PREFACE: I have great friends and family. – a small, supportive group. Also, I am most grateful and thankful for the medical staff that helps me deal with things life brings my way. You all know who you are, and this blog is not addressed to you.
I write on behalf of others in the Service Dog community who feel frustrated, isolated, unwanted, invisible, and unable to raise their voice.
I want to provide a small glimpse into what it is like to navigate the world with a Service Dog during the holiday season.
Recently, boxed in by holiday inflatables in a store, instead of cheer, I instantly thought of extra holiday shoppers. Like other people, I will melt in and possibly be crushed by on-coming people traffic. —Unlike others, I will be the “spectacle,” the “teachable moment,” the “neat” thing people point to(literally).
Do I not like attention? Well, let give you a sample of how “neat” it is to need a Service Dog.
Would you like this?
People on both ends of the aisle STOP dead in their track to look, gawk and YELL, “Doggie.” I guess no one has ever seen one before. I just need to get to the other side of the aisle and truly want to be LEFT ALONE so I can get shopping done and LEAVE. – Yet I cannot move because everyone on both sides of the aisle is frozen.
We finally clear a path but not before 12 people come up and ask if they can pet the dog—Despite the LARGE DO NOT PET sign. At least 6 of the 12 people will beg vocally to pet, --one, will use the F word telling me I should not bring a dog if I don’t want people to pet it.
I finally make it through shopping and need to go to the ladies’. I wait an extra 30 minutes because people are in the large stall—the only stall I am able to use safely with my dog. I don’t mind waiting but when there are small stalls vacant it would make sense for people who CAN use them to do so and leave the large stall for the person with the medical device.
Thankful like others to be done with any shopping. –Then I realize, I didn’t buy anything for parties because well I don’t get invited out because there is this elephant of which no one speaks—THE DOG.
I have at least 15 people or so per year ask if I could come do “X” and “Oh can you just come without THE DOG because, well __ is afraid of dogs, oh and ___has to bring her princess dog and that dog doesn’t get along with other dogs, and well you know --- I CAN HELP YOU – You don’t really NEED the dog, do you?
I always think WTF, of course I NEED the dog! She is not an optional extra! I always manage to get a smile on my face, and lately choke back tears that are only reserved for the therapist office because well after all “Service Dog people” are so full of cheer. I politely decline all invitations to go without my SERVICE DOG, the device which allows me to be “normal. “At least 3 people will tell me how much they will miss me being there, once someone said “I guess you get use to having to be left out.” --- To which I smile, say “I guess” and continue to hold in emotion, looking forward to being alone so I can explode.
I am constantly told “just continue to educate” “People just don’t know.”—SO here it is. —Please make notes:
1. When you have a Service Dog it is a sign that you do NEED the dog to mitigate a disability—The subject of people faking disability is a different blog.
2. Always assume the person needs the dog and will tell you IF you can help. NO, you cannot take the place of a highly trained medical device.
3. NEVER ask a person to leave their SERVICE DOG anywhere.
4. If you can’t have the Service Dog at the party because of ____ then don’t tell the Service Dog handler, “Gosh I would but____.” People attached to Service Dogs have real feelings, telling them what they will miss only adds to feelings of isolation.
5. Don’t be rude enough to call the person after the holiday and tell them about the party to which “Gosh, I would have invited you but___,” There is enough isolation without having to relive it again and again.
It doesn’t help to hear every detail of your fun when I’m not invited.
Service Dog handlers are the “toy of the month.” – The thing that people love to see as if we are an interactive educational display. We often encounter people who talk baby talk to the dog, scold us for having a dog, or tell us how lucky we are to have a dog and then move on without asking a single thing about the human attached to the end of the leash, or maybe not even acknowledging there is a human at the end of the leash.
During the holidays Service Dog handlers have a hard time because we are treated like entertainment on the schedule at the mall, then we get home and have no text, no emails, no phone calls because, well we were good for a store display but THE DOG would just not be good at the party.
In closing let me give you a glimpse into my life without THE DOG:
I fell constantly, not even having enough balance to get down steps. Sometimes I needed two people to help me sit or stand. When I was younger my family would carry me up steps that were too steep because there was no “disability access” back then, you just had to create your own IF you wanted to do anything “normal.”
Now, I have THE DOG, we move when we want to move, I go places and do things completely by myself. —All because THE DOG is able to provide things that mitigate my disability. Would I like to have more human contact? Maybe.
Would I like people to recognize me as a HUMAN and stop talking to THE DOG as if she is THEIR TOY. —ABSOLUTELY!
Would I change anything? YES! I would love to change people's attitudes about Service Dogs. I want people to understand that "the doggie" is a medical TOOL and NOT a toy!