I am so grateful for how supportive my friends and family have been since I first made the decision to train a service animal for myself. However, the journey has been exacting and there are always comments wherever we go which is expected. Although something I did not anticipate was the lack of understanding from the people I encounter daily in public. I have heard the phrases: "You look perfectly fine to me. What's wrong with you that requires having a service dog?" And "If I put a vest on my dog, will they know he's not really a service dog?" And the worst possible one: "Wow, where can I go register my dog?!" Not only is it disrespectful to ask someone why they need a service animal, but why is it anyone else's business?
Fundamentally, the question being asked is what my illness is and I'm not so sure anyone would want to publicly talk about their personal life, especially their illness, their daily challenge. People comment on my Instagram/Facebook photos or run into me and Saxon somewhere local and I do not think it is peculiar if I am not willing to disclose what is "wrong with me," as they ask verbatim. Next, in all probability, businesses will not be able to identify if a working dog is qualified but they will proceed to assume so if he/she is wearing a "service dog" vest. Sure, it sounds fun to take your pet dog out places but -- do you realize the harm you could be doing for people who have real service animals? When your un-qualified dog misbehaves in public while wearing that fake vest, it makes businesses more hesitant to allow real service animals that come in to help people with real life challenges and chronic illnesses.
Do not be egocentric, or selfish, and make it more common for real service dogs to experience public access issues only because you enjoy taking your dog out in public and he/she misbehaved. Lastly, I did not go "register" Saxon to be my service dog. Having a service animal or ESA (Emotional Support Animal: public access is NOT permitted) is something that is generally recommended by a doctor. I have also been asked: "So I can just go to the doctor, tell them I have depression, PTSD or something else wrong with me and they will prescribe me an ESA?" INCORRECT. The doctor must have been treating your medical issue for a prolonged period of time. It would be extremely ignorant to fake a condition when people struggle daily with these conditions and you're negligently throwing words around like "depression" and "anxiety," when you have never had to deal with the horrors that people with those invisible illnesses undergo every day. I want people to realize how much time and determination it took to be able to get Saxon where he is now and to be able to learn the skills that are required by the ADA laws.
However, it is hard to explain this matter that I am so passionate about to every person who comments such ridiculous phrases or asks these absurd questions. I know people see photos on my social media that make it look easy or fun to train a service dog. I will not deny that this experience has been enlightening as he is my first dog, rewarding to know his progress is because of me and thrilling when we work on a task for weeks and Saxon finally begins to do it himself. For all the people who have already informed me that you're trying to transform your dog into a working dog: I hope you realize that between all those photos Saxon and I are posting on social media, I'm making sure he stays hydrated in the Florida heat; I'm constantly making sure the pavement he walks on is not burning his paws, always finding a service animal dog walk in public places and tending to his needs at all times. Without him being happy, healthy and hydrated, he can not assure the same for me. With that being said, I also have a sense of yearning for people to realize that having a service animal does not mean they will have a cute little friend to take everywhere as their accessory; It is so much more than that.
If you can commit to these responsibilities, awesome! A numerous amount of people have already told me they're "certifying" their dogs and all for the wrong reasons such as: being able to take the dog on a plane for free, to theme parks, to their apartment who restricts their dog's breed, etc. This is a vast decision for both you and your prospect. Such a significant decision should not be decided because it would benefit you in the wrong ways - anything other than mental/physical health issues. Service animals are not a trend, but they are superheros in disguise to those who need them most.Me and Saxon at Quest Diagnostics, where I was getting blood drawn.