T1D Service Dog Etiquette
Hello and thank you for joining me here at Ms. Lisa’s service dog etiquette class. If everyone could just take their seats, we can begin….
My name is Lisa, and I’m a mama of a type 1 diabetic 4-year-old, James. James has a 2-year-old brother, and we also have a service dog, Honey Waffles. Honey has an incredibly important job, that she has spent her whole life training for… Honey is James’s diabetic alert dog. She can sense the rise and fall in blood sugars, which has been a literal lifesaver to her boy.
Honey is quicker than the blood glucose meter (by up to 30 minutes) as well as the continuous glucose meter that James wears 24/7.
Diabetes is a relentless, unpredictable, and a cruel disease. Type 1 diabetes is not just a chronic illness, but a terminal one. There is a common misconception that insulin is a cure for type 1 diabetes, but noe…insulin is simply life support. So, my brave little warrior, James, has myself, his equipment, and our trusty sidekick, Honey Waffles.
We have the impossible task of trying to replicate a working pancreas.
This is an unsurmountable task, that leaves us exhausted, anxious, and in a constant state of burnout. The truth is, at any moment, diabetes can turn, it can play dirty, and it has a mean streak a mile wide.
Despite all this, we persevere, and we thrive. Honey is invaluable to us and we are never separated. Honey is legally allowed into doctors’ offices, restaurants, hospitals and all public places (with a few exceptions like restaurant kitchens and surgical rooms.) Honey is a medical device (a very spoiled and well loved medical device) and it is our legal right to have her with us wherever we go.
In saying all this, we are a traveling circus…you WIILL notice us in public, and that’s ok.
I would notice a fluffy white dog walking into a public space, however, there are rules and courtesies that come along with interacting with a service dog and their handler.
You will see Honey in her vest, covered in patches, the patches say things like “Do not Pet”, or “Working, Do Not Distract”. These are there to HOPEFULLY avoid an awkward interaction, and to let the public know that Honey is not public property. The patches are not because service dog handlers are a universally grumpy group, they really do have meaning and a purpose.
Why shouldn’t you pet?
Because Honey is working, because Honey is concentrating on her job. It might look like she is very serious, and that she is all work and no play, but I assure you, Honey has lots of play, but she also knows when it is time to work…we call it her “game face.” Honey is focusing on her obedience, she is focusing on the smells coming off James, and tuning out all the other smells that are invading her magic nose (Starbucks smells like strong coffee to me, imagine how strong that smell is for her!) She is focusing on heeling next to me and on which direction I will walk. So, up walks someone who is overwhelmed by her cuteness, yes, she is adorable, no you cannot pet.
If you reach down, if you baby talk, if you get on her level and make eye contact, ALL that work and focus she has been doing, is now completely interrupted, but worst of all, it can cause her to miss a dangerously falling blood sugar, which puts my child in danger.
It is frustrating for service dog handlers, because while we adore our pups, we know that they serve a much greater purpose than just being a cute companion.
So, lets talk about what bugs me as a service dog handler.
Getting audibly AWED at.
Honey and James are adorable, but I cannot tell you how degrading it is to walk by an aisle in a store and hear “AAAWWWWE.” Diabetes is not cute, chronic illness is not cute, blood sugar checks, injections, force feeding sugar, none of that is cute. My son can hear you, and so can his Mama bear (hi, that’s me) He has diabetes, his is not hard of hearing, and neither am I…and depending on how many times I have heard AWE today, I might just awe back at you. If you think she is cute, it is fine to let us know, and using your words is always preferable to “AWE”. In addition to this, forgive me if I keep it short, you may have been the 6th person I have talked to in this store, and I just need to get my milk and eggs and get home.
Do I even need to elaborate? Don’t do it. Honey is an extension of me, and I don’t want to be petted. Honey has fur, it feels like fur, rub your own head, yup, that’s pretty much what it feels like… OH, and don’t “sneak” a pet, because I see you, and I will say something.
Talking to Honey, not me.
Please don’t talk to Honey, she can’t understand you. I am the human standing there, speak to me. I will be thrilled to answer your questions, truly I don’t mind. Honey, however, will not answer you back, and at this point you are just distracting her. Also, if I am busy checking blood sugar, or paying a cashier, please wait until I am available to speak with you.
It really bugs me. It is ok to notice, but it is not ok to stare, that is rude.
I don’t understand on what planet people think this is acceptable, but it is NOT. Do not take your phone out and take a picture of my dog or of my child. You want a picture of something? Take one of my angry mom face, because that is what you are going to get.
Physically stopping me to ask about Honey.
I have had people put themselves in front of me, so that I am forced to interact with them. We were at the grocery store once with our circus, and my two-year-old ran off, and as I was going after him, two people stepped in front of me to ask about Honey, completely blocking me from going after my child. It is a safety issues, and your question can wait.
Approaching me in a parking lot.
I am a young mama, with two young children, and if you approach me in a parking lot, it honestly freaks me out. I don’t know your intentions, and my first thought is to protect my children, and I really don’t want to mace an innocent human.
Asking how much Honey cost.
It’s just rude. There are plenty of resources online where you can find the answer to this question.
Telling your children to ask if they can pet.
No, they cannot, and you just made me the bad guy. Please, take the opportunity to educate them.
Not moving out of our way.
Would you move for someone in a wheelchair? Or someone with mobility issues? Please move for us, and not force us to move for you. While we will manage, it is just so much easier for you, than for me to quickly relocate a dog, two kids and a shopping cart. We are a wide load and need a little bit of room to maneuver.
It may sound like we are nitpicking, but I promise we aren’t. We are aware that seeing a service dog can be exciting, and that they are cute, and do draw attention. We just ask for a little self-control and respect from the public. There are thousands of hours that have gone into training a service dog, and a lot that happens that the public does not see (not all disabilities and illnesses are visible).
We also know that most people are very good intentioned, which is why we never mind educating. So, next time you see a cute service dog doing their thing, give the handler a smile and a nod, ask your question if you have one, and let them on their way. Thank you in advance!