Day 144 With Dora

Social anxiety has never been fun, per se. It’s quite a handful, and I can’t predict its rhythm. The last 16 days, however, have been awful.

Sixteen days ago, I was at the grocery store, with Dora in her vest, sitting on a bench, talking to my brother, who I met by chance. The Flutenist was getting our car, and I was minding my own business. Some random stranger, an old man with white hair a brown duster and- I kid you not- some sort of badge on his buttoned white shirt, says to me “Pretty dog you have there.”

Never mind that he’s a stranger. Never mind that he cut off my conversation midsentence. Never mind that he doesn’t look like law enforcement but is actually wearing a brass badge.

As a disabled person, strangers now expect to be able to interrupt me at any time in order to talk about my dog. On a date with my husband? Who cares?! Reading a book in a park? Not important! Trying to juggle six other things at a cash register? Not their problem.

Whatever. So he compliments Dora, I say “thank you,” and my mind starts loading up the relevant info. Her breed. Her name. Her age. She’s a rescue. Etc.

“Be careful with that collar. One good lunge and you’ll rip her throats out.” Drops mic. Turns and loads his groceries into his car in one of the handicapped parking spots. Drives away.

Dora wears a prong collar when she walks. It is properly sized, has rubber tips, and we have walked well over 100 miles since she got it. We both know each other’s walking speeds, distractions, expectations, needs, etc. 95% of the time, she stays right with me. 5% of the time there is a gust of wind or a new dog or a running child, and Dora gets excited, but she has never once hurt herself with this collar. I have not hurt her either. 

Dora chooses to stand politely next to me because she doesn’t want to be poked in the neck. I appreciate her not requiring the use of both arms and all the muscles in my torso in order to walk her. It is working for us. Neither of us is in danger.

What is wrong with this retired Texas Ranger wannabe?! Why does he like going up to disabled people and talking about their dogs dying in graphic language? Doesn’t he know that our dogs start to feel like an extension of ourselves? That after a few months together, we are closer to them than to any humans we know. Every good day, bad day, sick day, adventurous day- Dora is with me each step of the way. And I am with her when she is sick or scared, excited or happy. We are a team.

I love her.

Long story short: I’m scared to go in public now, because of this one selfish jerk who cares more about himself and his ego than reality. He didn’t ask any questions; he didn’t want to know about how Dora and I interact; he was just certain that he knew best, even though he knew next to nothing. All he could possibly have known about us is this:

  1. Dora is a medium sized black dog in an orange service dog vest, striped flat collar, and prong collar.
  2. I am an adult woman who is apparently not deaf, since I acknowledged hearing him.
  3. Dora was sitting politely at my feet without pulling at all.
  4. I was polite enough to drop everything and interact with him despite him rudely interrupting my visit with my brother.

That’s it. That’s all that he could know about us.


And now, I get panic attacks in public, just by walking into stores. Why?! Wasn’t it already hard enough for me? Did I really need more burdens?! And most importantly: why can’t I just ignore him and move on when I know that’s what I need to do?!


Day 93 With DoraΒ 

This is going to be short. I’m sorry. It just feels like an important moment to capture.

We’re taking Dora out today as a service dog for the first time. She’s still in training, but she got the go ahead from our service dog trainers to start broader socialization. (Broader than the dog-friendly circle she’s been in so far.) We’re going to a jazz concert at a small local venue and I am terrified.

What if someone gives me trouble about her? I’m already scared to try new things and go out without anyone asking me why I have a service dog or swearing at me. (Peers at the training meeting this week were sharing stories of people shouting at them and swearing at them, and I… I am not looking forward to it happening to me.)

I just want to be able to experience the world without panic attacks, lethargy, terror, and despair. That’s all. πŸ˜”

Days 53 & 54 With Dora

The three of us went on a long walk yesterday, about an hour and a half long. There were a lot of dogs and strangers around, but she did pretty well overall. She even got to sniff another pit bull mix! πŸ•

Things went pretty well, and we were all pretty tired when I started typing this last night, so I didn’t get very far.

Today, a friend and I went to a fast food place with outdoor seating, and Dora got her first practice at sitting and staying still in public while people ate. She got up about 5 times, but she sat again on command. Overall, it was pretty good.

It’s hard to imagine that this little girl will be allowed into restaurants with me later, that she will behave well enough to be trusted with that privilege. Still, Dora must be halfway there already. She did so well today, that I really think she can learn to do even better.

So, yeah… nothing major, just life together. Still waiting to see if my application gets approved. Fingers crossed.

Day 7 With Dora

We got a lot done today: registered for obedience training, had her first vet checkup, walked nicely in a store, went on two walks, behaved well during several car journeys, and stayed home alone for a half hour or so. Dora was really good today, and she impressed more people with her good behavior.

Both the vet and someone at the trainer’s told me that they think Dora will be easy to train, which is pretty encouraging. I have been rather daunted by the prospect (because it’s unfamiliar, largely my responsibility, impossible to control completely, etc.). Today, I’ve started to feel like I can do it. I will have help after all.

This is a profoundly odd time for me. Dora is an emotional support dog- I have a qualifying disability and a doctor’s order, so Dora can live with me. She does not have public access rights- any places (like pet stores and parks) that allow dogs are fair game, and I can ask other places (employers, public facilities, etc.) for access if I want, but they can say no. In addition, I have a subtle mandate to ensure that Dora is actually qualified for the access that I’m requesting. 

For example, I already have approval for bringing her to a local track, but until she is suitably leash trained, I don’t want to take her there. If I’m irresponsible, it could really hurt people’s impressions of service dogs. Dora is not a service dog- yet.

Some places suggest 120 hours minimum training for dogs. It’s… well, it’s daunting, like I said. But she needs (or at least, she’s going to get) two full obedience classes and the CGC prep class and then take the test. I’m looking at a weekly commitment for the next several months. Plus practice sessions between classes to reinforce the commands and expectations for both of us.

And then, after we finish that, there’s still the business of identifying what tasks I need from her (probably emotional overload related ones), developing a training method (simulating the situation, teaching the behavior, developing the command, etc.), practicing, and once she has all of it down pat, then and only then will Dora actually be ready for full public access. 

I’m tentatively looking forward to it. It could be nice to have a safety net in place if/when I break down in inconvenient times and public places. I mean, I’ve crawled under bathroom counters and stayed there for more than 30 minutes before. I limited my breathing. I hid behind visual obstructions (chairs, shelves, trash cans). No one saw me, because why would you look for a grown woman tucked under the counter of your public bathroom?

One day, I might be able to cut that time down to 2-5 minutes of Dora helping me reconnect to reality and find a way to move on. It sounds really, really good to me.