Attending local conventions is something I have always enjoyed. Each year I attend comic and sports conventions when I can. The first convention with Toki this year was a Sports Card Expo and I was a little hesitant because I knew kids would be there and crowds too. I did have a few encounters that I found quite memorable while out at the Sports Expo with friends and my Fiance. Let me share my story with you:
It was the first weekend in May and my fiance and I lined up to attend the Expo with Toki dressed in her vest, ready to work. I was in front of a nice man in line who seemed to enjoy seeing Toki- I could hear him saying “Awww” so I knew her cute face was acknowledged. When we got close to the door the man held the door for me and said that he knew Toki was working and that he knew he could not pet her but she was a sweet little dog. It actually was a good interaction and I was happy to hear someone understand she was working. Many parent’s told their kids “No,no Hunny that puppy is working; we don’t pet them.” which was nice to hear as well. It made me comfortable knowing kids were learning good lessons and manners. Even the handsome police officer at the front entrance smiled and let me through the side door when leaving with Toki- always a bonus!
But, with the positive encounters came the not so nice ones or the ones that made me uncomfortable. I had an issue when entering with Toki because of the turnstiles they were using for participants entering. I knew the fit would be tight and awkward for me, so I asked the woman manning the entrance to please let me through the middle where chairs were placed to keep people from entering the large opening. She stopped her conversation with another volunteer and acknowledged me and then carelessly moved the chairs and proceeded to look at my Service Dog and exclaim, “What’s wrong, poor puppy can’t go through a turnstile?” The tone she used came off as very rude and condescending but I just ignored her and went about my day. Although, I really could not believe how she reacted when I politely asked her to please let me in the other way.
Then there was the man who approached me at a busy vendor table and asked if I had watched a documentary about fake service dogs. My face turned to a pale white and I stood with my mouth wide open in disbelief. I really could not understand why this would be something to approach me about. He did not even introduce himself or start conversation with me but the first thing he thought to say was to ask myself about fake Service Dogs. It kind of made me wonder why he would ask me and why in a public place among a crowd of people. He then continued telling me about the documentary which I really had no interest in and then loudly said, “Not that I am accusing you!” and then walked away. I stood dumbfounded and did not even know how to comprehend the meeting. My fiance was next to me and turned and asked if I was okay and why the man felt he needed to tell me that. I can not speak for what the man was thinking but my thoughts were racing and all I could think was, ” I hope no one thinks I’m a fraud.” and it was kind of an awful feeling. One thing I notice is that I dislike being confronted or approached in public places and asked questions about my dog. I really feel it is not anyone’s business but my own as to what Toki does for me.
The last thing was something I had happen for the first time and did not know how to react. A man at his vendor table was whistling at Toki and calling out to her loudly from across the aisle. I seriously wanted to walk over and say something but I am far too shy and just kept walking trying to keep Toki focused. I have only had my Service Dog for 2 months so I am sure there will be more of this happening. It’s really irritating that people do not know that Service Dogs are not just cuddly pets but that they are doing a job for their handler. When distracting my dog it not only distracts her but also sets my focus completely off and actually causes me to panic. I am lucky I had my fiance there with me to help as well when I was flustered with the boisterous man.
I know that a convention is a big step for Toki and I am very happy I was brave enough to go to the Sports Expo with her. It was really nice being able to enjoy myself and not worry about getting lost from my friends in the crowd. It was also nice knowing I had Toki there to keep me focused the whole time from bumping into things or people. It was quite the adventure and I am looking forward to more conventions with her this year!
Never distract a Service Dog as they are working and need to focus.
I know that people are not accustomed to seeing a cute dog on a leash at a shop,restaurant or any kind of social gathering. People seem to think that only people with seeing,hearing or mobility issues can use Service Dogs or Guide Dogs. This is not the case at all and nor is it true!
Legally anyone with a disability (physical or mental) can use a Service Dog with permission from their doctor with a letter or form. The “Doctor” being your own doctor and not a Veterinarian for your dog. Yes, I have had people ask if their Vet can “okay” a Service Dog and the answer is, No. It must be your personal treating physician who will work with you and your needs.
I have had many issues with accessibility because people are not educated on the rights of those with disabilities. Also, I can not make it clear enough that NOT ALL DISABILITIES ARE VISIBLE. The note provided from a doctor will help with gaining access as it serves as proof that the dog is needed for your personal disability. I have included the AODA (where I am located) but the laws may be different where you live and I suggest reading into them to know your legal rights.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
4. (1) This section applies if goods or services are provided to members of the public or other third parties at premises owned or operated by the provider of the goods or services and if the public or third parties have access to the premises.
(2) If a person with a disability is accompanied by a guide dog or other service animal, the provider of goods or services shall ensure that the person is permitted to enter the premises with the animal and to keep the animal with him or her unless the animal is otherwise excluded by law from the premises.
(3) If a service animal is excluded by law from the premises, the provider of goods or services shall ensure that other measures are available to enable the person with a disability to obtain, use or benefit from the provider’s goods or services.
(8) In this section,
“guide dog” means a guide dog as defined in section 1 of the Blind Persons Rights’ Act; (“chien-guide”)
“service animal” means an animal described in subsection (9); (“animal d’assistance”)
“support person” means, in relation to a person with a disability, another person who accompanies him or her in order to help with communication, mobility, personal care or medical needs or with access to goods or services. (“personne de soutien”)
(9) For the purposes of this section, an animal is a service animal for a person with a disability,
(a) if it is readily apparent that the animal is used by the person for reasons relating to his or her disability; or
(b) if the person provides a letter from a physician or nurse confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to the disability.
Remember you have the right to be a part of society just as anyone without a disability does. Stand up for yourself and know your human rights!