Yesterday we picked Pixie up from the trainer who has spent the week with her perfecting obedience and behavior in public, as well as introducing retrieving. In a few months, she will start protection training because as a physically disabled woman I am twice as likely to become the victim of violence and ignoring that fact is foolish. Anyway, we met the trainer at the food court in the mall and while we sat at a table talking about her progress and where to take her training from there, two women and a young man approached and began talking to me. The woman who did most of the talking spoke in a slow, slightly raised voice, the way people do when they assume my calendar age doesn’t match my intellect. This happens a lot, so much so that I rarely bother to correct the assumption because it almost never makes a difference. Also, the reason for this particular woman’s actions was quite apparent. The young man with her was her son, and it was immediately obvious to me that he was also disabled, possibly affected by a variation of Cerebral Palsy. So here I am internally gritting my teeth as she continues to talk to me in that sing-song tone reserved for small children when she did something I wasn’t expecting from a fellow member of the disabled community. She asked me my dog’s name, and, the second after I told her, reached down and started petting her. She was clearly wearing a vest which reads: WORKING DOG Do Not Pet. I am all to used to this kind of behavior from the able-bodied people we run into but never from somebody who has a disabled family member. I feel more and more like a broken record every day but I will say it again, United States federal law states that interfering with or harming a service animal is a felony offense punishable by a fine of as much as a $5,000 dollar fine and possible prison time. Talking to or petting a service dog is without the handler’s permission is inference. It is interference even if you are the parent of a person with special needs. It is still interference if you have a German Shepherd at home. It is ALWAYS interference. You don’t get any special privileges You, of all people, should respect a disabled person’s right to personal space and autonomy. Your son had better manners than you. Grow up.
Now that I’ve blown off some steam I’d like to thank Pixie’s trainer Hale Hudspeth. A week with her and Pixie has gone from a dog who barked at everything with a hit or miss recall to one who can be in a crowded mall and watch everything from toddlers to strollers to loud teenagers go by without so much as a raised eyebrow. She can hold a sit or down beside a moving carousel completely ignoring the music lights and animals whirling past. While we were there she was pulling my chair (which we will get her a harness for soon) and I dropped the leash, she went on for a few steps but came directly back to my hand when her name was called. Her training isn’t done by any means but we have a solid foundation and I couldn’t be more pleased.