So I usually write about service dogs and my experiences with them, but today, I’m going to write about something equally important; standing up for yourself and for your canine companion.
It happens. People are bullies. They can be mean. While the vast majority of humanity has a great capacity for kindness, the rest of the unfortunate lot has a passion for preying on the weak, and they often choose those with disabilities as their targets. If you have a service dog, if you are thinking of getting a service dog, or if you know someone with a service dog, then you should keep a wary eye out for these individuals.
I am accustomed to my classmates being intrigued by Rally’s presence, and thought nothing of it when a particularly chatty, rather clingy young woman sat down besides me and launched into stories about her own dogs at home, how they were funny and cute and how well trained they were. She admired Rally for his good behavior, but seemed to grow increasingly aggressive and nagging when my attention was directed towards answering other questions. For the next week, as I would arrive to class, she was quick to jump into overly friendly banter, and I would humor her in amusement; she seemed lonely and enamored with Rally, so I saw no harm in continuing our friendship.
Then, at the end of the week when leaving the class, I saw her waiting for Rally and I outside. We paused to wish her a good night. There was a barbecue on campus, and Rally was sniffing the air in anticipation of his own waiting bowl of kibble. She said abruptly, in a snide tone, “If it wasn’t for the vest, Rally would be rather pathetic, wouldn’t he?”
I was so taken aback that I just stared at her.
“He’d be rather pathetic, wouldn’t he?” She pressed, and laughed.
To my shame, I couldn’t answer her. I had answers ready in my head; “How is he pathetic?” “Why would you think or say something like that?” But the thought of all the hard work and effort gone into training Rally, all the time and energy and effort spent to mold him into the patiently waiting dog sitting at my feet, all dismissed by the smirking blond-haired girl, drained the voice from my lips.
“Pathetic.” She repeated, and walked away.
Rally and I walked home, and later, fighting sudden tears, I told Alex about the girl’s comment. My frustration and shame at my own inaction, my anger at her careless, hurtful comment and my humiliation that I, a strong, independent woman had been rendered mute by a bully, came seeping out of me, and he listened in sympathy. I resolved never again to be in that same position. If she ever tried to make me feel small again, we were going to have words.
The next day, we went back to class, and took our seats, The girl was there, but perhaps she sensed that I was not about to put up with any kind of similar remarks about Rally, because she merely glanced at me and resumed scrolling busily on her phone. The class proceeded-and has proceeded ever since-without her approaching us again, but if she does or attempts to bully either of us, I will not be so meek or taken aback.
I am telling this story not to garner sympathy from my readers or to rant about a comment in the past–but to raise awareness; bullies come in all guises, and even those of us who have prepared ourselves against them can be caught on unawares. Individuals with disabilities are particularly vulnerable; leash a service dog to their hip and you might as well wave a red flag advertising that they are different.
So, the next time you see someone-anyone-who is being made to feel like their hard work is “pathetic”, stand up for them if they cannot. Be that amazing, wonderful person to stride over and support whoever is being bullied. I could have used someone like that last week, to dislodge the words from my throat, but from now on, I’ve resolved to be that person to anyone who needs me! (: