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When People Say I'm 'Lucky' Because I Can Take My Service Dog Everywhere

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As a guide dog handler in college I am often told, “I wish I could bring my dog with me to class!” or “You are so lucky you get to bring your dog to college!”

I realize that when people say these things to me they are not implying “Wow, you are so lucky to have a disability that requires the use of a service dog,” but instead are just thinking about how much they love and miss their dog.

Here’s the thing, it’s not lucky and it’s not a privilege. Sometimes it just plain sucks. Sometimes I wish that I could have the same level of independence without a guide dog. You are probably thinking, “Why would you ever not want to bring your dog?” Well, let me try to explain.

Would you want to bring your dog to a doctor’s appointment, job interview, or date and be asked more questions about your dog then yourself? Do you realize that having a service dog by your side means you may struggle to obtain or maintain a job because people question your ability to perform the needed tasks of the job?

Would you want to bring your dog if it meant being judged by people you encounter? What if it meant being asked the same four questions every 20 feet while trying to get one thing from the store? What if it meant that every time you walked into a room, everyone turned and stared at the girl and her dog? What if strangers regularly asked you “Why do you need that dog?” or said things like “You don’t look disabled,” after you answered their question?

Always having a dog by your side means you are sometimes the spectacle, the uncommon sight in Target that makes people screen in excitement from many aisles away. Or sometimes people say how “sorry” they feel for you.

How about not being taken seriously by some people because you have a disability? What if always having your dog meant wondering if you will be denied access each time you enter a business?

What many people don’t realize is that with a guide dog, there is no way to hide my disability. There is no waiting to self-disclose at a job interview or on a date. It means many times people ask your dog’s name and not yours. If you don’t allow people to interact with your dog in public, as many handlers don’t for safety reasons, it means having to tell small children that “No, sorry you can’t pet the super cute dog.”

You also probably don’t realize that we need to have that dog by our side. We have to take our dog with us everywhere because that’s the only way we can do certain things. We need our dog to alert us to sounds we cannot hear, guide us around obstacles we cannot see, alert us to seizures, low blood sugar, or a panic attack we have little control over, be a brace for us if we have fallen, and so much more. Our dog is not simply with us for fun.

So, until you have a disability that permits you to have your highly trained service dog accompany you everywhere you go, please don’t tell me how much you wish you could have your dog or how jealous you are of me. You want to bring your dog in public without the inconveniences, fears, and complexities that go along with having a disability, but that’s just not how it works.

Always having a dog by my side has also given me countless opportunities to educate the public on service dogs, blindness, and living with a disability. Although being a guide dog handler can be frustrating at times, I’d still never choose to go back to using a cane at this point in my life. There are so many more things I am able to do with a guide dog that I was not able to without one. I am more confident and hold my head higher knowing that my dog is by my side every step of the way.

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Originally published: October 19, 2016
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