When a Man Questioned My Son's Need for a Service Dog

In an attempt to escape the witching hour, I had the hair-brained idea to pack up the kids in the car and spoil dinner with a sweet treat. My husband was working late and I was desperate to win some smiles with ice cream. When we arrived at our favorite ice cream joint, I unbuckled the baby and helped the older two out of the car, then attached Bruce, my son’s service dog, to my belt. We opened the old door and were welcomed by a ding of a bell and a never ending list of ice cream flavors scrolled out in chalk. As I lifted child after child to peek into the glass and pick their flavor, I was startled by a man’s voice behind me.

“Unless that’s a service dog, you need to get it out of here.”

I was taken back. All three children spun around to look at the man, then darted their eyes to me. I looked at Bruce, who was wearing a vest indicating he was a service animal, as well as a patch that read, “STOP! Do not distract. Do not pet.”

“He is a service dog,” I said quietly and confused.

“Oh, yeah? For what? What disability do we have today?” he responded gruffly.

My cheeks flushed. He legally cannot ask you that, I thought to myself. You don’t have to answer him.

“He’s a diabetic alert dog for my son.”

“Sure he is…” His tone was overwhelmingly skeptical. That’s when it hit me: He doesn’t believe me. He thinks I’m lying. He sees this beautiful 5-year-old boy standing in front of him and he’s calling bullsh*t.

I spun back around to look back at the display case of ice cream, ignoring him and holding back tears. I felt judged. A stranger was attempting to invalidate my son’s need for a service animal, and I could barely breathe.

The man walked back to the corner of the shop, sat down and watched us. We ordered, gathered our cones, and found a table. I commanded Bruce “under” and he quietly tucked himself under the table and at his boy’s feet.

When my husband and I made the decision to invest in a service dog, we knew it would draw more attention to our family and to our son’s disease. We are stared at in restaurants and pointed at in grocery stores. People approach us out of curiosity and we almost always use these moments to connect, educate and spread awareness about type 1 diabetes and service dogs.

This was different. This was disease-blindness coupled with intolerance. This man did not see the need for a service animal for healthy-looking 5-year-old boy. But that’s not all he didn’t see…

We almost lost our son last summer when his blood sugar dropped dangerously low. It crashed so fast that the pricey piece of technology we bought failed to alert of a low. He did not see my son seize in the back of our car as I lunged over the backseat to stab him with a needle full of life-saving sugar.

He doesn’t see the bruises on little arms and legs from insulin pumps and glucose monitors.

He doesn’t see my 5-year-old patiently waiting while we weigh his food and count carbohydrates.

He doesn’t see the tears he cries when he feels different from his siblings and friends.

He also doesn’t see the relief in our faces or the tangible love we have for this animal. This dog saves my son’s life every single day.

Please. Look harder. We need you to see us. This is not a pet — this is a lifeline.

The author's son walking with his service dog

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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