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I Want Others to See Me, Not Just My Service Dog

As a person with a psychiatric service dog (an eight pound Japanese Chin named Hestia), I am accustomed to getting stares, comments and questions from the general public. Luckily, I have been fairly stable since obtaining Hestia, so for the past two and a half years I’ve been able to smile and interact and educate the people that make themselves part of my day. When I’m feeling OK, I feel it is my duty and I even enjoy educating everyone I can about psychiatric service dogs.

Recently, however, I’ve been struggling a lot. I was struggling so much that I made an emergency appointment with my psychiatrist for a med change. I was unable to shower (which is pretty normal), but was also unable to brush my hair or my teeth. I could not manage a smile.

I sat in the waiting room of the psychiatrist’s office, barely able to manage being out in public. I had Hestia lying across my chest (providing deep pressure therapy, as trained) and I was hiding behind her. I looked as one good friend put it, “awful.” And I certainly wasn’t acting like I was well.

The door to the back opened up and another patient came out and smiled at Hestia. She then collected the person who accompanied her and they started to exit. As they reached the door, they stopped and started staring at us. Then they started pointing at us and whispering back and forth about us.

At first I tried to ignore it, but as they stayed there, pointing, whispering and staring, I became more and more uncomfortable. At the 15 second mark, I tried hiding behind Hestia even more. They still continued. Eventually after about a minute of me trying to hide from the stares I asked them, “Do you have a question?” They asked Hestia’s breed, then stood there and stared at me some more.

Finally they left.

I wish people would see the person behind the service dog. Had they looked at me and my body language, they probably would have been able to tell I was barely holding on at worst, and at best that I was having a bad day. If I am smiling at others, I feel that is an invitation for questions. But if I am having the worst day I’ve had in years, I don’t appreciate being treated like I am there for entertainment.

So next time you see a beautiful dog in an unexpected place, please don’t stare, whisper and point at the service dog team. Compliments are welcome, but if the person looks or acts like they are not able to have a conversation that moment, please don’t demand one.

I have included a picture of Hestia and me that was taken shortly after this incident occurred to show what these people had seen. I know Hestia is beautiful, but remember there is a person attached to every service dog and they may not be well enough, have time enough or feel like explaining their disabilities and answering questions about their service dog.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photo via contributor.