Consider this the sequel to the last article I posted. Crazy. Part One. was about the nutso things that people say to me just for having a disability. Brace yourselves, folks, because this one brings in a whole new level of crazy. Dog People Crazy.
Like it or not, dog people are whacko. I’m a dog lady. I totally get it. We see those fluffy, furry, sweet bundles of doggy love and we forget our manners. But there’s manner-forgetting within reason, and then there’s totally-insane-what-planet-are-you-from behavior.
If you haven’t read Crazy. Part One. yet, go do that before you continue.
If you’ve already read it, read on and enjoy.
I was at work one day when a customer called me over to him:
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” [I'm anticipating a question related to the products.]
“This might sound weird, but…can you, like…see me?”
[Oh Gosh. This guy thinks he's Harry Potter. Please tell me that you get the reference.] “Can I see you?”
“Yeah, like, I mean…You’re not blind? Guide dogs are for blind people.” [Gestures at Bright.]
“…Can I help you find anything?”
I referred to this in my article Fake, but it’s too good to leave out of this one.
“Awe, your dog is so cute and cuddly. I’ve always wanted a dog I could take everywhere. Do you know where I can get one of those vests?”
“That’s illegal. A dog has to be highly trained and so does the handler in order for it to be considered a Service Dog.”
“Ah yeah, but I have a German Shepherd named Fluffy, and he’s really good. I take him all kinds of places. He just needs a vest so I can take him to hotels and restaurants and stuff. It’s not fair that you get to have all the fun and take your dog wherever you want.”
“None of that changes the fact that it’s illegal.”
Like I said in Fake, the desire to have a buddy is not covered by the ADA.
The Handler is Invisible
“Hi Bright! How are you today?”
“Oh, Bright…so good to see you!”
“Oh hello, Puppy! What’s your name?”
“Pretty Puppy, how old are you?”
“Brighty Bright, our favorite dog!”
“Bright, you are so cute!”
“Oh, Bright, why do you always look so sad?”
When people talk to Bright without acknowledging me, it’s weird. It’s really weird. It’s even weirder if they ask her a question. Am I supposed to answer in my best muppet Bright voice? “Well, thank you for asking, Sir. I’m very well. And how are you?” [You have permission to imagine me doing that.] If I don’t say anything, do I look like a jerk? If I answer for Bright, do I look like a nut case?
[Approaches my co-worker and points at me.] “What’s going on…here?”
“This – is there some kind of exhibition happening today?”
“Them.” [Gestures at me.]
“Uh…no…that’s Alex and she works here, and her dog helps her get around.”
“Oh, well, that’s nice.”
[Approaches me with a stroller, positions it next to me, takes out a camera, and finally realizes I'm looking uncomfortable.] “Oh – she [gestures at the baby in the stroller] loves dogs. I’d like to take a photo.”
“Um, I’d prefer not. I’m working.”
“Oh. Well, then. I see.” [Storms off.]
If you think that’s weird, I should keep a tally of the number of people that pull out their cameras and snap pictures of Bright and me. It’s like being a celebrity without the benefit of being rich…or famous…or…anything that a celebrity is.
Playing it Cool
Some people think it’s flattering to say that I don’t look disabled…whatever that means. Do they mean I don’t appear to have an intellectual disability? Is that the definition of disability? And is that such a negative thing that people feel they need to excuse me from the label? Whatever the case, my having a dog seems to give people an excuse to bring it up.
“What do you need those [meaning my wheelchair and my dog] for?”
“I have a disability. I need the assistance with mobility.”
“Hmf. You look pretty normal to me.”
“That dog is so beautiful. I feel so bad for him.”
“Her. And why do you feel bad?”
“Well, he never gets to be a dog. He just has to lay here all day.”
“She gets a whole lot more attention than any dog that sits around home alone all day.”
“I don’t know – I don’t like people making dogs work.”
People with disabilities and Service Dogs have feelings, too.
I like to laugh about the silliness, thoughtlessness, and insensitivity that comes across in the things people say, but honestly, it’s not always funny. One time, a lady asked me a bunch of questions about Bright and my disability, then told me that a few years ago she broke her foot, and she wanted to tell everyone she came in contact with what had happened. She actually thought that even though my disability was lifelong, I might have the same desire she did to constantly discuss and defend my medical needs.
In case that’s a widespread idea, she was wrong. I don’t mind answering questions like, “What breed is your dog?” or, “How does she help you?” I especially don’t mind if the questions are preceded with, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” When it comes to conversations with total strangers I’ll never see again, though, I’d almost always rather discuss the weather, common interests, or even [gag] sports than the ins and outs of my life with a disability.
The Bottom Line.
The things people say can be hilarious, but they can also be insensitive, hurtful, and sometimes just plain obnoxious. Bright’s fur only soaks so much of that mess up, so help us out and think long and hard about the implications of what you’re about to say before we have to try and decipher what you actually meant. [Or, as always, pass this article along to a nosy friend who needs some perspective.]