From “The Other End of the Leash (Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs)”
by Patricia B. McConnell, PhD
I have just started my studies with CATCH Canine Trainers Academy, and this book is part of my assigned reading. This paragraph on “social intimacy” jumped out at me and I would like to share it on behalf of companion animals, and service dogs in particular. Please forgive the paraphrasing, any errors in emphasis are completely my fault.
“…both species [dogs and humans] are always conscious of what level of closeness feels appropriate. How would you feel if, as an adult, you were expected to allow any stranger to grab your head and jam his face into yours?… Dogs [like humans] also vary in their reactions [to being touched]… So please keep in mind both the similarities and the differences between primates and canines when you see a cute dog walking down the street. Maybe, just maybe, you look to the dog like that pushy person at the party who gets too close too fast and makes you want to run away. Imagine if you were on a leash and couldn’t escape.”
I am delighted that more and more folks are asking before they pet my service dog, which I agree is an indescribably cute black Chihuahua. But I have too many encounters with people who just walk by and swipe at Buddy, exclaiming how adorable he is. It makes me want to pat them on the head, or more egregiously, do so to their child (which I would never do) to show them that their action is both aggressive and distracting to my dog.
My Buddy is on the social end of the spectrum, and when people ask I usually have no problem showing folks what a great ambassador for service animals he is, especially as he is very good with children. It gives me the opportunity to thank someone for approaching us appropriately, asking to pet my service dog, and allows me to show young children a safe way to introduce themselves to a new friend.
But, I have said this before and I will continue to repeat myself , some days Buddy and I just want to get three items from the grocery store and get home, without having to be an advocate down every aisle. Because I have an “invisible illness,” folks seem more comfortable approaching me and asking me questions about me, what’s “wrong” with me (uhm, nothing, I am not broken, I am disabled, thank you,) and what my service dog “does” for me. Again, there are many times I am willing to educate folks that perhaps they would not be comfortable were I to ask these same questions of them or their children, demanding answers, demanding they defend their use of a wheelchair or an oxygen tank in a public area. However, just because my service dog is not a German Shepherd or another more imposing breed does not give people the right to assume anything about me or my illness or my willingness to interact with total strangers.
My friends tell me repeatedly that I have “brought” this on myself for having a service dog. I know they mean well, but words like that make me cringe. I have a service dog because after suffering for more than four decades with PTSD, I (and my doctors) understand what an asset and a necessity Buddy is to my functioning in the world. I don’t want to live my life carrying a soapbox around.
Thanks for reading! (And yes, please ask questions and make comments, I welcome them in this forum) – Shari and Buddy
Waiting to pay at “ladies” apparel
I encounter three women
appalled to share a public restroom
with a transitioning person
declare “I would never share
a bathroom with a man.”
I hate myself as I say nothing.
I do not disclose my opinions
start a discussion on tolerance.
I have learned hate is more contagious
than sexual identity .
I have loved and lived with a man
“trapped inside a woman’s body”
know his fear were he to be “discovered”
using a men’s room.
I disappoint myself. I think of my lover
who has never forgiven me
for not defending his right
to be himself.
Shari Elizabeth Berk
Easter Monday, March 28, 2016
A reminder: I appreciate that my service dog is small and cute, but that doesn’t mean that he is not constantly being vigilant and working for me. No, he does not bite, and no, you should not distract him by speaking to him, calling out to him, or asking to pet him. All the time I spend educating you about the nature of my disability is time I am not attending to my own business and doing what I need to do for myself. Yes there is a time and a place for advocacy and educating the public about service dogs, but neither I nor Buddy are walking advertisements for service dogs and people with invisible disabilities. Thank you
So proud of Buddy. After Writer’s Group yesterday, I was speaking to the guest author when a Wayne County deputy sheriff walked up and started to stare at Buddy. I ignored him, but Buddy started to bark (three times) after about a two minute stare down. I stopped my conversation and asked the deputy what he wanted; he said “I’m just watching your dog.” I replied, “No, you’re staring at him.” Deputy: “Yeah. Wanted to see what he would do.” Me: “He’s alerting me that you are staring at him and me. That’s his job. He maintains vigilance to strangers. I have PTSD and his job is to keep me safe from potential predators. Have you completed your test, b/c you are distracting my service dog.” Deputy says nothing. We ended up chatting, but I was annoyed that I was (once again) a guinea pig and more annoyed that it was an officer of the law I was educating this time.