I was walking across a fairly busy station this afternoon when a stranger starts yelling at me. I only knew it was me she was referring to after she stopped me to ask her question more directly. “HEY IS THAT YOUR FRIEND?” she asked apropos of nothing. First the man in front of me stopped, looked around and continued on his way. Then someone else stopped, turned to her to say something. They all thought she was talking to them but no, no I and my biffle were what got her talkin’ on a hot and muggy afternoon.
I get this question a lot. Why, just today I got it five times – hers being the fourth. People ask if my guide dog is my best friend, friend, buddy, partner – never do they ask if he’s my guide or service animal or life saver. Never do they acknowledge the reality of a woman and a harnessed creature, never do they treat me or him like professionals. Never are we afforded privacy or respect. Instead, they see a cutesy puppy and a girl. For I am always honey, sweetie, miss or girl – never ma’am or ms. And never is the question asked without that sickeningly sweet addition of “he’s so adorable.” I just want to vomit.
Why’s it bother me so much? I’m probably too grumpy for my own good. That’s fair, maybe others enjoy being put on display as a cute addition to childhood novellas about kids and their’ puppies. Maybe. But probably it’s more about the feelings such disregard for service animals stir in me. The exhibition of my life and mobility aid as a quaint picture for others to watch and feel good about. Likely I’m not interested in being someone’s warm fuzzy so openly and honestly – get your kicks from afar, don’t drag me into them please?
Or maybe, just maybe it’s because even now relationships (romantic and otherwise) are not something able-bodied society feels we have or want. While there are numerous dating sites for people with disabilities, many go underused or aren’t known about at all. Then there’s the infantilizing of friendships between PWD and TAB folks; programs often use language like ‘buddies’ and ‘sunshine’ that one would associate with children but instead..are for adults.
As a person with a disability it is incredibly difficult to have romantic relationships and friendships taken seriously. When someone suggests my dog is my best friend, what does that say of my actual best friend(s)? When someone suggests he’s my partner, are they relegating my actual human partner invisible?
I realize that “man’s best friend” is an old adage and has meaning, and I also realize that some guide dog schools make promotional videos calling guide dogs soul mates of blind people. But until the romantic, intimate and friendly relations of people with disabilities are taken seriously perhaps we can back off using those types of relationships to compare the bond between human and animal, no matter the cute.