Hi everyone! This is a text that was written by Andrée-Ann Blais, the representative of CHASAM-Paws, the organization that certifies my lovely service dog. I translated this text from its original Quebec French in order to share it to a wider audience. I really wanted to share this text to point out how damaging these questions can be, and how discriminatory they are. Because yes, I too have faced these kinds of questions as well (and I think most anyone with an invisible disability faces them)- even from medical professionals (!).
It’s a question that can appear plain and without consequences, but for the people who benefit from a service dog this question is displaced and contributes to making us feel inadequate.
A service dog is a medical prescription. It is placed on the same level as: and EpiPen, an antibiotic, an inhaler for asthma, an antidepressant, insulin, etc. You see, a service dog, it is not just something that people use as a commodity, to get attention, or just when we need it or when ‘it doesn’t disturb others’. To ask me if I am leaving my service dog at home is wounding, it makes us insecure and very anxious. To give you an idea, it is as anxiety-inducing for me as someone who realizes they forgot/lost their EpiPen somewhere.
First the argument of ‘I don’t want your dog to dirty my home’, ‘that it puts fur everywhere’ or ‘that it scratches the floor’ are silly arguments for us, users of service dogs. Simply because our dogs are washed more often than necessary. They do not live outside, they are brushed every week, we wipe their feet down when they are wet. My dog is more clean than the shoes that walk into your home! At the training school, we are taught to be respectful and courteous, we are ingrained with the importance of making it so that the dog disturbs the least amount as possible, dirties and breaks the last amount possible to ensure that the public has a positive experience with the presence of our service dog. Because in principle, as they are at work and wear a harness, no one can pet it, it will not get excited and will therefore lose very little fur. Arguments refuted.
Next comes the ‘I don’t want it to excite the children’. This is a shit argument in my opinion. My dog has 2 years of training in its body and 3 years of work under its belt. It is in harness, on leash, lying down under a table or a chair. It is breathing calmly and moves only if it’s necessary. It’s up to you to educate your children so they learn to control themselves around this kind of stimuli. It’s not up to us, the users of service dogs, to endure the hypothetical behaviors of your children. Teach them to be respectful, use this situation to teach them to be comfortable with the differences and needs of others. I am kind, I am approachable, it will make me immensely happy to help your children become good citizens.
Then there is the ‘there will be too many people’. Stupid arguments again. As written above, our service dogs are trained to take the least amount of place as possible. They are desensitized in crowds and in my opinion, it’s in that context that I need my service dog the most. In this context, to ask me to leave my dog at home, it’s like asking someone who is allergic to nuts to plunge their hands into a bag of nuts and to tell them that it will go well because they are with people that know them (ARGL, rotten argument!). Argument refuted.
At the training school, we are told that the majority of the above mentioned arguments, those very ones that you bring up when you invite me, are the same arguments that people use when they are uncomfortable with our difference, with our handicap. These arguments are sometimes used to camouflage a non-acknowledged shame or discomfort. Me, I totally assume who I am, I am proud of the person I have become and oh well if my service dog has contributed to it. I am not afraid of the questions that people might ask me about my dog. On the contrary, I am proud.
I am upset, I feel wounded. Did you know that what you do is discriminatory? In normal contexts, what you ask me to do, that is, to leave my dog at home, it’s a cause for complaint to the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la… But you are in my family, you are a friend of my family, you are my friend, you are a person that I respect, and I only ask to be the most like everyone one else and be appreciated, so I never say anything. I usually accept the compromise to not displease, to not cause discomfort and so that you keep loving me and inviting me. Our service dogs are an extension of ourselves, we are an indivisible whole. When you do not accept the presence of my service dog, you indirectly are not accepting my presence.
So I ask that you think twice before asking us “Are you coming with your dog?”. Because after all, you do not ask your friend to leave their insulin at home? Do not ask my to leave my service dog at home.
Andrée-Ann Blais, representative of the users of Chasam – PAWS