Some of the most difficult parts of having an invisible disability and of handling a psychiatric service dog are dealing with the public's often judgemental eye. People ask what to us are very personal questions that had our dog been a seeing eye dog, it would be very different. People do not understand that one can have an invisible disability such as a psychiatric disability and that a service dog can be of help for that disability. The stigma is often painful to bear, and the fear of judgement or having to deal with a public access challenge is enough to make me want to stay home at times! A question like: "What does your dog do for you?" appears harmful enough... but many people do not understand the answers. Sometimes these questions get rather invasive and I would need to reply by asking the person about his/her private medical history in return. Most of the general public is not so willing to share these details of their lives... I am no different.
One thing we expect is that when we go into a public place that the employees there will treat us with the same dignity and respect that would be bestowed on the other customers. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.
Here is a story from a fellow service dog team about such a visit...
Sherman has been to the Petco near us multiple times, and has always been moderately well-behaved, but the store associate asked me why I was giving him commands (sit, stay, down) in the store. I explained to him that I needed Sherman for SD work. He asked, "what kind of work?" I replied, "Psychiatric." This is how he responded: "Oh, so you're retarded?" "NO!" I nearly screamed in his face. Instead I politely responded with "No, I have an anxiety disorder. That does not make me retarded. I'm training Sherman to help me out." "Well, I'm a dog trainer. I just think I should let you know that because of your disorder [the disgust in his voice was like nails on a chalkboard] you'll never be able to train a dog. You might as well give it up. Good luck though." Then he laughed in my face. People like that should be shot. His lack of everything: Tact, intelligence, EVERYTHING he was lacking just totally hurt me. I've never been laughed at before. 9 years of my mental illness and no one has laughed at me. Now I know how much it hurts...
About a week later, she writes back with the outcome of her horrifying Petco experience:
I recently called the manager of the store. He told me he was very sorry, and to come in right away. I came into Petco (Sherman and all) expecting an apology and a crappy coupon book. What I received however was so much better. Right when I got there, he kept apologizing over and over saying how truly sorry he was for this horrible misunderstanding. He petted Sherman and asked some questions, "What is he for exactly?" "How long have you been together?" "Wow. He's so well- behaved! Good Dog!" Needless to say, I was quite surprised. Then he brought out the employee to meet me. (We'll say his name was Rick) Rick walked over and said how very sorry he was. I thanked him, but said that no matter what he said, it wasn't going to make much of a difference, my mind was made up. He said he understood, and was being reprimanded appropriately. "I'm sorry, but unless you're getting fired for ignorance, there isn't an appropriate reprimand." I said. He said he was sorry and left. Then the manager looked at me and very frankly said, "Miss, I hope you know he is being fired. He has 2 days left."
I swear I could've just jumped for joy. I thanked the manager, and he said, "You know Miss... if there is anything that I deplore, it is an insult to the disabled community. I was appalled, and I'm so sorry. The last thing I was is to upset you. You've done some great work with this pup." He then said that I was welcome to as much as I wanted of the rawhide/treat bar (which is like a smorgasborg full of rawhide and flavored treats), so I snagged a few things, thanked him for being so cooperative and left.
Wow. I frankly was prepared to go starting a war, and it wasn't necessary. The manager was so polite and thoughtful, it was a shocking contrast to what I'd experienced the last visit.
Anyone who thinks that having a service dog must be so neat and great, let me tell you that most of the time it is true, that my dog (Rosie) is my little medical hero. However, there is nothing fun about access challenges and/or having to deal with opinionated, ignorant and closed-minded people on a regular basis. Imagine having a social phobia or Avoidant Personality Disorder and dealing with this everyday, day after day.
Having a service dog makes it so difficult to be invisible. For some of us, that is a very hard thing.
(I had a Petco dog trainer who wanted to teach my service dog how to sit and beg (among other useless tricks). I can teach your dog 101 tricks! How exactly does he think the sit and beg will go over the next time I eat out at a restaurant???)