So a lot of you probably just read that title and went okay so? But I encourage you to read why because I think it is important to admit when we are being hypocrites.
This topic started for a few reasons the main being this. The other night I decided to sit down and actually read the articles about my wedding photo and for some reason I decided it was a good idea to read comments. Spoiler? It was a really bad idea. I was looking to see if I could help anyone who had questions but I quickly realized three things. 1) The people with questions and personal stories will direct message you. 2) People in comment sections can be horribly mean. And 3) this was a very bad idea, but like a train wreck I couldn’t look away.
One of the comments that seemed to be a big theme was “this is an emotional support dog and not a real service dog”. For me those statements really hurt. I pride myself on following rules, knowing laws and making sure Bella is always well-behaved. I kept thinking these people don’t know me, they don’t know what I have been through to get me to where I am, and why are they acting like this when they don’t know the whole story.
Then a startling realization hit; while I don’t comment on posts, I sometimes think or say these exact things about other handlers, whom I do not know or know their stories. It’s a difficult thing to grasp. When you are constantly being questioned about your validity as a team, it is so easy to be defensive or do the exact same thing.
Lets take an example from my vacation. While I was in Las Vegas I encountered 3 “service dogs”, I do not know if they are real or not. But these 3 things lead me to call them out as fakers in a FB group I am apart of. The first dog nervous peed on the side-walk when he saw Bella, the second lunged and kept trying to “play” while making sounds that could be taking as both aggressive or not aggressive and the last dog saw Bella and would not stop barking but I couldn’t see if the handler tried correcting them. I was so frustrated that I vented to a group of people who I know go through similar situations all the time. I had a few people agree that they were fake Service dogs but then I had a few people in the group that I look up to say, what if they were in training (because two of the dogs where outside) and another reminded me that our dogs are not perfect and might have been having a bad day. At the time I thought, “maybe but probably not”.
Then the end of our vacation happened. We were at the airport waiting for our plane when Bella decided she was done and didn’t want to be a service dog at that moment. She was antsy and unfocused, she wasn’t listening to every command but I was stuck. I was in an airport thousand of miles from home; it wasn’t like I could just go home. So I did some of our remedies, I tried to keep her attention with bribes and walks and tried to keep her busy. As we were walking back from the bathroom, I saw another SD team. Bella saw them about half a second after me and got her “puppy play face” She pulled a little and acted like a regular dog. I was so embarrassed even though I don’t think the other girl even saw me. I kept thinking to myself, she never does that but that girl, right now, is probably posting to her FB group that we were fakers in the airport. It reminded me that even the best Service dogs have the occasional bad day too, just like people.
I felt awful but didn’t think much about this story after I got home because Bella rested and went back to normal. As I was online reading all the people who were calling us fakers who were abusing the system, I thought back to that day. When it comes to stories about service dogs on the news, it is so hard to know what is right and what is wrong.
We live in a country that has no registration or straightforward laws for service dogs which makes it easier to fake. But another issue is that to be honest the media doesn’t always know the right language to use regarding this topic. I have read other stories about teams and as soon as a reporter uses the term comfort or therapy dog I cringe inside and think, “great another fake”. As I was reading my stories I realized some people might read them and think the same thing. Not everyone out there knows the difference between service dog, therapy animal and emotional support animal; they also tend not to know that there is no registration for service dogs because there are so many sites that sound like legit SD registration sites. Because they do not know these things, they don’t understand that by interchanging the names to add pizzazz or adding terms like registered SD, they are actually changing the subject all together. When I would refer to Bella performing tasks, I’d have people simplify it to calming. That isn’t what she does but it is easier to say then the 52-word explanation of what she actually does.
Two good things came out of this; I had the chance to educate reporters that might write similar stories in the future and I also realized I am a hypocrite and need to stop being so judge mental when I don’t know the whole story. Side note: my parents are probably reading this thinking “Valerie, we have been telling you this for years” and my response? Sorry for not listening AKA “you were right”.
So here is what I have to say to my readers, the next time you read something on the Internet, really truly think before you decide to comment. Remember that some day you might be on the other side and really wish people wouldn’t say what they do because it can suck. Oh and also? It is okay to admit when you are being a hypocrite I promise you wont burst in to flames.
PS: to those concerned that it’s cruel to dress Bella up, please note that she actually likes her tutus and wears them on special occasions (like the time she was tinker-Bella for Halloween) and by likes them I mean she gets really excited to put them on and pranced around for people to admire her.