Pete Kleckner’s 14-year-old German Shepherd/Akita service dog is more than just his good friend and constant companion: He’s a pair of ears. Kleckner — who is deaf — depends on to keep him safe. Snickers has been with him since 2002 and was one of two service dogs entered into Overdrive‘s Most Loved Pet contest.
The independent contractor from Crookston, Minn., never leaves home without his good buddy. The dog has been trained to respond to five sounds: an alarm clock, intruders, fire alarms (and strobes) door knocks, door bells and back in the day, a land line phone. When they arrive at the truck stop and she hears anything outside she doesn’t like, she will bark or put a paw on him. If someone is outside the truck trying to talk to him, Snickers will alert him. In fact, for this interview, Snickers pawed him awake as soon as the alarm went off.
The politically correct term for hearing impaired is “deaf” or “hard of hearing,” and Kleckner has a severe sloping hearing loss that has required hearing aids since he was 11 years old. He’s not had to have a Department of Transportation medical waiver because, so far, he’s been able to pass the “whisper” test part of the exam, though his CDL states he has to be wearing both of his hearing aids and have fresh batteries on his person. He gets a kick out of asking the DOT inspectors if they believe they have finished their inspection after they ask to see his hearing aids. “Their job is not done until they check my batteries, which I always have,” Kleckner says. A recent ruling allowed 40 deaf and hard of hearing truckers get a waiver even though they couldn’t pass the whisper test. “When you have an engine roaring in your ears all day, I fail to see how it’s important to be able to hear a ‘whisper,'” he says with a laugh.
Because of Snickers’ advancing age, Kleckner has begun training a new addition to the family, a 19-month-old yellow lab puppy. The two dogs get along well, but Snickers is very obviously the professional and goes almost everywhere with Kleckner. Even though the law, (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) allows a hearing service dog to accompany him into restaurants and truck stops, he says he seldom takes him on the shipping dock. “It’s too cold for him out there,” he says.
His devotion to Snickers goes beyond the daily struggles of a deaf trucker. “She calms me down and keeps my anxiety at bay too,” he says. Some disabilities are not as obvious as the ones requiring hearing aids. While Snickers will soon enjoy retirement, his owner is excited to say that a book about his best friend, “Justice for Snickers,” will be available this summer. “The book chronicles the life and times of a trucking service dog who has been all over the country and experienced all kinds of adventures,” Kleckner says.
Tips when you see a service dog
1. The dog and the handler are a team. Talk to the handler first
2. Don’t pet the service dog without permission. Don’t be insulted if permission is denied.
3. Don’t feed the dog or give him a treat.
4. If you have a dog with you, don’t approach the service dog.
5. It is impolite to ask the handler about his disability or question his service animal’s right to be there. (Service dogs are not required by law to wear an identifying badge.)
6. If you need to provide help to the service team, ask first.