Monday, September 14, 2009

Warning Frustration Ahead

We're back from our 10-day Alaska cruise. We really did have a great time. There was one day at sea that was challenging for many people due to the winds and high seas. There were several broken bones as a result of falls, one helicopter evacuation, and many seasick passengers.

I am proud to say, Baileymy service dog, did just fine. But she was VERY tired of people by the last day. I even kept her on my lap, covered with a light blanket so she could get a break.
I had to wipe lipstick off her head at night from women kissing her. I know people think they are being friendly and are curious, but it is so frustrating to answer the same questions - hundreds of times of day. Bailey gets overstimulated when constantly being petted, called to, and get this, barked at. Honestly, one server would always bark at her when he saw her - even from the other side of the room. There were very few children on the ship but they all knew how to behave - it was the ADULTS that were a pain.

While people are told to ask before petting a service dog, many don't and it is hard to say no to nice people just wanting a 'dog fix' because they miss their own pets- especially if we are just sitting down relaxing.

We understood that, but none of us understood the big attraction of a dog going to the bathroom. Bailey had a relief box on the promenade deck - the outdoor deck that circles the ship . While in her little corner using the potty box, she would draw a crowd. She would then stop what she was suppose to be doing and stare back at the people. We would have to ask them to move along as it made her nervous to have a crowd. Seriously, it got where I would park the scooter to block the 'view' and Jim, Jeff and I would stand with our backs to Bailey, face out, like a police line protecting her. This would be too funny if it wasn't so disruptive to taking care of business - especially with rough seas!
There was even one time when Jim was taking Bailey to the relief area before bedtime. They were in a hurry and a lady asked if she could take a picture. Jim said not now and picked up the pace. The lady ran after him snapping pictures.

Can you imagine asking a stranger, “What is wrong with you?” Me neither, but when going from the cabin to the dining room it happened numerous times. I explained Bailey is a medical alert dog, and helps me with my disability. That is good enough 80% of the time. If someone kept asking personal questions, I would finally say, “Gosh, I don’t feel comfortable discussing my personal medical issues with strangers.” It is a good thing I have improved my impulse control and ability to filter words a little or I would have exploded dozens of times a day and killed several idiots. Especially when people would barge right into our personal conversations and disrupt our family's vacation time. Thank you Jim, Laura, Jeff, Patti, John, and everyone else who was patient and didn't sign on for the attention.

There were several times people distracting Bailey was dangerous. Exiting a crowded elevator, backwards on a scooter, with a service dog, takes concentration- especially for a stroke survivor. Once, I gave her the command ‘back’ and she was going out of the elevator while I was backing the scooter. Most people were great and cleared a space, but one woman stopped Bailey - she literally blocked our path. I almost ran over Bailey, then the doors closed - squeezing my hand against the scooter before they re-opened. The scooter does not stop on a dime and I need time to react. I said “oh, please don’t distract her while she is working” and the lady said, "but she is so cute!" The other passengers waiting to get in the elevator appeared frustrated too –they had to wait while we could get clear for them to enter and be on their way. I was nearly in tears by the time I made it through the crowds and was safe.

While I feel so grateful to have Bailey, and be able to travel because of, I feel I needed to vent about this 'other aspect' of having a service dog. I fantasize about a day when people think nothing of a service dog and go about their own business.

It really isn't the individual questions or actions of well meaning people that cause additional stress and hardship, but rather the cumulative effect many - whether we are just trying to grocery shop or enjoy vacation.

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