I didn’t realize it when I woke up yesterday, but I was going to be on the news by the end of the day. Don’t worry, it wasn’t for something scary or stupid. I guess an old friend from school ended up talking to a reporter about the problem of disservice dogs and how businesses don’t know what to do. When the reporter asked him for a local person with a service dog, he thought of me, and so it went.
It all came together pretty quickly, from “Would you be ok talking to a reporter about this?” to “Where do you work? I’ll meet you in an hour!” I was a very nervous human being, super afraid I was going to be misquoted, or say something that could be taken out of context.
Here is the resulting report. I babbled and rambled at her a while, so I’m glad she got at least a good line. I apparently looked fit to be on camera too, which is reassuring, since the wind blew my hair all crazy when I first arrived outside.
I feel like they threw this together quickly, and for the time they gave it, they did the best they could. I almost wish they could turn this into a series because this report barely scratched the surface of the issue, but they won’t. I also know this came together quickly because the reporter doesn’t know a heck of a lot about service dogs. The first thing she did was try to greet Tansy. She respected me when I said no, but the fact is she greeted her, which is a short leap from trying to pet her.
I wish I had been more articulate in my rambles because I have so much to say but it won’t come out in a controlled manner. There are so many parts to this. Fake service dogs have the potential to cause damage to legitimate service dogs either indirectly or directly. They can cause harm by making business owners worried about having dogs in their establishments because one of the fakes behaved badly or peed or crapped on the floor. Or, a fake service dog that isn’t well-socialized might attack a real service dog simply because they are sharing the same space. These fakes are being stressed out by being put in this situation, and their owners have no idea what harm they’re causing.
Also, I’m afraid that the pendulum of acceptance of service animals might swing in the opposite direction. After the initial fight to prove that service dogs can be in public spaces, people became very accepting of them, and if they made a mistake or did something mildly inappropriate like sniff someone in a moment of weakness, most people didn’t say much because most often, the dog’s behaviour was excellent. Now, I’m afraid that if my dog commits an infraction at all, we may reach a point where her legitimacy may be questioned. I’m not saying that I let her get away with murder because I can and those days will be gone, but I’m saying that because of the fakes, we will be under a microscope even more than we already are.
I wish they had offered some actual pointers to business owners instead of the message of “there are fakes, what are ya gonna do about it?” I guess they mentioned that actual service dogs don’t bark and run around unleashed and such, but there wasn’t anything beyond that. After I tweeted out the news report, a friend asked what would be a polite question to ask. The ones I thought of resembled the ones recommended by the ADA in the states. Is the dog a service dog? What tasks has the dog been trained to do to help with a disability? To be brief, you could ask the person what the dog does for them. Then the person can talk about the dog’s job instead of having to talk about their disability and medical condition. Hopefully this would also work for people with invisible disabilities so they don’t get the embarrassing comments like “You don’t look disabled, why do you have a service dog?” I think anyone who has a canine walking along beside them should have a response to the question of what their dog does that preserves their dignity at the ready because there are going to be questions. It is inevitable. It is something service dog handlers have to accept as soon as we decide to become service dog handlers. Also, the answer can’t be “He makes me feel good.” I know there are actual tasks that some dogs do to help with anxiety, but the handler should say what the dog actively does to help ease stress, such as watching out for people coming around corners or helping the person find an exit from a crowded room if they get overwhelmed. If business owners learn how to differentiate the good answers from the crap, and only ask when they’re not so sure, I think this might help. Finally, business owners need to know that, whether the service dog is legitimate or not, if it’s behaving badly, dog and handler can be given the boot. I always joke that even if I’m allowed to shop anywhere I choose, as soon as I start punching people and defiling or stealing property, I would be escorted out post haste.
It would also prevent a situation that happened to me at Walmart last summer. I walked into the store, and was immediately told that there was a pit bull in the store and that I should go wait at the courtesy desk or they should get my items for me. I asked if it seemed like the pit bull-like dog was a service dog, who knows if it was actually a pit bull, and they said no. I asked if they allow pets in the store, because if they don’t, pit bull and owner should be asked to leave. Their response was they don’t feel like they can ask anyone to leave. I was ushered to courtesy and asked what I came for, but I had a rather complicated list. I eventually persuaded someone to go with me and keep an eye out for the dog. I knew I was taking a big risk, but I felt I shouldn’t be treated like a second-class citizen while this person, who they couldn’t even locate, was wandering through the store. Who knows how long I would have been standing in the courtesy area? We got through the store just fine, but the point is that staff at Walmart had no idea how to handle the situation, except to put hands over ears and go “La la la la, everything will be fine if we just put our heads in the sand and hope for the best.”
I didn’t like the final line about how people are going to develop a licensing standard and people have to prove they need a service dog. Hmmm. That sounds a lot like this proposed service dog standards garbage that won’t do anybody any favours. It also sounds a lot like a pendulum swinging the other way. Once again, legitimate service dog handlers will be the ones that will have to jump through more hoops than they already do.
I’m glad a story was done on this topic, and I’m glad I was part of it. I have had people I barely know say they saw it on the news, so it grabbed some attention for sure. I wish she had pronounced my name correctly though, especially since she had me say and spell it. Oh well, lots of people get my name wrong. I could think of way worse things to screw up. I hope it starts some kind of dialog with the right people so no group of handlers gets screwed by the outcome, and business owners don’t feel so powerless.