Service Dogs and Parkinson’s at WPC 2013September 11, 2013
Turning Heads in MontrealOctober 13, 2013
My Parkinson’s diagnosis has thrown – heaved – perspective on my views of daily life. The irk-factor is one example. Degenerative disease, here: it takes more than a movie talker or airplane seat kicker to set me off.
When I do get annoyed, I clench. Jaw, fists, eyelids. It doesn’t happen often and when it does the yogi in me tries to breathe through it, let it go, talk it out. On occasion, I yell.
If annoyed moves into crazy-angry mode, I curl into a fetal position and cry. It takes something monstrous from daily life to get me there. Remember: Degenerative disease here. Incurable.
Well, I encountered my first service dog fake. Not only is it a challenge to type with my fingers curled, it’s hard to see the screen though this blur of tears.
I knew about them, heard stories. They clip a service dog vest purchased online onto the family pet. Service dog status gets Fido, Fifi or Fang out of being left home to chew on the furniture and into shows, restaurants, airplanes. I can think of an entire Scrabble board of words to describe someone who pretends to have a medical alert, physical disability or mental illness. I feel my entire body clenching at the utter lack of empathy, awareness, respect for a kid with a seizure-alert dog, a mom with MS, a soldier with PTSD.
Faking a service dog moves me directly to crazy-angry.
I needed only a few items at the local Market Basket. In fact, I think each one has already been consumed. But the moments of discovery, disgust keep replaying:
“Right,” I say to Sir Thomas and we turn and wheel the cart down the Coffee, Tea, Baking aisle. I smell cinnamon, morning blend. I can’t imagine all that he smells.
“Beautiful dog,” I hear about Sir Thomas. I stop and glance up. The stock clerk catches my eye before she looks at a woman’s further up by vanilla extract. The clerk smiles back at me and adds, “There’s a little one up there.”
I can see only the back of the woman but can tell she’s fumbling with whatever is in the front of her cart. Her purse? I see it move. The small dog is inside her purse. It growls.
I’m still stopped, standing beside neatly stacked boxes of lemon zinger. I hear yips, more growls. I can’t imagine what Tommy hears. But he doesn’t move.
The woman doesn’t move either, but for a quick turn of the head. In that moment, when her eyes land on the scene behind her of a woman and her service dog grocery shopping, the scene before me is clear.
She knows that I know. Her hands reach to hide the sides of the vest with the same stitched lettering as appears on Tommy’s vest. But her dog – her not-a-service dog – yips, growls and thrusts out from her attempted cover-up.
She keeps him from leaping out of the cart, mutters something to the stocker about how it would be easier if we weren’t all in the same aisle. The store clerk has turned her attention to her clipboard. The woman hesitates, waiting to see if I’ll oblige and turn around to make her life easier. Without a word, this lady-with-Parkinson’s (not to mention that stroke thing) remains by the tea, my well-behaved dog at my side, awaiting a clear path to that pound of coffee beans on my list.
Once we’re all in the car – groceries, Tommy and I – I wrap my hands around the steering wheel, squeezing it. I praise Tommy in the rear view mirror and tell him what good work he did. And then I fold. My head is on the steering wheel now as I cry into it.
If the stock clerk hadn’t been there, I’m thinking, hadn’t stood between us, hadn’t intercepted what might have been direct contact with a fraud, I might still be reaming out the imposter:
- Do you have any idea how hard this is, how much work it is to day-to-day in a life that needs a service dog?
- Do you seriously not notice the training difference? Do you ever go anywhere that the wait staff or shop owner says, “I didn’t even know there was a dog in here?”
- Do you honestly feel okay about duping the public with your fake vest? Did you for even a moment consider how much the dog and handler have earned the privilege of donning the words Service Dog? If you think you have, think again. Think in years. The training takes years.
- Do you have no sense of remorse for taking the support of stores such as the local Market Basket and tossing it in their face? Do you realize the damage you’re doing to those with legitimate service dogs when yours growls and snaps and gives store owners the right to ask you to leave?
- Do you actually have the ability to consider that you are not the only person in town? Or at least the universe?
- Do you truly believe that having Parkinson’s is worth it because I can take Tommy with me when I go out for ice cream?
Given the attempt to cover up when you saw the real thing, you at least know you were wrong. I can only hope – breathe – that your soul played a role. If it was only the desire not to get caught in your quick and easy (and illegal) trick then put some perspective into your scheme. You’ll need more than even a real service dog to get through the difficulties of daily life.