Yes, I really do have to answer that question on a pretty regular basis. Sometimes it’s even followed with, “She pulls you? Can’t you push yourself?”
Wait. Wait a darn minute.
In my sans-Bright moments, I’m often asked, “Don’t your arms get tired pushing your wheelchair all the time? Why don’t you have handles?”
So which is it? One half of the peanut gallery thinks I’m being lazy for using a dog for propulsion; the other half thinks I should get handles and let another human be responsible for my mobility.
Let’s go back to the word “need.” According to the dictionary, a need is “a thing that is wanted or required.” As far as requirement and necessity are concerned, all any of us needs on the most basic level is food, clothing, shelter from the elements, and occasionally, medical care. If we’re operating under this definition, I don’t need a service dog or a wheelchair or a new iPhone, because none of them are necessary to my survival.
But that’s not how we really define need, is it? We take pretty vast liberties with the concept, actually. Some of us need exactly 16 ounces of coffee every morning. Some of us need to replace the one of our 13 pairs of sneakers that’s recently bitten the dust. How could we possibly go on with only 12?
There’s a happy medium, though. Let’s base our definition of need on the thing’s impact on quality of life. Sure, I could survive without a wheelchair (oh gosh, please don’t tell my insurance company I said that). But I’d really only be surviving. My super lightweight, highly customized chair not only gets me from place to place, but it’s also pretty, so my confidence is higher than it would be if I was scooting around in a junker. My quality of life is improved exponentially because I have the equipment I need.
I need a Service Dog.
I could waive my right to autonomy and independence and let other people take care of me, but I’d rather do things myself. When doing a specific task takes too long or is too difficult for me to do on my own all the time, I have to consider what could make life easier. For me, the answer is a dog, who can perform many tasks, but also allows me to do things myself when I can.
Also, dogs are awesome and fun. Why would I choose to have an aid or a bunch of adaptive equipment when I can have a beautiful, snuggly beast at my side all the time?