So, what is the best way to say, “I don’t really give a rat’s ass” while being polite?
I don’t like to think that I’m a rude person. Okay, yes, I can be snippy at times. But who isn’t? For example, I’m walking through a store with my service dog, Celeste, who is quite large and wears her vest and packs that state clearly, “DO NOT PET.” I see a small child, perhaps 2 or 3 years old, running and then they’ve draped themselves over her squealing “Doggie!” with endless delight. The parent peels their child off and apologizes profusely and I tell them that I understand that the child is too young to understand and that it’s okay and thank them for removing their child so Celeste can continue working. Later, an adult (you can choose the age if you like — I’ve had everything from freshly-minted 18-year-olds to senior citizens) will do what I call a “drive-by petting.” They come up behind me, begin to pet Celeste, and then walk around and try to get her to play with them. Obviously this person has a grasp of the English language because I can understand what they’re saying even if they sound like they’re babbling to a baby while saying it. They’ve obviously decided that the “DO NOT PET” badges do not apply to them. And Celeste, by now, is leaning hard against me to be sure that my attention is drawn to the person she’d love to get away from because they’re touching her.
At this point, I usually say in a stern voice, “Do NOT pet my service dog! She is working and you are putting us in danger.” Many times, the adult will then ask if it’s okay to pet her. I’m sure the expression that crosses my face isn’t pleasant, but I often end up stammering, “If I just said you couldn’t pet her, why on earth would you ask me now if you can?” Or, if the adult isn’t the offender but a child under that adult’s care who is certainly educated enough to read the three small words in large, bold, reflective type on her patches, I will usually say “Do NOT pet my dog” to the child and “Please remove your child” to the adult. After which, in either scenario, I’m usually the target of their fleeting comment, “Well, you don’t have to be so rude about it!” Occasionally the addition of a colorful metaphor that would make this posting rated over PG-13 is added to the statement, but we’ll leave that out for now.
I don’t believe I’m being rude. First of all, who in their right mind allows themselves or their child to wander up to an 85-pound dog they don’t know and start petting it? We’re not a display and it certainly does NOT say anywhere “PET ME NOW.” And secondly, when I point out that their distraction of my service dog can place me in danger because she might not be able to alert me as she’s been trained to do, what business is it of theirs to start grilling me with “What does she do?” or “What disability do you have?” Now who’s the rude person?
I understand that most people only think of service animals in the sense of guide dogs for the blind or assistance dogs for those who use wheelchairs. People don’t understand invisible disabilities and they don’t know that dogs are trained to help mitigate symptoms and alert for possible emergencies. It always makes me laugh when someone sees me with Celeste and tries to say something without me hearing it and I look directly at them. They just completely freak-out because they think I’m blind and have now embarrassed themselves.
But just because you think my dog is beautiful or you’re really fascinated by the fact that a service dog is walking around the local grocery store does not mean I really want to stand and listen to you babble on about every dog you’ve ever owned while my ice cream is melting. And I certainly don’t want to hear you say how lucky I am that I get to take my pet with me everywhere I go. She’s not a pet! She’s classified with the IRS as durable medical equipment and I can deduct her and her costs from my taxes!
Oh, and lucky? People think I’m lucky having her with me? True, I feel VERY fortunate to have her with me because she helps to mitigate the disabilities I have and I am much more functional than I was before I had her or any other service dog I’ve owned. But as far as being “lucky” because she can go anywhere with me — that’s absolutely not it. It’s not that she can go everywhere with me; it’s that she HAS to go everywhere with me. There are no more quick trips to the store to run-in-and-out while picking up something needed on the way home. I can’t even use the restroom without her being in the same stall, staring at me as if I’d just have used the tree I told her to use not 10 minutes before we wouldn’t be in this crowded, smelly place. She is a walking advertisement that I have a disability. No longer can I hide what ails me and pretend to be “normal” like everyone else. And for an agoraphobic person who really hates drawing attention to things like that, it’s not easy.
Yes, I hear some of you saying, “But you love attention! You’ve always loved attention from others!” There’s the kind I seek which makes me and the other person happy and the kind that causes panic attacks because I don’t want it and can’t deal with it.
So imagine you were given a large sign to wear around your neck that states any ailment or disability you have. If you wear glasses, you have a visual disability but people don’t point and stare because glasses are considered socially acceptable and not at all unusual. If you have hearing aids, people may see them but other than screeching at you as if they don’t work (which irritates me when I see people do that), people accept them and go on about their business. But now you have an invisible disability — autism, dyslexia, MS, etc. — that people can’t pick out from across the room. Or maybe you have odd habits or quirks that others might consider strange. Or perhaps you have a phobia or two that can cause everyday activities to become excruciating tasks — and you now have to wear a sign saying what it is (or what they, if you’re blessed with more than one, are). And you have to wear it everywhere, even to the restroom.
Or the sign doesn’t specifically say what the disability is, just that you have one or more. Would you enjoy it? Would you feel “lucky” to have that? Do you think you’d enjoy others asking questions to try and find out what your sign represents? Would you like everyone to tell you about how they have or know someone who has it while you’re trying just to get through the day or try to treat you as if you’re incapable of doing anything for yourself anymore? And, by the way, you also have to carry supplies for your sign to make sure that it’s well taken care of and doesn’t disturb other patrons of wherever you are.
I’m sure there will be plenty of other posts in the coming days/weeks/months that will ask and answer these questions. But for now, as a favor to me, please take a moment to learn a bit about service animals. And pass this article to your friends and family if you like. Because more and more people are now being able to be helped with service dogs — soldiers returning from combat with PTSD, autistic children in schools, hearing impaired, and those needing diabetes or seizure alerts — there will be an increase in their visibility in the general public. I personally don’t want others to have to go through what I’ve experienced. I want them to be able to have their service animal and feel they’re still a part of “normal” society instead of something at which to be stared.
Well, at least as “normal” as you can be when you have to carry a bag of poo with you until you find an outdoor trash can.