Posted by: Luigi | July 17, 2013

Please ignore me!

Mum has been trying to be more social this year. She is trying to make some new friends and engage with the world a little more. But there is something holding her back…. me. I am very necessary for mum to function safely, but all people see is “the lady with the dog” they never bother to get to know who is on the other end of the leash.

Mum and I went to this festival over Easter. Lots of like minded folks go to this festival – its called ConFest. Mum was hoping to make some new friends there… its the type of place that most people seem to make friends at. However mum and I did not experience the welcoming, inclusive vibe this festival is renound for.  It was just like a 6 days of being in public like anywhere else. Everyone was interested in making friends with me – and as I was officially off duty most of the time I got lots of pats. Mum was hoping this would open the door for more meaningful conversations. But instead people loved on me, patted me and then went on their way. No one bothered to get to know mum as anyone but “The lady with the dog”…. It was all take, take, take and no one was giving back the energy mum was putting out. Towards the end of the festival mum spent a night crying in her tent to the sound of the drums around the fire circles wondering why she could not engage with all these people around her. She cuddled me close and cried into my fur and resolved to leave the festival the next morning even though we were scheduled to stay one extra day and volunteer to pack down the site.

We stopped trying for a while after that. Mum got so disheartened and has decided she probably will not return to the festival again.

Mum found this great story about what it is like for her to have me by her side all the time. It is not her writing – it is copied from here.

Let me try to tell you what using a service dog  has been like for me, using as an analogy something most everybody uses: shoes. You have a pair of shoes. They are the first shoes you have ever found that fit like they were made just for your feet and are really nice-looking shoes. In these shoes, you can go about your whole day and your feet and back and legs feel great and never get tired. In these shoes, you can conquer the whole damn world.

There’s just one problem with the shoes. They attract attention. The first couple of times people smiled at you and said “Nice shoes” it was pretty flattering, but then things started getting a little out of hand. People would stare at your shoes, wherever you went, in a way that made you feel like you were nothing but a way of displaying your wonderful shoes. People would approach you while you’re just trying to buy some milk at the store and get out and go home and expect you to tell them where you got the shoes, how the shoes are working out for you, and then listen to them tell you all about their favorite shoes. Disturbingly, some people will ask to touch your shoes. Sometimes they are still standing when they ask, but other times they are asking as they kneel down and reach out for your shoes. REALLY disturbingly, some people just lunge for your shoes without even asking. Once or twice, you’ve nearly tripped and fallen because someone was grabbing for your shoes. When you act alarmed that these people are trying to take your shoes away while you’re walking in them, people respond by being defensive and angry. Why would you be wearing such wonderful shoes, after all, if you didn’t want to let people touch them or you didn’t want to talk about them? Can’t you see how much they want to touch your fabulous shoes? Why are you being so mean by denying them something they want so much?

When you’re out and about, nobody talks to you about anything but your shoes. You might be in a class you’re really excited to take, because you want to meet other people who are interested in the subject matter, but the other students and the instructor just want to talk to you about your shoes. Even worse, they assume that your shoes are all you know about and act totally surprised when you speak up about things that are not shoe-related. When you ask for help in a shop, the person you’re talking to addresses your shoes rather than you. People say “good morning” to your shoes. People assume that you won’t be able to do things because you won’t want to get your shoes dirty, or you can’t do them because your shoes are not their idea of appropriate footwear for the activity, and they inform you of these exclusions as if you’re supposed to be grateful.

What you’re actually grateful for is the one or two people every day who treat you just like your shoes are nothing remarkable. You come to cherish the people who act as if they don’t even see your shoes. And despite the fact that you love your wonderful shoes, you begin to deeply, deeply wish you could find another pair of shoes that did not attract all this attention that worked for you, but no matter how many pairs you try on, you never can. You find some shoes that are kinda workable and sometimes you wear those just to avoid all the problems with your favorite shoes, even though you know that by the end of the day your feet and legs and back will be aching. After enough painful days, you start feeling pretty bitter towards all the people who make your life so much harder when you’re wearing your favorite shoes, because if they’d just be polite, it would make such a huge difference to you.

So what should you do when you see wonderful shoes a service dog and its handler? The answer is easy: ignore the dog. No matter how much you want to talk about the dog, touch the dog, ask the dog’s handler questions about the dog, tell the dog’s handler about your own dog — don’t. Treat the handler exactly like you are busy treating all the people in the world who do not have dogs with them. If you have a customer service job, or you actually need (not just want) to approach the dog handler, speak to the person, not the dog. Ignore the dog, no matter how hard it is for you. A service dog is not “just” a dog, to its handler it’s a trusted partner and a vital part of what its handler needs to get through the world. Remember too that service dog handlers deserve privacy about their medical issues just as much as everyone else, and asking “Why do you have the dog?” or “what does the dog do for you?” is exactly like asking “So, will you tell me about all your medical problems?” (i.e. none of your business).

Maybe if you get to know who is on the other side of the leash you would be surprised to learn that there is much much more to mum then just being “the dog lady”.

So much more then just a lady and her dog.

So much more then just a lady and her dog.

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Responses

  1. Hey Luigi, after reading your blog I got thinking, sometimes when you first meet someone it is hard to think of conversation starters but a cute dog is a great way to start a conversation. Perhaps all the people coming to give you pats and say hello to you thought they had made the first step of trying to get to know your mum by acknowledging you first. I’m sure they would have loved to get to know your mum and become friends with her but perhaps they thought your mum wasn’t interested in making friends with them and that is why they walked away. It sounds like a lot of people were making the first move to engage in conversing with you mum but perhaps they left because it was reciprocated. Did your mum ask those people that approached her questions about them? I felt sad to read that your mum had such a bad time at festival that she had been looking forward to. Sending big hugs and warm energy her way!!

    • At this festival mum decided to try to use me as an “ice breaker” and left me off duty most of the time so I could interact with people and get pats and be a bit of a conversation starter. Mum is terribly shy and a bit socially aquward but she really was trying her very best to make friends. But once people got what they wanted – interaction with me and answers for their curiosity they soon walked away.

  2. Dear Luigi’s Mum,

    I feel very sad, reading how you were treated at the festival — a time you were looking forward to. The people you met, the ones who didn’t try to get to know you, are the big losers.

    I very much appreciate your writing about your experience and sharing the story you found. Blogs help to increase awareness — and increasing awareness will bring about behaviour change.

    • Thank you Kath.

  3. Luigi Lovely as You Might be Your Mum Is Far More Fun. I hope People Ignore You More Often.. lip glosss adict.

  4. Dear Luigi’s Mom, so sorry that you did not have a good time. I myself have been guilty of remembering everything about someone’s dog and very little about the owner. As an Iggy owner I am upstaged by his awesomeness all the time. I belong to the local Kennel Club so I can hang out with like minded people. My coworkers think I am the crazy dog lady and I am okay with that. I hope you can find a group of people that treat you with love and respect.

    • Thank you Jan. We will keep looking I guess for the right group of people for us to hang out with.


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