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When People Say I'm 'So Lucky' to Have My Service Dog

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One of the most common things I hear during daily life as a service dog handler is “You’re so lucky!” When a person says this, they’re likely not thinking of the larger picture of the statement, just thinking of how much joy their own dog brings them at home, and how that joy must be constant every day. But what the person doesn’t realize is that I bring my dog everywhere out of a need, not a want.

Yes, I do love my dog – she brings me joy each day and helps me through the tough times at night when I can’t sleep. But on a bigger scale, she is the only reason I am able to function on a semi-regular level. She keeps me safe when I dissociate; she prevents me from hurting myself when my OCD spikes; she provides the stability I need to combat my anxiety and PTSD through her tasks. Before I had Sadie, I was not eating, sleeping, or able to leave my room for any amount of time without running the risk of coming back to reality 30 minutes later in the middle of the nearby woods.
I’m not lucky. I’m disabled.

For those who think having a service dog is not that much different than having a regular dog, here is a quick insight into the things I have to consider on a day to day basis. How long will we be out? Should I bring her water bowl or her treat bag? Does she need her head halter today? Should I risk going into the restaurant and arguing with the waitstaff over my rights again, or should I just wait until I’m home to eat? Is it too hot or too cold for her regular harness or should I get the lightweight one or add a sweater? What kinds of stores do I need to go into – factoring in questions and access problems, about how long should I expect to be out? Is that reasonable, both for myself and my dog?
And that is just dealing with her health and needs – the public is another story.

I face criticism because I am young with invisible disabilities. I have to deal with adults who seem to believe that my life story is public property because I have a service dog. Fly-by petters and people who will spend 10 minutes talking to Sadie without once acknowledging me are commonplace and make my life more anxious, which makes Sadie’s job more difficult. I have to consider the weather, the amount of time I will be out, the time of day I will be out, the people I will be with, the stores I will have to enter – it is not just taking your dog with you.

I’m not lucky. I sometimes feel like I’m living my life at the end of a leash.

While Sadie gives me great freedom and a sense of independence, I never forget for a second why I have her. I’m lucky that I was able to afford her and her training. I’m lucky I was able to find a dog who was suited to be a service dog. I’m lucky I’m in a place where I am able to owner train my dog.

But am I lucky that everywhere I go, people see Sadie before they see me, and I often feel second to my service dog? No.

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Originally published: January 5, 2017
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