Have you ever considered putting on blackface to be an acceptable choice in this day and age?
What about monkey suits in reference to race?
Stereotypical indigenous or cultural clothing?
A KKK getup?
A straight jacket for fashion or humor?!
Acting “retarded”? (Cognitively delayed just would not smack you so hard in the face, so I went full offensive.)
Pretending to have military service when you have had none or pretending to have earned medals or awards you haven’t earned?
Dressing as famous criminal rapists, philanderers, abusers, and addicts for some costumed event?
Dressing as the victims of the above?
Do any of these seem like socially acceptable choices in our society in this day and age?
No. They don’t. We all know these are offensive and that doing them makes one a classless toad.
So why do people think it is okay to pretend to be disabled
~ breaking the law to do so ~
so they can justify parking where they are closest to the building or so they can bring their pet with them everywhere they go by claiming it is a service dog?
I have a service dog. She’s a little thing, a wire hair terrier mix. Some people think she looks like Toto but I think when she puts her ears out she looks like a house elf. That’s how she got her name:
Dobby Alohamora Butterbeer Lovegood
As a service dog, Dobby is viewed under the law as a piece of medical equipment, no different than my wheelchair, because she does for me medically what I am unable to do for myself:
She alerts to my postural orthostatic tachycardia (POTS) giving me enough time to sit or lay down so I don’t faint, hit my head on the pavement, and add a brain injury to the laundry list of things that are wrong.
She’s remarkable and I don’t understand what it is that she senses long before I do when something is happening but I do know that without her, if I am standing when I realize what is happening it is already too late and I’m about to hit the floor.
Doctors and nurses in the hospitals and clinics have seen how she will jump to the bed as my heart rate or blood pressure takes an odd turn and jump down to lay on the floor again when it stabilizes. When I’ve been in the hospital, she has stayed with me, keeping a close eye on what is happening with my heart. Here she was (below) the other day letting me know I was not allowed to go anywhere because of what she knew that the monitors were alerting the nursing staff to. She didn’t know they’d given me medicine to make my pulse and pressure drop significantly, just that things were haywire. She did her job: she alerted me and did what she was supposed to do to keep me safe.
Friends have seen her get increasingly upset when she’s alerting me in a restaurant and someone on the waitstaff is acting a fool and trying to tell me she isn’t allowed there. Stress, anxiety, and heightened emotions trigger my condition and so when people are confrontational about having a service dog, I sometimes feel like we have become a circus act because my condition flares and she does her thing. We might as well wear brightly colored tutus and garish makeup for the show. Even when I was in the classroom teaching, students and peers saw me suddenly find a seat and wait until she stops behaving differently before I move again because she knew what no one else could possibly know or see.
She is incredibly intelligent and intuitive. When she was trained on how to be a service dog beyond alerting for POTS, she didn’t get any training on mobility concerns. She is too small to be a mobility dog and at that time there was no way to know that I would need a wheelchair within a few years. Yet, after watching me work for one afternoon in my chair with another service dog, one who is trained for mobility, she knew exactly what to do to handle herself with the chair. People comment that she isn’t as cute and cuddly with me as she is when she is off the leash, out of the vest, and saying hello to everyone else ~ I always comment that she knows we have a working relationship.
She will sleep on the bed with me… only when she is alerting.
She will sit in my lap or on my legs… but just when she is alerting.
She will demand attention when things are starting to change so I know they are or when she is telling me she needs something.
She is brilliant and anyone who watches her for a few minutes usually begins to recognize her level of awareness. The more people watch her watching me the more they are able to read her signals without my ever having to explain to them what she is doing and why.
Yet people question if she is a real service dog when we come into view.
It’s obvious I am an amputee and am in a wheelchair. There’s no hiding it. While what she alerts me to is invisible, there is plenty that isn’t.
Yet we are questioned.
We go places and there are people with dogs in vests that are breeds usually associated with service dogs everywhere we go.
We see those dogs pull at their owners, try to come say hello, be sent to say hello, try to come play, lunge at Dobby, and sometimes even bark, snap, or growl at her.
Yet we are the ones that are questioned.
Strangers walk up all the time, whistling, making kissing noises, talking to her in one breath and in the next will be questioning me because she isn’t big and isn’t for mobility. What they don’t know is they are distracting her from doing her job when they try to get her attention and their curiosity mostly comes off as quite rude.
I understand that most people don’t know the law but I don’t understand the arrogance that makes them think they know more about disability rights and service dog access rights than a person who is disabled with one.
I know the law and I know it well. I know I’m well within my rights to have Dobby with me, nevertheless I find myself questioned constantly. I know what questions people may ask, what she is required to wear, and what I’m required to provide. I try to be courteous to people about such things but being constantly accosted by ignorance does get old.
