Faline never misses a Boise Baroque concert; you can find her at the Boise Philharmonic performances too, always wearing the same dark coat and vest. She plays no instrument herself but seems welcome at both rehearsals and performances. And she is always in the same place—at the feet of oboist Jessie Brown. Faline is Jessie’s Service Dog. The musical voice Jessie produces with her oboe is critical to the orchestra’s rich sound, and Faline is critical for Jessie’s well-being.
Jessie lives with a condition called dysautonomia, which involves the inability to control automatic functions of the nervous system, like body temperature and heart rate. While disabilities like dysautonomia are not apparent to the observer, they nonetheless interfere with daily functioning. In reality, though, not much holds Jessie back. She plays the piano and learned to play numerous woodwind instruments as she grew up in Blackfoot, Idaho. She served as accompanist for choral performances and played in her high school’s band. But it was the rich mellow sound of the oboe that captured her heart. She attended BYU and pursued a degree in music with a major in Oboe Performance. After completing her studies, she moved on to Northwestern University where she earned her master’s degree, also in Oboe Performance. “The sound it (the oboe) made just hooked me in,” she explains. And Jessie has no intention of allowing her disability to interfere with her significant abilities. This is where Faline fits in.
Faline is a sensitive and highly trained Service Dog. She is capable of helping Jessie in many ways, from retrieving dropped items, to providing a forward pull when Jessie needs assistance to rise from a sitting to standing position. She can even help Jessie quell anxiety attacks and lower her heart rate. Faline could assist, should Jessie become faint or stumble and fall. Consequently, with her Service Dog at her side, Jessie has much more flexibility to go where she chooses and do what she wishes.
Service Dogs receive significant public access training and then are task-trained to meet a specific individual’s needs. Carefully selected for their intelligence and gentle dispositions, they work for only one person, and help to mitigate that individual’s disabilities. Generally, it takes about two years to train a Service Dog, with training reinforced regularly thereafter. State law grants public access to such highly trained dogs and their handlers. Other dogs, like therapy and emotional support dogs, do not receive such extensive training and are not covered by state law, but they also can perform supportive functions.
When Jessie decided to get a Service Dog, she met with dog trainer Gabby Ryals and was introduced to Faline who had completed her public access training. Soon after, Gabby began to teach Faline the specific tasks Jessie needed the dog to perform. After watching Gabby and learning training basics, Jessie was able to take over training. Jessie admits to being a little nervous when she took Faline to her first rehearsal. Faline had been exposed to big groups and loud noises, but not to an orchestra. Jessie was concerned because dogs don’t generalize easily. Things went well at that rehearsal Jessie reports, until a startling timpani entrance. Faline raised her head, looked around, decided everything was okay and put her head back down. “Nothing,” says Jessie, “has phased her since.”
And does Faline ever have a chance to meet the audience? Yes—after a performance, Jessie is happy to let Faline interact with interested members of the audience. Audience members should remember, however, that when Faline is wearing her vest, she is working. While Jessie does allow Faline to shed the vest and just be a dog and socialize occasionally, Faline can go back on task immediately, if required.
Perhaps at the next public performance, you will see Faline in her dark coat and red vest. She will be sitting where she always sits, at the feet of oboist Jessie Brown.
Ellie McKinnon, a fan of the orchestra and a dog lover. She served as founding director of Boise State’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Currently she is a freelance writer and offers memoir writing workshops.