Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Urban Tug-of-War

If you ask any assistance dog handler, they will tell you that interference by the general public can be a huge problem. One of the biggest forms of interference is petting the dog while it is working. But for me, one of the biggest problems is when people touch me. I've noticed that most people seem to think that the accepted rules of personal contact don't seem to apply to people with disabilities. I have been grabbed, hugged, kissed, stroked, pushed from behind, pushed from the front, and toed along like luggage by people who don't bat an eyelash when they do these things to me. They would never tolerate this kind of treatment themselves, and they would never dream of doing this to someone if they didn't have a disability.
But because the person "means well" and is "only trying to help" I'm supposed to just suck it up and take it. But there is a problem, because in addition to being inappropriate, uncomfortable and demeaning, this kind of treatment is dangerous.

The inner ear disease which causes my deafness also causes vertigo and dizziness. Basically I have really horrible balance. I would probably be using a walker full-time if I didn't have an awesome dog who provided, amongst other things, mobility support. Laveau and I have developed a very particular way of walking. She knows what to do to keep me from doing an undignified face-plant on the sidewalk.

On Monday, I woke up and discovered that the "vertigo elves" had been hard at work during the night. The results were that I couldn't walk without holding on to a wall. I also didn't know where my body was in space. Upon discovering that I couldn't tell the ceiling from the floor, I promptly called in sick to work and took the "funny pills" which worked, pretty well, although they turned me into a drooling idiot for a day or so. The last two days have been spent recovering from this latest bout with the vertigo elves. I can walk and stand now, with the help of my dog. I am going to work, and doing all of the usual things, although more slowly and with long naps afterward.

Today, I went to the store with my husband. They are doing construction in my neighborhood, and the corner in front of the store was getting torn up. We found our way into the store, but when we left, a guy decided that he needed to "help" us. I was near the curb when the person grabbed my right arm, and with great force started yanking me behind him as he set off toward the corner. I started to fall into the busy road. Laveau, realizing that I was about to become road pizza, pulled left and got me upright once again. The "helpful" man, kept pulling. I told him, several times to let me go, and that I had balance problems and would fall if he didn't let me go. He either didn't speak English or he chose not to follow my instructions. He kept pulling me forward and to the right. Laveau pulled me back, and to the left so that I wouldn't fall. It was like urban tug-of-war, and I was the rope. Laveau really had no choice, if she had stopped pulling, I'd have ended up in the road. The man in question should be grateful for my need to hold tightly to Laveau's harness or I'd have punched him just so he'd let me go. I'm not usually prone to violence, but this was honestly terrifying.

Finally, my husband turned around and got the man to let me go. Laveau came up next to me and helped me get steady. We were finally able to cross the road in question and make it home safely.

I know many assistance dogs wear a patch on cape or harness which says something like "Do not pet me, I'm working." I want one for my shirt which says "Do not grab me, I'm walking." But just like most people don't respect the patches on the dog, they probably wouldn't respect mine, and while reading it, they'd grab on and start yanking away. Good thing I have a dog who can yank back.


  1. Oh my goodness... I have vertigo too and HATE it when people touch me. I don't know if they try it more since I have a pup or not, have definitely had some weird experiences. But usually the gasp of air like surprise or pulling away from them works well for me. With people who keep doing it I'm usually like, personal space!!!!

  2. That is really rude. As a bystander, would it be appropriate for me to step in and say something like "She said let go," or would that be embarrassing for you? I know you can't speak for everyone with a service dog, but I'd like your opinion.

    1. Speaking for myself, yes, I appreciate it when people step in in this kind of situation. It was my husband stepping in which made this gentleman stop.
      Thank-you for asking