I had the pleasure of interviewing my friend and former neighbor, Kevin Fritz. He is an associate for the international law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Kevin: I’m a corporate lawyer. I work with businesses facing employment issues, as well as businesses open to the public, facing discrimination complaints. “I also give them counseling about accessibility issues bathrooms, etc.,” Fritz said.
Kevin Fritz, with his dogs Paloma, Piper, and Champion. KEVIN: I don’t mind talking about disability, but it’s not my whole life. I moved to Florida about a year ago from the windy city of Chicago. The fact that I’m disabled, myself, allows me to speak from my first-hand experiences.
Check out Kevin’s video series on how to speak with individuals who are disabled. I have muscular dystrophy, which is a kind of rare form called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. My disability is only physical, so I deal with things that many people take for granted, like walking. Physically, I can talk and move my hands two inches all the way around, and I also rely on my wheelchair to get around. And I think privacy is important to all people, disabled or not. We should have an option. Kevin has
KEVIN: I got Piper in 2008. Before that, I lived in an accessible college dorm, Beckwith Hall. I knew I would need people to help me with personal care. But then I realized I wanted a dog who could grab things and bring them all the way up to my face, if necessary. Then I researched breeds like Japanese Chins and Pugs (I love the little folds in their faces!). You also got some small dogs that are very smart.
KEVIN: When I reached out to a trainer in Michigan, she recommended Papillons. She said they have the right temperament, as well as being smart, lightweight, quick, and not as yappy as Chihuahunas! There are no requirements for certified service dog under the ADA. Cheryl Carlson trained police dogs, so I knew she’d be able to help me. There were no certifications for service dogs.
I knew there wouldn’t be much of a life for this animal, and I was drawn to her story. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Papillons are immature as puppies, in that they don’t really get into their personalities until they’re older. They were going to retire her because of her coloration deformity and keep her around the house. And, honestly, it felt like Cinderella for some reason.
KEVIN: She is adorable! The trainer had spayed Piper, but she wasn’t trained when I first met her. If I said, “Come here,” “Get up”, “Go over there” or go to the bathroom, she listened. She also trained her to be a verbal dog. It was like she knew me already, that I would be her owner, after three months of hard work!
Kevin Fritz has said that Piper is very accommodating and deferential, and that is from her training. He taught her up/down, switch (wrong location), pick up, put back, guard. With guard, she would bark or growl if I said Guard when someone came near me. The trainer was absolutely right when she said, “Within a year, you won’t even need to give her commands.” KEVIN: She really did not need any commands after that first year.
Most difficult experience I remember occurred pretty early on when she got too close to my chair and I accidentally rolled over her paw. I was devastated. 300 pounds of pressure on eight ounces of animal! You could see as she was screaming in pain, because all she ever wanted was to be near me. It was so awful for both of us, but it was also a very good learning experience.
You can tell she feels safe there. Honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to do without Piper. It makes me emotional just to think about it. But I know when she’s ready to go, she will go. We have a very special bond. I think our animals speak to us in ways that don?t use auditory language. If I’m scared, piper shakes also. She knows something is wrong. After all, we feel her heartbeat all day long on my feet.
I owe her that kindness. She knows how important she is to me, and she continues to be “man’s best friend.” KEVIN: I will never get another animal like Piper. The other two dogs are rescues from Chicago. They kind of fell in my lap because of an unfortunate situation with their previous owner. Rescues were very squeamish when I got them.
, KEVIN: All three of them have very different personalities, and it is so interesting to watch them interact with each other and with you. Paloma is not big, but she’s dense. One of my dogs can put his head under my hand to help me lift it. Talk about physical therapy! The other dogs are not as rough with me as they are with other people. They eventually figured out how to cohabitate together.
Piper, who weighs five pounds of pure love, makes me so happy. She is absolutely adorable. I recommend every disabled person have an animal a dog, another cat, or even hermit crab! Any person who has ever felt outcast or downtrodden or that they don’t matter get an Animal. KEVIN: Absolutely. For my particular disability, I’m able to rely on technology to accommodate many of the things I needed as my active service dog. There are so many other benefits to having
Papillons are very easy to take care of. They don’t shed much at all. Service dogs are really there for companionship, too. Do they have a special bond with you like Kevin has with Piper?