When You’re Doing it Right and Someone Else is Stupid

As if a giant sign out of no where, when I was trying to find something lighthearted to blog about after my last one this thing happened.

The setup: my youngest son is in the second grade, there are only four handicap spots at his school. Since mid-way through first grade I have had him come to the car at the pickup loop so I don’t have to be there an hour early to get a spot. This means I rarely use a spot any more. I have posted numerous times on the parent Facebook group for the school about my service dog because I know the kids will tell the parents and the parents usually have questions, because I “look normal”.

Today, I had to park (an hour early) to go in an buy raffle tickets for a Halloween Bash they are doing at the school. I do not use a handicap placard because my disability will only get worse and there is no cure, therefore, my license plate sports the international symbol for disability, smack dab in the middle of the numbers. In addition to that, the back of my SUV has a sticker that says “Service Dog on Board”. I am the only parent at this particular school who uses a service dog on the property.

When I got back to my car, after most of the cars had left, there was a post it note on my driver side window; “Where is your Handicap Plackard??” Grammar and spelling aside, my brain might be shrinking but I am not that stupid yet, I was enraged. I immediately felt my blood pressure rise and had to take a beat.

I am the biggest fucking advocate for those of us with disabilities, I talk to the principals at both of my kids schools about needing more spaces for us. During events I ask about the possibility of blocking off some regular spots for more of us so we can all park. We are a weird little group, those of us who are disabled. I get seriously pissed off when people park in the disability spots without the appropriate tags, but I check the license plate first and placard second.

Is this person someone with a disability and just an ignorant asshat, or are they a normal person feeling the need to make them-self feel superior. Either way, they only succeeded at pissing me of, publicly shaming them on Facebook, and now here and now everyone knows they can’t spell and they don’t have all the information they need to actually make a difference.

Would this same person put this note on the car of one of the disabled veterans that park at this school? They don’t have the handy little wheelchair on a plate or a placard, they get the dignified DV on their plate. It commands respect and I would be livid if I witnessed this happen to them.

How dare you make me justify my disability in a public forum because you leave a cowardly note on my car. You have no clue what I go through everyday just to live, let alone participate with people socially or be there for my kids. I am bombarded with questions every single time I leave my house with my service dog. I expect it, I do not enjoy it, it adds stress and anxiety to my life but I answer the polite questions nicely, the not so polite ones get curt answers.

I have not had to justify my disability to anyone since I was in Europe last year at the Louvre when some lady (with a tour group) tried to tell me I could not use the elevator because it’s only for the disabled. “I AM disabled” I responded loud enough to get the point across.

So once again, I feel that my multiple sclerosis is not enough for the mass public. When my legs stop working and feel like jelly, when one leg doesn’t remember what to do and just kind of drags along. When I have pain in every nerve in my body because I over heated from outside temp or being surrounded by too many people.

You know what though, my MS is enough, my life is harder than any “normal” person can even comprehend. So to you, cowardly note leaver, fuck off. I did everything right and you are a bully.

The Training of MY Service Dog

People always ask me how long it took to train my service dog. Before answering that question I always be sure to let them know that I was NOT the one to train him. Freedom Service Dogs (FSD) did all the hard work to get him ready for me and I am always sure to tell people that first.

Training of a service dog is tricky, how long it takes depends on the dog (their learning ability) and the person (the tasks required). From my understanding, FSD adopted my dog from New Mexico when he was about 8 months old. He was the only dog for one trainer so she worked with him every day, 5 days a week. He then went home with his foster mom on the weekends who reinforced his tasks before going back to work the next Monday.

Training requires consistency, really exciting treats and minimal distraction when learning a new task. Once the task is understood through action and command, distractions can be brought in to ensure commands can be followed under different circumstances.

My service dog came ready with a lot of commands, easy as sit or as complicated as helping me off of the floor. People are most excited when he picks his leash up off the floor and brings it to me, every dog should come with that one it’s very handy.

He practices all of his tasks every few weeks if they are not ones I use daily or frequently to make sure he practices them. He also has to learn one new task a year. This keeps him busy, learning and not bored. The new task he learns can be a useful command or a fun one, as long as it is something new.

