I haven’t written in a long time. I just haven’t felt like writing. I’ve been a bit on the depressed side of things, which actually isn’t that terrible because it’s mild and at least it isn’t mania.
Yesterday I had an encounter that left me shaking and with my heart pounding. Despite what everyone may think and in spite of how outspoken I am, I do not relish confrontation.
If you are reading this, you likely know that I have Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and panic attacks and you likely already know that I have a psychiatric service dog, River, who helps with my anxiety and panic attacks. She goes pretty much everywhere with me and our partnership has been enormously helpful to my mental health.
Last night, we had dinner and went to a movie with a dear friend of mine. While my friend was in line for concessions at the movie theater, I sat down on a bench to wait. A woman with her two children walked past and said something along the lines of “Oh doggie, you’re so pretty!” at which point I said “Leave it, River” to get River to refocus back onto me.
The woman said “Oh. Excuse me….is that a guard dog?” I said “No, she is a service animal.” She said, “Oh my friend has one of those, she takes her to the hospital to help people.” I said “That actually sounds more like a therapy dog,” and she asked “What’s the difference?” I replied “Well, a therapy dog goes to places like hospitals and nursing homes and serves many people. A service dog serves one person who has a disability.” Everything was fine up until this point. I usually don’t mind answering questions about River, but the next question she asked and the way she reacted when I responded left me deeply uncomfortable.
Her: “What’s your disability?”
Me: “I’m sorry, but that’s actually pretty rude to ask.” (At this point, people usually say, “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t realize” and I say “That’s okay. Thank you for understanding.”)
Her: “No it isn’t. I have a disability. I had a brain tumor.”
Me: “I’m sorry but that’s still pretty rude.”
Her: “No, it’s rude of you to say that.”
Me: “It isn’t my responsibility to educate you and I don’t owe you an explanation about my health.”
Her: “Well it isn’t my responsibility to educate you on how to be polite!”
At which point I walked away.
Let me say this really loud for the people in the back: YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO SOMEONE ELSE’S PRIVATE HEALTH INFORMATION. If they want to share it with you, that’s fine. If they don’t, it’s really none of your business in the first place. It is incredibly rude to ask someone “what’s your disability” as it implies that a)the person asking is entitled to know, b) you owe them some type of explanation, and c)your privacy doesn’t matter. A business is only allowed to ask two questions about a service dog to the handler: 1) Is that a service dog required because of a disability? 2) What tasks does he/she perform? Unfortunately, uneducated people everywhere think they are entitled to ask any question they want, regardless of how invasive or personal it is.
I’m usually very open about my mental illness. If people ask things like “why do you have [River]” I usually respond “she’s a psychiatric service dog.” If they ask what she does I sometimes will tell them “she helps with my anxiety” depending on how my anxiety is in that current moment and how my day is going. Sometimes I will even explain how she does Deep Pressure Therapy, grounding, and blocking for me. I’m fine with volunteering information when I feel safe doing so. I am NOT fine with someone acting as though she is entitled to my private health information.
So here’s a Pro Tip: Don’t ask questions like “what’s your disability?” , “why do you have a service dog?” , “what’s wrong with you?”, or say things like “I wish I could take my dog everywhere with me.” The first three are just rude and the last one is incredibly insensitive. I always want to say, “Really? You wish that you were so disabled that medication and therapy weren’t enough and you had to take your dog everywhere with you just to function?” So far I’ve never actually said that because I genuinely don’t want to be rude to people, but I think it every single time someone tells me they wish they had a service dog.
If you need a refresher on service dog etiquette, check out this article I wrote by clicking here.
When in doubt, be kind and don’t ask invasive questions.