Cura and I have been together since 2009. We want to thank all of you who followed the early days as well as those who popped back on occasion during the long hiatus. Training was done, the days passed, and we were settling into our life together.
Fast forward: Cura is slowing down and a new member of the family is in training. On top of that, we are all busy with our new calling . . . Running the Training Department for Paws and Stripes. Join us on our journey!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why a Service Dog?

Since just before the first of the year, I have been working on making some adjustments in my life -- not New Year's Resolutions (I think I mentioned before that I don't really do those) -- but focusing my energies in different directions. The process involves several meetings/interviews with various people to determine the best direction to proceed. This past week, I met with a couple of different (new) individuals and spent quite a bit of time answering tons of questions. Not exactly my favorite thing -- carrying on conversations about myself with people who I have just met -- in fact I find these things very uncomfortable. But, I survived and am moving forward with the process.

And why am I sharing this? Well, each time, the conversation inevitably came around to the topic of my having a Service Dog . . . how did I come to have one, what does she do for me, how long have I had her . . . those types of things. All of these are questions that I have encountered on a number of occasions and have gotten pretty good at fielding. I was under the mistaken impression that I had encountered all the different questions that would come up -- maybe worded differently -- but essentially the same thing. Well, I was taken by surprise . . .

When I explained that one of the things that Cura helped me with was my balance, I was asked why I hadn't just gotten a cane . . . or maybe it was had I ever thought of getting a cane instead. I honestly don't really remember the exact wording. It is hard to explain all of the emotions that I felt when I heard the question (and there were a lot of them) -- but it definitely left me speechless. I mean, how does one answer that question in a way that makes sense to a person who would compare Cura's value to me with a cane? I must confess, that when I finally found the words, they sounded very clinical -- pointing out the things that Cura did that I would not be able to accomplish with a cane. But I found the question pretty offensive. Cura may be placed in the same category, legally, as things like canes and wheelchairs, but she is not some inanimate object to be leaned or parked in a corner someplace when not in use! Not to mention that she does so much more for me than any of those things could.  ***I realized when re-reading this before posting, that the statement about Cura not being put in a corner "when not in use" was not exactly accurate . . . she is frequently lying nearby, out of the way, when we are out and about - and sometimes it is in a corner.  The difference is that she is always on duty in those instances, ready to step up and help when asked (and sometimes without being asked).  But hopefully everyone gets the point I was trying to make.***

I honestly thought that the most disturbing question I would ever encounter was some version of "What is wrong with you, why do you need a Service Dog?" You know, the one where some stranger feels they have the right to ask for and receive a run down of my personal medical condition(s). The one where they expect me to justify my need for a Service Dog . . . oh, and then they play the "I didn't mean to offend you" card when I politely inform them that it is not appropriate/polite to ask a person that question (Gotta LOVE that!). Anticipating this invasion of my privacy, I have tried out various responses to date, some more comfortable and successful than others. But, this last week showed me that there were other disturbing questions that could -- and would -- be asked. To date, the most disturbing question that I have been asked infers that a lovely, generous creature, both dedicated to and successful in improving my life, is no different than an inanimate piece of medical equipment!

Please, if you are a person without a Service Dog that is reading this blog, try to remember that not everyone wishes to share their personal medical history with a stranger -- be honest, would you? (very seldom am I offended if someone asks nicely, it is simply none of their business!) More importantly from my perspective, our Service Dogs are both physically and emotionally important to our daily life. That means that -- despite what the law says -- instead of seeing them as a piece of medical equipment, we frequently see them as a new lease on life. They open doors for us that were previously closed or difficult to navigate. No matter how successful I have been in maintaining an outward picture of calm and comfort in many situations, that is all it is -- a picture. The reality was (and, to some extent, still is) very different. But Cura makes all that easier -- respect her, and me, for it.

Please, think before you speak or ask a question -- if you honestly would not mind being spoken to in such a way or asked such a question . . . well, fair enough (though I hope you will be open to the reality that your comfort zone may be different from others), but if you would rather not be spoken to in such a way or would not like to answer such a question -- don't expect another person to be comfortable either.