information, call Central Library at (941) 748-5555, ext. 6307. For more information on Manatee County Public Library System, visit online at mymanatee.org/library and follow them on Facebook at facebook.com/MCPLS and facebook.com/mcplsteen.

For more information about Manatee County Government, call 941-748-4501 or visit mymanatee.org, facebook.com/manatee.county.fl or twitter @ManateeGov