Crystle gives Holly the command to sit.
I was coming out of the grocery store one day and I had just arrived at my car. I had the trunk open and was about to load the first bag, when I noticed the elderly woman next to me staring at me while she put her bags in her car.
I looked back, not offended, just curious, at why I appeared so interesting to her. She noticed my expression, and explained herself.
She told me, cautiously, that she had been sort of watching me in the grocery store, and that she could not, for the life of her, figure out what my disability was. I took this as a compliment, and figured that Holly and I had developed real grace together. She followed her statement up with a question, “are you training the dog,” she asked. I explained that I was not, and that Holly was my service dog. Rather astounded, and quite befuddled, she continued to ask questions.
If she was my dog, she inquired, what was disability? Why did I need her? What did she do for me? How long did I have her? How was she trained?
Patiently, and one by one, I answered her questions. I explained politely that I am disabled, and that Holly picks things up, helps me do the laundry, tells me when there is a knock at the door, and alerts me to smoke alarms. I followed this rather generic answer up with the usual comment, “and much much more!”
But the woman did not seem satisfied. She clearly did not mean to pry, and each question was asked with a tone of respect and genuine interest, so I continued to educate her and was glad to do so.
I told her the story everyone with a NEADS dog tells at least a few times in their partnership: Holly was trained in prison for a year; yes, she is friendly; no, sorry, you can’t pat her right now; you can’t pat her because she’s working, and so on, and so on.
When the woman ran out of questions she looked at me with awe. I had nothing left to tell her, so I waited for her explanation. She said, “You just look so healthy. You look beautiful.” She said this over and over, waiting for my reply.
Holly wearing her working gear.
People have questioned my having Holly before, but not like this. I know my disability is not usually visible, especially to people who aren’t familiar with disabilities, but this woman wanted to learn. She was fascinated with the concept that there could be something different, very different, with someone and you just could not see it. She was not accusing or doubtful of me, she was just astonished. All I could say was that there are many faces with disabilities, some you can notice, and others are invisible.
She thanked me for my time and patience, and moved on a little wiser. She was from a different generation; one which was not educated in diversity like the current generations have been. Still, without knowing appropriate social etiquette, she did not offend me one bit. I have to tip my hat to her.
Given her enthusiasm, I have to think that she told her friends or family about our chat. I had been in a rush, and she might have been as well, but her stopping and taking that moment to learn was, and will always be worth my time, and appreciation. In five minutes, her curiosity and my patience could have opened many minds; I know it opened hers.
For more information on the etiquette of petting a working service dog, click here.
For more information on the rights of people who have a service dog, click here.