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Gatekeeping Service Dogs Can Ruin Lives

At our Fourth of July dinner I started to feel tired and fuzzy. By the time I finally decided I needed to leave and go to bed I was exhausted. I thought it had just been a long day with racing in the morning, a long drive the in the middle, and then family dinner. But by the time I got home it had finally clicked that it was a migraine. I could barely stumble up the stairs to bed as Whitman dealt with feeding the animals. He got me meds and tucked me in. It's the first migraine Anubi hasn't alerted to in ages and the following day was the first time I had to call out of work for a migraine in well over six months. While I felt a bit better the next day, the migraine lingered for two and a half days leaving me exhausted and just feeling fragile in general.

My point being- I don't feel like I have a disability most of the time. I very often feel like I don't need a Service Dog- that I'm just abusing the system. But then days like that come along and I realize how much Anubi makes my quality of life better. My migraines are worst in the summer and then the winter. Spring and fall I can often go the entirety of without a migraine. But the weather and my allergies in the summer in particular tends to set my migraines off.

I'm so resistant to the idea of actually bringing Anubi places with me in part because I haven't had migraines my entire life. They started when I was twenty-two. I was working full-time at a Starbucks with a drive-through and then working another 30-35 hours on top of that backstage at my theatre. This meant I was in a headset for a solid 12-14 hours a day most days of the week. And the pressure from the headset started to give me migraines. I got better about managing that pressure. I'd wear a hat under the headset to better distribute the pressure. I asked my manager at Starbucks to limit my amount of time working the drive-through. But there was a night I almost went to the ER things were so bad, there were regularly days I couldn't drive home, and I needed heavy duty meds to stop the cluster migraine I was having.

Things got a bit better with time and medication. But, I also became increasingly resistant to taking the medication because of the terrible side effects every medication I tried gave me. And so I'd cope. Whitman got very good at catching my migraines early so I could run and take Excedrin, which gave me no side effects, and staved the migraine off. Why was it Whitman catching the migraine and not me? One of the big early symptoms of my migraines is that I get extremely fuzzy headed - enough so to not realize the clear signs of what is happening.

A few years later, I had sinus surgery. And though the recovery was brutal I got relief from my migraines for several years. I went from having several a week to having several a year. Over time, the frequency of my migraines has begun to increase again. I've started needing heavier medication. That was when I slowly realized that Anubi was alerting to my migraines before they happened (often before I had any symptoms at all).

I had intentionally trained Anubi to alert to my life threatening nut allergy. It was a long process and one where I needed Whitman to help with some of the handling because I couldn't safely. It was a huge relief for me to have Anubi be able to catch the allergen long before I noticed it and allow me to avoid it (and thus avoiding needing to use my EpiPen). But it also wasn't something that came up very often because I do a pro good job managing my environment. Anubi has also titled in scent work, which had given him a great foundation in scent detection.

So it honestly made sense when he started alerting naturally to my migraines. It took a second to catch on but it immediately started improving my quality of life. I suddenly was able to avoid cancelling private lessons and missing days of work. Yet still I hesitate at times to bring him with me.

Why does any of my experience matter? I am far from alone in my feeling like I'm imposter. According to the Americans with Disability Act:

It is important to remember that in the context of the ADA, “disability” is a legal term rather than a medical one. Because it has a legal definition, the ADA’s definition of disability is different from how disability is defined under some other laws, such as for Social Security Disability related benefits.
The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person’s association with a person with a disability.

The definition of a disability under the law is broad. This is because people who do have a disability have a long history of disenfranchisement and lack of advocacy. This is to protect those individuals who have trouble protecting themselves.

Are there other solutions, in many cases, other than a utilizing a Service Dog? Yes, in most cases there are. Is an individual obliged to pursue them before utilizing a Service Dog? No, not at all. All too often I have seen people questioning a person's need of a Service Dog. "Well, have you tried X, Y, or Z? Because if you haven't yet, you really shouldn't be using a Service Dog."

Look at the clarification of the law above. It's very straight-forward and honestly quite clear. In my case, utilizing a dog for my migraines allows me to avoid the extensive side-effects from some of my medications and catch them well in advanced to prevent them. Utilizing a dog who can detect my allergens before I react to them allows me to avoid a possible incident of anaphylaxis. But there are also many many instances where a dog my suit better than other alternative. Dogs that have a natural seizure alert for instance perform a task that there is no other way to achieve (also currently, there's no known way to train a dog to detect seizures).

Yet often you get people who gatekeep accessibility to Service Dogs. They shame people because they aren't "disabled" enough. When I was still at the training facility a couple of the kennel workers asked me if the person I was training the Newfoundland for was actually disabled or if she "was faking it". I was absolutely appalled. Yes, fake service dogs are a problem and that's a separate post. However, I hate that people feel they don't deserve their Service Dog and I would dearly love for that reality to change.

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