I am the one that teaches him the new commands each year so it helps us both, connecting and using our brains. The first year I taught him “kisses” because his foster mom, whom I am now friends with, said he never gave kisses. I started teaching him this by using his “touch” command and touching my cheek so he would touch his nose to my cheek. Sometimes he still only gives kisses with his nose instead of a lick but I respect that, I would not want to be forced to give a kiss every time someone told me to. Once he touched his nose to my cheek I would press the button on the clicker and give him a treat. Once he had that down then I used the command “kisses” while pointing to my cheek and repeating that with the clicker and treats. Eventually the command alone was all that was needed and he knew what to do.

Some tasks are a bit more complicated to teach, for me anyhow. “Scooch” was something we say when we want him to move his butt a little but not actually get up and move his whole body (this is mostly used at bedtime because he sleeps next to me in case I need him). Since I am frequently asked if he can shake that was the task he learned this year. For us it was putting his paw in my palm, saying the command and pressing the clicker, followed by a treat. Eventually we both figured it out. He likes the easy tasks because it’s a quick way to get a treat.

For more complicated things, like some PTSD tasks, we get to work with a trainer at FSD who helps walk us through what it looks like. At the start, she took Oak and was working with him so I could just see, she was less stressed out about the situation then I was so he was able to focus completely on her. Since I live locally to Freedom it makes it really easy for me to get the extra help I need when it. (I am not getting anything from FSD for writing this blog.) I love Freedom Service Dogs, what they do and their ability and desire to help the service dog/client teams to succeed in life. They are amazing and I can never say enough good things about them.

Access to Public Places – We get left out.

Second post on access for people who need mobility assistance. The first post was more about parking and grocery stores or places like Target with access for people who require aid. This post will go over places we go where accessibility isn’t really considered.

Malls: The lack of good accessibility is troublesome for me in particular because the mall by us has an elevator in the 3 department stores and one in the middle of the mall. The elevators in the department stores are usually quite a distance from the main entrance. When I went to the mall a while back with my family they took the escalator while I searched out an elevator because I know that being with me trying to find access is a pain in the ass. Service dogs, walkers, scooters and wheelchairs cannot go up escalators or stairs (well service dogs can take stairs, but I can’t and usually I regret it if I try because I fall a lot). For me, extended periods of walking make my internal temp increase significantly and then I start to lose all feeling in my legs like they’re Jell-O. No matter where I ended up in the mall I had to walk out of my way to find an elevator.

Restaurants: Think about a place you may frequent, do they have wide isles or are the tables very close together with narrow walkways? Most of the places I go for date night have narrow walkways to accommodate more tables which makes walking in with Oak a challenge. For the most part they also have tables where the legs are not easily used for wheelchairs and service dogs. Oak has to go under the table when we eat but if the legs are too close together or have wide bases it’s hard for him to go under so he ends up closer to the isles where people walk. When were went to Ouray in June we ate a restaurant where the seating was on the roof, with no elevator, only stairs. I did it, but my body did not appreciate it one bit.

Amusement parks: I have only been to the one in Denver since being diagnosed and I know from research the bigger places like Universal and Disneyland have more things for people with mobility issues. Over all access is not a problem around the park, it becomes an issue with the rides though. Roller coasters and anything that spins are an issue for me due to my extreme vertigo from my meniere’s disease. You cannot take a service dog on rides so you have someone your with to hold them while it’s your turn so you cannot be on a ride with everyone at the same time, ever. I used a walker when we went because it was so hot that I was pretty sure Oak would be miserable trying to walk on the very hot cement. Heat poses an issue for my MS too, so I have to go with a cooling vest, cooling cloth and a portable fan. There isn’t much in the way of shady spots though so after a couple of hours when those cooling things are no longer cool and you cant have a cooler with you its just a matter of time before the heat takes a serious tole.

For those who are in wheelchairs, if they can transfer themselves or walk short distances it would probably work, but wouldn’t it be amazing if they made a cart on the roller coasters that wheelchairs can lock into? Can you imagine how much better that person would feel not having to depend on someone every time they want to go on a ride?

As a person with mobility issues I can tell you that access sucks. It’s not inclusive for most places, it’s depressing when you feel left out because of something you cannot control. No one chooses to require mobility aids, and we all want to do the same things we could do before or do the things that our friends and family can do.

I challenge you to look at the places you go with a new view of the way it’s laid out. Imagine you are in a wheelchair, would you be able to maneuver around easily or would it take other people to help you?