Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

The Hornet

Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

Service dogs’ paws-itive impact on the world

Fullerton College student Charisma Rabbit, who goes by CJ, picks out a pumpkin with approval of Ridley, her emotional support service dog. Photo courtesy of Charisma Rabbit

Loyalty comes in all shapes and sizes, and even species. These two are not your typical pair of best friends who go to Disneyland, pick outfits or get their hair groomed. 

Fullerton College student Charisma Rabbit, also known as CJ, owns a service dog named Ridley. She is a 2-year-old German Shepard mix and CJ’s best friend. They have an account on Instagram, @the.service.hyena, that showcases their fun adventures together and their trips to Disneyland. 

CJ first adopted Ridley from Hope Ranch Animal Sanctuary located in the city of Anza. She says, “I adopted Ridley at three months in August of 2019. It took a long time of talking to my doctors and finding the dog with the perfect temperament for the job, but the wait was so worth it.” 

Besides going to see Mickey Mouse together, they enjoy expressing themselves through fashion. CJ first began dying the fur on Ridley’s tail with pet-safe dye which later transformed into something they enjoy doing together for fun.  Ridley can often be seen modeling a bright pink or purple tail on her Instagram. 

While the original purpose for it what’s to help keep people from stepping on it, it is now something that she has known for and we continue to do it for fun! It doesn’t bother her at all and it’s no different than using shampoo during a bath,” she says.

Ridley loves to rock custom service dog gear and clothing as well. Gear like this can be made in bright and eye-catching colors. Not only is the custom gear helpful for CJ from a medical standpoint, having unique colors allows them to express their personalities in different ways. Ridley can also be often seen flaunting dazzling collars, colorful bandanas and even Mickey ears while they’re at Disneyland.

 “While it does make her attract more attention at times, Ridley is a part of me and picking her outfit every day is much like picking my own,” she says.

CJ did not always need a service dog to assist her. She only required assistance from a service dog just a few years ago. She shares her story by saying, “Ridley has changed my life beyond words. My disabilities did not truly emerge until I was around 18 years old. I lost my 17-year career as a dancer, so much of my independence and even had to leave school for a while. I would not be where I am today without her.” 

CJ goes on and explains that Ridley is not a typical service dog; she is a multipurpose service dog. Multipurpose service dogs help their owners with more than one thing. CJ explains how Ridley helps her overcome everyday challenges and says, “Ridley assists me in many ways, including medically and mobility wise. She can alert me to a medical episode ahead of time which can allow me to take medication, find a place to rest, which can potentially completely prevent an episode, or at least give me time to get in a safe space to have a medical episode.” 

Before service dogs were trained to help people with a variety of different needs, they first began as guide dogs for the blind, according to New Life K9s. In World War I, when many men came home from the war blinded by mustard gas, it led to the use of guide dogs. The concept of modern service dogs was created in 1975 by canine researcher, Bonnie Bergin. 

Some people who need service dogs decide to purchase them fully trained. CJ took a different route and decided to train Ridley mainly by herself. This is not an uncommon method since fully-trained service dogs can cost up to $20,000 or more, according to Medical Mutts’ website. While this is the most cost-efficient method, it is not the easiest. 

CJ explains that while she has trained Ridley for herself, there is still a standard of training that needs to be met, required by the Americans with Disabilities Act from 1990. She explains, “…it’s our responsibility as handlers to make sure our dogs are up to legal training standards. They must be highly trained and ignore distractions of all kinds, and be able to handle lots of different environments.” 

The ability to stay focused and assist their owners in distracting environments is important for service dogs like Ridley. When a service dog becomes distracted, it causes the risk of the dog not being alert when an emergency occurs with their handlers. This is something CJ hopes to see change in the future.

Although Ridley has only been helping CJ for about 2 years, it is safe to say she deserves all the treats in the world. Service dogs and best friends have been crucial and even life-changing for some with disabilities. CJ expresses, “She is a genuine lifesaver and best friend.”