As a Service Dog handler I hear constantly to “educate” people about Service Dogs and the laws. As a community SD people try to help one another not to forget it isn’t about you it’s about the next SD team that comes to where you are now. If you have an access issue we tell each other, “Stay calm, tell them the law, repeat yourself, give them a hard copy of the law, give the the 800 number for the ADA, educate, remain calm, think about the next team behind you- make it better for them” etc. I try as much as possible to stick to this model, I carry little printed out cards that have the ADA laws, phone number and appropriate questions on it, I explain (often beyond the ADA required explanation) what my SD does and why I need him with me, often revealing personal information to do so. Generally I don’t have a problem with this but what I do have a problem with is when people think they are entitled to this information because I have a SD.
The whole point of a SD is so that I can live my life as normally as possible. While I understand that taking a goofy looking (I love him, but he looks like a cartoon character), dog in a vest every where I go attracts attention. I explain it to other people who ask whether they should get a SD that when you are accompanied by a SD you carry with you an “attractive nuisance” much like a pasture full of horses. Even if people aren’t invited and the fence is posted as electric, they will pull over and take pictures and/or reach through the fence to pet/touch your horses. Well with a SD, even when your dog is labeled “Service Dog Do Not Distract” people will. They will stare, talk to, touch, pet, push, step on, even kick your SD. You have to be prepared to protect your dog whenever necessary. They will stop you from what you are doing and ask questions (and yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question) or even demand information. This applies to both businesses and “civilians” if you will. People think that because you have the right to have this dog with you all the time that they have the right to know why, in full detail. I try to keep a good attitude and explain that I have type 1 diabetes, he is a medical alert dog and he alerts to dangerous fluctuations in my blood sugar. Often, this answer is like opening Pandora’s box. Then people want to know how he knows, how he alerts, what numbers he will alert at, why I need a dog to help me with my diabetes, why can’t I take care of myself etc. If I choose to not get into specifics with people then Judah becomes an imposter dog that I put a fake vest on and I become a liar, all because I just want to shop like them and every other patron in the store.
Beyond all the complications of having a SD with me, it works for me. He makes my control better, he makes me more confident and less afraid to drive and do things on my own. Before Judah started working I wasn’t driving, wasn’t doing anything without a “chaperone” because I was terrified of something happening without help near by. I don’t think a SD works for everyone, even some people who want a SD aren’t equipped or prepared to live and travel with one. The cost money, they need to be clean, groomed and trimmed regularly, they require you to be attentive to the needs of another living thing while already having to be attentive to your own disability. It’s a lot of work and responsibility every time you go anywhere or do anything. This extra work would make things too complicated for some people, some people don’t like dogs, some people aren’t able to handle the care and constant training that comes with having a SD- so they don’t have one. So when people say to me, “Well, so-and-so has diabetes and he doesn’t need a SD to deal with it” I really want to reply with something like, “Wow he so lucky! I wish I wasn’t such a lazy shmuck who didn’t take care of myself” or “yeah well you know having random people stop me, interrogate me, take pictures or video of me (yeah that happens too), tell me I can’t go places, and tell me how to take care of myself is awesome, it makes me feel important. So I take my dog everywhere!”
This brings me to my next point, I have type 1 diabetes, it is not the same as type 2 diabetes. In fact, there really isn’t anything about them that’s the same except that they both effect the endocrine system. I am not going to play the “my diabetes is better or worse than yours” game here either. They both suck. The easiest way for me to explain the difference is that one is an auto immune disorder (type 1) and the other is the result of many things including; a hormone released by belly fat that makes it difficult for your body to use insulin, the bodies inability to produce enough insulin (usually due to too much stress on the pancreas), and often is related to poor diet and too much inactivity.
Often type 2 can be managed through a great diet and exercise plan, it can even be completely reversed! Type 1 cannot be reversed, it can not be managed without insulin, in fact without insulin I would die- so would you, your mom, your great auntie and you super in shape brother who is in the marines. Insulin is necessary for your body to live, end of story. Type 1 diabetes is when a person’s immune system attacks their pancreas (really it’s more like attacks their islet cells where your beta cells live) and it prevents it from producing the insulin hormone (along with other hormones) which is essential for life. Without insulin your body can not use the fuel that you put into it, literally, I could eat everything in sight and would still starve to death. The only way to live with type 1 diabetes is to inject insulin into the body from an outside source.
Now, when people suggest that if I had led a better life then I wouldn’t have to deal with this in the first place it makes me the closest to homicidal I have ever (and hopefully will ever) been. I couldn’t have stopped my immune system from attacking my own body, that’s what autoimmune diseases are- when a persons immune system attacks their own body for an unknown reason. So, when people who know me (or who don’t know anything about me) tell me that I shouldn’t take insulin and that I should eat some special diet and exercise more it takes everything I have to hold my composure and try to explain to them that no matter what I do, I have to take insulin. I send them to definitions and resources so they can see the difference between the two types (there are more than 2 types but most confusion centers around 1 and 2), explain that there has been type 1 diabetes for much longer than we have had fast food restaurants and TV dinners (There is documentation of diabetes as early as 1552 BC*). Trust me, if I could “cure” my diabetes by running everyday and eating more veggies and protein I would. Yes, a better diet and more exercise helps type 1 patients to stay healthy, reduce their insulin requirements (exercise makes you more insulin sensitive), and regulate fluctuations- no denying that! BUT, no matter how perfect we take care of our disease, we still must take insulin, or die. Period. I have had a “friend” tell me that I am “stupid for taking some medicine a doctor tells me to take, just because he told me to take it”, that if I did more research I could find a better way to treat and cure my diabetes! Well shit sign me up!
I find it exhausting to try and educate people who have clearly already made up their minds about these things long before they have ever met me or Judah. Some people will get the message, will step back and listen. These people will also walk away thinking, they will get home and google some things, read articles and educate themselves. The “other” people will argue with you, call you names and won’t allow themselves to learn a damn thing. At some point you have to accept that this person is ignorant and doesn’t have any interest in talking to you and not at you. So for those people I am glad that there are laws on the book to protect me, but at the same time how can I be satisfied with leaving the conversation as so unsuccessful? I’ve been thinking about this and I’ve decided; if I can walk away from the conversation having kept my composure, not having used derogatory language, listened to said ignorant person’s opinions, and didn’t stoop to their level then I have successfully navigated that interaction.
We type 1’s don’t choose to operate this way, we don’t choose to stick needles in our stomachs over and over again just for shits and giggles, we choose to live. I am so tired of people telling me I am wrong, that I can do better, and that I am silly for taking the “easy way out” by using insulin (yes, I’ve heard that one too). I use insulin because I love my family, my boyfriend and my life. I use insulin because while not using it might be the easiest diet in the world (OOooo I was SO skinny when I got diagnosed, I’d never been a “skinny” girl before!) it will also kill me, slowly and painfully. I use insulin because I have pets (and a SD) that I committed to taking care of for the rest of their lives. I use insulin because I haven’t finished saving dogs from uneducated hands and bringing them back to a happy balanced life yet. I use insulin because I want to make sure that I can see to it that people who don’t know anything about my disease are taught everything they should know.
I use insulin because I am not finished here, I have a message to send and a difference to make.
*http://www.defeatdiabetes.org/about_diabetes/text.asp?id=Diabetes_Timeline <– This is a cool timeline of the history of diabetes! Check it out!
pictures in this post are NOT my own, they are the result of a google search.