Dominique Weems has been best friends with dogs since she was 7, and over time she has turned her love for K9s into a life saving tool.
Weems has been diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which affects her blood flow when she stands up. Regular symptoms include lightheadedness, fainting and rapid heartbeat.
Her service dog, Mya, can tell her when she’s about to faint and also responds to Weems’s anxiety. She needs Mya because she can offer deep pressure therapy that help her nervous system reset, and she can help blood circulate through the body by holding up her legs.
“I can stand up and my heart hits 193,” said Weems. “Most of the time if I’m standing up or walking around, my heart is through the roof.”
POTS does not commonly affect physical appearance outside the body, which is why many see someone like Weems and wonder why they even need a service dog.
“People can look completely healthy like I look and still be disabled,” said Weems.
Besides navigating her own medical issues, people and other pets in public can make her life more difficult. Few people realize that distracting a service dog can be deadly. She struggles to go out into public without some sort of interaction.
“You wouldn’t pet somebody’s wheelchair, talk to somebody’s oxygen tank, stare just because someone has a walker. They are medical equipment,” said Weems.
She said she recognizes most poeple only see dogs as family pets, but her dog is loved, taken care of and even spoiled at times. Service dogs are some of the best taken care of dogs.
Weems said she wishes it were common knowledge that people shouldn’t interact with her dog.
“Shes there to save my life, not be an accessory or a fashion statement. A lot of people look past that and just see a puppy,” said Weems. “It’s my life saving equipment. Don’t talk, don’t touch, no eye contact directly.”
Having the patience to explain this to every person she meets while out in public has become exhausting for her. On her good days, she makes an effort to educate people about her dog, why she needs it and what the dangers are of it being distracted.
“Some days it’s 20 people, and once you’ve hit that 20th person you’re just tired of it,” said Weems. “I’m just trying to do what I need to do like everyone else.”
People often misunderstand her because of others who have come into stores with pets that aren’t medically needed. If someone comes into a store with a pet before her, and allows everyone to pet their animal, people expect to be able to pet Weems’s service animal.
Untrained pets could be fatal to her if they’re untrained and barking throughout a public space.
“If she’s being barked at and she can’t focus and she cant misses an alert, I could fall, hit my head and it could kill me,” said Weems.
Other untrained pets also pose a threat to her dog because they could be aggressive and cause harm to her. Weems said multiple service dogs have been killed because of pets being where they’re not suppose to be.
“It’s scary to think somebody was selfish and wanted to bring their dog into the store that could be the reason she misses an alert and I don’t make it home to my kids,” she said, with tears welling up in her eyes.
Weems has personally trained all of her service dogs to make sure they are as well-behaved and trained as they possibly can be.
In the beginning, like many others, she thought getting a service dog was an easy process that just includes a good dog and a certificate from the internet.
At the time she had a dog that naturally alerted to her undiagnosed medical issues, so she bought the vest and an ID card from the internet and began training.
“I thought registration and authentication was real for a long time,” said Weems. “I thought I could go online and type this up get a card and that was it. I know now those are scam websites, they don’t hold any legal authority.”
She stopped using the papers she received from those fraudulant websites. Having physical papers saying this was a service dog and she needed it was helpful, but it would eventually make it harder for people to get into public places without these fake papers.
In reality, service dog owners are not required to carry any sort of authentification. By law, they can only be asked– Is this a service dog? and what task is it trained to do?
She continued to train her dog and eventually completed training process required to have a service animal in public.
Weems said owner training is more risky because so much can go wrong, and there’s a strict standard for service dogs. However, it’s still an option if someone can’t afford to buy a service dog through a program or if there’s a long wait list.
Her training experience has led her to become a social media influencer. She has personally trained all of the dogs who have ever taken care of, and she began her YouTube career five years ago posting a video of her process of training her first dog, Max.
“I realized I can do something here where I could spread so much awareness. That video blowing up is what got me 100,000 subscribers within a month,” said Weems.
Her YouTube channel is currently at 211,000 subscribers.
“I can teach people about service animals, I can help people who didn’t even realize this was an option know that there’s something to help make their life easier, you still have to do it properly, but you can have a service animal to change everything,” said Weems.
Since then she has continued to share her journey through being pregnant while having POTS, training her own service dogs, and, now, training other people’s dogs at the World of Dogs in Leeds.