I’ve had Charley for almost two months now. For over two years I had waited for March 23rd, 2017. I had a gender reveal on Instagram. She’s watching me write this blog post right now.
I knew it wasn’t going to be all cuddles and kisses…but it wasn’t until I got her that I realized just how uneducated people are…not only in regards to epilepsy, but to all invisible diseases and the responsibilities and tasks that vary between service dogs, emotional/therapy animals, and pets with vests.
I love Charley, but since she goes everywhere with me, I’ve answered some pretty ridiculous questions, and I’m not one to call most questions ridiculous. According to ADA laws, I’m only obligated to answer two questions, “1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.”
Despite the intrusive nature of some questions I’ve received, I’ve yet to come up with a polite way to decline and continue on with a conversation. Here are some of the questions I’ve encountered:
- Where did you buy the jacket (vest) for your dog? I want to get one for my dogs. This one made me really sad. When people buy vests so they can take their pets with them into establishments, it’s like a smack in the face. It delegitimizes the seriousness of someone’s disease-whether that be physical, emotional, or both. A vest used to carry a certain weight. That weight has been replaced with distrust and has raised a plethora of questions, and no one is fact-checking answers:
- Do you have to take her everywhere?
- Are you training her?
- What does she do?
- How old is she?
- What breed is she?
- Can I pet her?
- *Pity smile*
- *Pets Charley*
By acquiring a service animal, you commit to prioritizing your health despite insecurities about having a dog with you. A dog wearing a vest can send either one of two messages: 1) You have a disability/illness 2) You are obsessed with your pet enough to pretend you have a legitimate need (to an extent that you feel comfortable with). When people are inconsistent with where they bring their dog, it gives the impression that it’s an option. Only nineteen states punish individuals for fake service dogs .
A few weeks ago, I was in a school office building returning rental stuff that I needed for a class. Out of an office bolted a small, barking dog, that was off-leash. I was supposed to take the handler’s word for it when she said it was a Pet Partner, an organization I had to research later. In Pullman, leash laws are required for all dogs when away from the owner’s private property. Service dogs get no special treatment in this area.
Since getting Charley, we have conquered some huge fears/transitions together. She’s adjusted to the classroom setting, my new workplace on campus, and my strange anxiety about taking her with me to the grocery store.
Life only screeches to a halt if we let change cripple us, which is easier than I’d like to admit. Don’t let silly questions become personal insults. And don’t let insecurities trap you in fear.