The Girl With The Service Dog
March 6, 2023
Around campus and town, I am known for one thing. I do a lot more with my life, but I am consistently limited to the title “The Girl With The Service Dog.”
Many people don’t know that I am a triathlete training for my first Olympic-length Tri (0.93 mile (1.5k) swim, 24.8 mile (40k) bike, and a 6.2 mile (10k) run.), am training for multiple half marathons (13.1 miles), am the editor-in-chief of the Decaturian, help with numerous other on campus publications, have both a fellowship and an internship, and work 35+ hours a week.
Instead, I am limited to the title of “The Girl With The Service Dog. “
Typically, this is okay. I wish people would look beyond the dog, but I knew what I was getting into when I got my service dog four years ago. However, I wasn’t aware of the amount of fear and anxiety it would bring to me.
I am constantly worried about my service dog getting attacked. She has already been attacked twice by people breaking the law by having fake service animals in public.
Many people do not understand service animal laws, which are admittedly easy to take advantage of. A common misunderstanding about service dogs is that emotional support animals are the same as a service animal.
They are not. At all.
The primary difference between an ESA and a service dog is that an ESA has received no training, and is there for emotional support, not to provide a task for a disability.
Service animals are highly trained animals who have public access in order to assist the handler with their disability.
Emotional support animals are not granted public access, as there is no need for them to be in public, and they are not trained. Emotional support animals were designed to be pets at home. The only usage for the title is housing access; you cannot be denied your emotional support animal in a pet-free apartment.
Years ago, emotional support animals were able to fly with their handlers, but airlines and the federal government have cracked down on this after people abused the system.
Businesses have rights and can deny entry for emotional support animals and even service animals if the animal has a history of poor behavior in said business.
However, many business owners do not take advantage of their rights and do not enforce the rules because they are afraid of lawsuits.
This puts people like me and my legitimate service dog at risk. This is exactly how my dog was put into situations where other animals lunged at her.
Oftentimes, people ask me how they can get a service dog for their anxiety. Many of these individuals have already gone online and purchased a fake certificate from an online scammer that certifies their pet as an emotional support animal.
These scams often come with vests, badges, cards, and other gear to make the animal look official.
While someone, in theory, could qualify for a service animal due to severe anxiety, I often discourage it when I am asked.
I discourage it because I have anxiety, and while my service dog can help me with treating my anxiety attacks, she cannot prevent them or stop them altogether. Additionally, the number of people who ask intrusive questions because I have a service dog is nerve racking.
My anxiety makes me enjoy the shadows. I am not someone who enjoys being the center of attention; however, I am constantly the one everyone is looking at and whispering about at an event because I have a dog with me.
It is out of kindness and genuine curiosity, but I am asked what breed of dog my service dog is at least five times a day. At this point, I might as well write it on my forehead as a frequently asked questions form.
These reasons, though, are not my biggest complaints with having a service animal. My biggest complaint is that I constantly have a target on my back.
In high school, I was cyberbullied relentlessly for my dog. People thought it was okay to take photos of my dog to post on Snapchat, create fake accounts pretending to be me, and numerous other things.
In college, these things have gone down significantly thanks to consistent efforts from the Millikin administration team that has addressed every concern as it happens. For this, I am unbelievably thankful.
No matter how safe the administration makes campus for me, though, it does not change the reality of my situation.
As long as I have my service dog, I will be treated differently. I will have people poke and pry at my life and what my disability may be. I will have people accuse me of faking it to have a pet with me all the time. I will have to be aware of my surroundings for another animal being mishandled that could harm my own.
It doesn’t matter how many awards I win, or what I do. For as long as I have my service dog, I will only be seen as “the girl with the service dog.”