Service Animal

So. I lie. Usually by omission, but to be perfectly honest with myself I lie like a cheap rug (why is the rug always cheap in that analogy? does that make a difference in how it flops on the floor?) I have a service animal in training named Herbert. You may remember Herbert from various posts. Herbert pretty much ended up keeping me alive during the worst of my depression and when I went off the rails he kept me up and moving by performing various tasks such as nibbling my fingers to bring me out of my head and into the physical.  But then he did something else pretty darn cool, he began alerting to my blood sugars. If they are too high he sits on me.  Too low (or heading that way) he gets antsy as heck and basically annoying.  One of the lies I tell is that he “scratches my leg” when I am going low; I tell that lie because how to do you describe to someone that “he acts weird and I know what that means?”

The largest lie that I tell is that his primary purpose is that of a diabetic alert dog. Why? because it is so much easier than trying to explain to someone that you are a wee bit batshit insane and you need him to keep you from giving up on life completely athankyouverymuch. He works darn hard at being a diabetic alert dog and is at about 90% accuracy based on my training records; but I need him as a psychiatric service dog first and foremost (yes, it is a real thing that helps thousands of people. here is a site I joined that gives great information:   The reason I need him as a psychiatric service animal first and foremost is that I have a meter that tells me what my blood glucose level is…but there is no batshit insan’o’meter of which I am aware.

The other lie that keeps happening is the lie of omission; people see his “in training” patches and assume I am training him for other people’s needs.  I have helped train a few dogs in my time; it’s a decent gift I have (by gift I mean shit I studied and learned and practiced) and I often just let them assume they know what they think they know.
Sometimes, I even feel guilty because this little (50lb) brindled monster would be the perfect dog for a juvenile diabetic. He loves children like I love cake and is incredibly gentle with them and at the whopping age of 6 months old he has better manners than 90% of the trained adult dogs I have ever seen or worked with. He spends the day in the office with me without complaint or misbehavior, he has been on 4 airplanes and an extended hotel stay with no problems, and has made it through entire days of training where half of the class was trying to distract him and he ignored them.  He is, quite frankly, amazing. So I feel like a guilty lying whiny jackass when someone assumes he will be going to a juvenile diabetic.  The tiny juvenile inside me screams, “NO, MINE!!!” when I think of giving him up to someone who probably needs him more.  I am going to be selfish on this; I am not giving him away.  I really do need him.  He improves my life so much in the following ways:

  • When I am traveling for work my anxiety is vastly reduced by having him with me in the hotel room. I feel safer, less alone, and calmer.
  • You know when you are out of town you end up eating crap, then sleeping more in your hotel room?  With a dog you just cannot do that.  Well, you can eat crap but you need to give the dog some exercise because you just made him sit in a training room for 9 hours with you.  So, instead of laying there watching crappy tv you get up, you go for a long walk, you interact with the world. These things are critical to make me physically AND mentally healthier.

So, here’s what I am struggling with in regards to these lies:

  • Dogs are people attractors. People who like dogs always want to know anything and everything about a service dog because dogs are amazing. It doesn’t help that Herbert is a puppy, freakin’ adorable, friendly, and has an expressive face. The “in training” patches usually get me out of a lot of questions regarding what he is doing but sometimes people ask cringe-worthy questions like:
    • Is he for you? You don’t look sick?
    • What is wrong with you?
    • I understand that having a service animal is akin to being an advocate and trainer for people to learn about service animals, but holy crap, during a bad day when I am trying like hell to remember to breathe and that the world is not actually crumbling in around me; it just feels that way, the last thing you want to do is spend 25 minutes explaining a service animal to someone or defending my need to “look sick”.  (this was just a mild rant of mine; it is a real problem that I have to deal with–but for the most part I do okay)
  • My largest dilemma in regards to my lies is this: the stigma of major depressive disorder or any psychiatric disorder is an almost palpable thing. If you tell a stranger, co-worker, employer, or acquaintance (friends understand) that you are struggling with major depressive disorder and this dog is training to make sure you get up and out of bed in the morning as well as making sure you take your medications on time but he also has a convenient blood sugar alert going on. Well, I wouldn’t be “shunned” but I would be treated differently. My personal fears about how *I* will be treated just perpetuates the stigma and that causes me to be disappointed in myself.  That said, do I need to inform strangers of my mental/physical issues? The answer is no one should have to disclose to strangers, et al their medical or psychological problems.  But then it comes back around to dogs being an attractor for other dog lovers, and stewardship of a training program, and. and. and.

It’s a nasty circle, isn’t it?  I know, I have been stuck in it for a while.  Do I think lying is a good thing?  No, and you cannot convince me that it is a good thing. Do I think it is MY personal best option at the moment?  Yes, yes I do.

Obviously I could default to a “I’m sorry, I don’t discuss my medical issues with strangers” policy. And sometimes I do. But in most cases I have had that be taken as a defensive slap to the wrist and then the other party is hurt or offended. I know that their hurt is not my responsibility; but if they are coming to me from a positive place of really wanting information; I share. And during that time I try to gently remind them of the golden rules of service dog etiquette (and general good human behavior):

  • it is not nice to ask a stranger about their health issues
    • I’m happy you don’t think I look sick; it is still not a nice statement.
  • ALWAYS ask if you can approach/interact with a service dog BEFORE  approaching/interacting with them.
    • Herbert has a release command to make friends; it does not hinder his service to me in any way. Some service dogs are trained to body block to keep people away from their handler (specific example: this is common training for PTSD sufferers service animals). To interact with that dog would detract from its duties to his handler.

There are a bajillion more things I could share on this topic; but I’m wiped the crap out.

Love y’all,



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