Last week I was on the receiving end of a conversation with someone important at the facility I attend daily for physical therapy and amputee rehabilitation where he revealed that people were questioning this dog’s legitimacy and trying to get one or both of us kicked out. The same people that have seen hundreds of service dog’s with thousands of military men and women with complex polytrauma question me about my service dog because I have a disease they don’t understand. I keep explaining what she does and how she alerts, I have handed over packets of articles from medical journals explaining my disease, and I have answered until I’m exasperated and short with them what this disease is and what it looks like. I have gone well above and beyond what is required by law in my explanations yet they continued to pursue the issue to the point that the man at the top had to step in on my behalf!
They don’t see a dog that looks like the rest.
They don’t understand that not all dogs are trained for the same tasks.
They don’t know the law!
Fortunately, the man in charge understands the law and was kind enough to provide me a copy of the medical command policy about service dogs to add to the copy of the ADA service dog regulations I already carry with me so that I can be prepared when people question us.
So for your edification, dear readers, let me teach you about service dogs:
To qualify for a service dog, you MUST have a medical condition that qualifies under the law. If you do not, you’re putting on the disabled equivalent of blackface.
Emotional support and therapy dogs are different than a medically necessary service dog. If you claim your dog is a therapy dog for you because you are attached to one another, it’s dressing in a disabled monkey suit or playing at being “retarded” so you can have what you want.
These dogs are not pets. We love them, we pet them, we give them treats, but they are working for us to keep us safe and alive because our bodies do not function as they should and without them we can be injured or die. If your dog is not specially trained to do work you are unable to do for yourself but you put a vest on it and bring it places, you’re walking around with the equivalent of a disabled version of a KKK costume with a “colored only” sign.
Working dogs work. You don’t make kissy noises to a police dog, so don’t do it to ours. You are not supposed to acknowledge them or try to pet or get their attention when they are with us. Doing so stops them from doing what they are supposed to do: pay attention to their handler and keep them safe. I don’t care how cute you think the dog is, ignore it and let it do its job. Talking to my dog who is working is like trying to have a conversation with the secret service when they’re on duty, except they can arrest you and everyone will agree you’re an ass but if I say anything to you people generally agree that I’m the ass.
Oh it’s not a big deal, you say?! You gonna steal my wheelchair next so you can show off to your friends that you can do wheelies?! The wheelchair lets me be mobile and the dog keeps me from falling on the concrete, splitting my head open, and dying. It is a big deal.
That being said, if a service dog comes to you without their handler, they are doing their job in seeking human help for their handler who is having a medical crisis! Lassie is trying to tell you that Timmy fell in the well and when Lassie comes, please do, at this time, pay attention, follow, and be prepared to render aid or call 9-1-1!
Service dogs are legally allowed anyplace someone from the general public would be allowed as long as it is not a sterile environment: restaurants, theaters, stores, transportation, etc. Also we cannot be seated in a place away from others or segregated because there’s a tail wagger present. You don’t seat people of different races separately… Stop seating disabled people separately!
It doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t like dogs or someone is allergic ~ your allergy doesn’t trump my disability. My allergy to perfumes doesn’t keep you from wearing yours and my allergy to shellfish doesn’t keep people from enjoying sushi. My unnatural fear of obscenely long finger nails doesn’t mean you have to cut yours to be in the same space as me. My dog is medical equipment and she goes with me everywhere. You wouldn’t tell me to leave my wheelchair at home because you have a fear of the color red or have an allergy to the rubber used in the wheels or paint used on it, so stop expecting me to leave my other equipment at home.
They can be any breed or type of dog: pitbulls, terriers, mixes, retrievers, shepherds, mastiffs, whatever. Would you say only white people can be doctors or only men can be politicians?! No!! So stop thinking only golden retrievers and German shepherds can be service dogs!
You cannot ask me for any medical documentation or proof. But I will tell you what: you show me the results of your last STD screening, Pap smear, or prostate exam and I’ll show you my diagnosis paperwork explaining this disease.
If you love your dog and decide to buy a vest and a crock certificate online so that you can take your precious Fido with you everywhere but you do NOT have a qualifying condition and the dog DOES NOT do for you what you cannot do for yourself…
You are breaking the law!
You are pretending to be disabled.
You are making it more difficult for people like me with legitimate disabilities and legitimate service dogs to have access without being harassed.
And you should be ashamed.
There is nothing glamorous about being disabled.
There is nothing desirable about having to consider where you might go to dinner because most restaurants don’t actually have terribly accessible bathrooms and many places are inaccessible.
There’s nothing enjoyable about spending your life attached to medical equipment, even when it has a cute tail wagging all day, because it means that your body doesn’t function correctly.
There is nothing fun about having to ask for help getting things in the grocery store or being knocked over by someone careless.
There’s nothing exciting about almost being run over when people don’t see your chair in the parking lot or being screamed at and abused because you had no choice but to call the police for help when someone made the world a little bit more inaccessible than it already was for their convenience.
This life I lead as a disabled woman with visible and invisible disabilities is not a game or a joke.
It is not something to desire for yourself.
It is not something to play at when it is convenient for you.
I have a service dog.
Her name is Dobby.
Dobby has come to help.