Closed mind

A few years ago, almost 5 to be exact, I embarked a journey. I decided to utilize a service dog to help mitigate some of the problems my disabilities cause. It was not a decision I made lightly. Up until then, I had owned pet dogs. You know, the kind that come when they feel like it and maybe sit for 2 seconds. I was about to train a dog for some very specialized work, so I went looking for answers.

At first, I did what we all do. I joined every social media group relating to service dogs. I bookmarked page after page of organizations and blogs that related to service dogs. There was lots of information, At the time, I didn’t know anything about training so it all seemed valid.

And then I was schooled. People started criticizing the breed of dog I was training, the type of leash I used, the way I walked, the words I used to train and pretty much everything else I did. At first, it was confusing. Then it became downright hurtful. I learned that there are people in the service dog community that only want to tear down in the name of helping.

I also learned there are poseurs, liars, cheats and downright hostile individuals in the service dog world. I shouldn’t be surprised because, well, they’re people and you’ll find that all types across humanity. I became disillusioned and decided to leave all that behind. Unfortunately, it still occasionally catches up with me.

Poseurs, or people who think they are the best trainer EVER, still catch me off guard. They look good. They talk a good talk. And then, comes the walk. The walk reveals that they really don’t know what they are doing. The walk reveals that they lack the true insight into working with dogs to get the best results. The walk reveals that their dog is nothing more than a highly trained pet.

They’re not the fakers you hear about in the news. These people do have disabilities that could be mitigated by a service dog, which is what the law requires if you’re going to work a dog. Yet, their dogs just lack….something. It makes me uncomfortable to be around a dog that doesn’t “work.” Yes, I know “work” looks different across the board. These people just seem to have a dog.

My first instinct is to try to figure out why I feel this way. Then I want to help. Which is when I get smacked upside the head. You would think I learned my lesson by now. It’s like raising a child. No one really wants your thoughts because they already KNOW everything and feel their way is the best way. I’m left wondering why people even ask for comments if all they are going to do is get pissed off and lash out.

So, here I am. Five years of service dog training and handling experience that apparently means nothing to anyone but me. Forty-five years of living with dogs and learning about their behaviors, which also means nothing to anyone but me. A sense of wonder at why people refuse to accept that there may be other ways to do things. To consider that there are vast amounts of knowledge at their fingertips that could make their journey easier.

I guess it’s all in your attitude. Are you willing to accept that someone else may have ideas that could help you? Or are you firmly entrenched in your views and unwilling to see what others see? A closed mind is the biggest disability out there.

PS: While this is about service dogs, you can plug in just about any noun and it will still apply.

It’s a People Thing

This week brought 12 unfriendings, 3 really awful comments to be deleted and a need to start censuring posts. I’m reminded that what I put on the Internet takes on a life of its own that I have zero control over. I guess we all need a reminder every once in a while.

The unfriendings happened for several reasons. The most common reason was a comment I made (as well as a blog entry) supporting police officers. Not dismissing recent events. Not shaming or blaming. Just stating that police officers are our thin blue line that keeps us safe. Suddenly, I’m a racist pig. I’m a 1% who could never understand struggle. I believe that the victims are completely at fault. Literally, my social media blew up in my face.

The second most common reason is a post about World AIDS day, which was December 1. About 6 people  informed me that I was going to hell. A few others took it upon themselves to point out that December is the month of Christmas and how dare I bring up such an un-Christian topic. And yet a few more condemned my efforts to raise awareness about a disease that affects a broad spectrum of society. I was told that AIDS doesn’t deserve research dollars because there are  other diseases that people didn’t “bring on themselves.”

Truth? Your attitude shows me your true colors. Anyone who has actually met me will tell you I get along with 99% of the people I meet. They’ll tell you my personal space is comfortable for them. It’s a no judgment zone. They can tell me anything because I listen and empathize. Yes, I have the things I feel passionate about. Yes, I have opinions about politics, religion and even justice. I’m human just like you.

However, I don’t believe my opinions are the end of discussions. I don’t believe my ideas are superior to anyone else’s. I don’t believe that we all have to be passionate about the same things. I certainly don’t believe that I must shove my beliefs in your face.

So, to those who can’t see the hurt they are causing, I hope one day you realize that causing pain doesn’t accomplish anything. To those who feel they must take sides and polarize communities, I wish for understanding. To those who carry deep passion, I hope your love can extend to those who may not see your vision.

This isn’t about politics, ethnicity, religion or equality. It’s about people. It’s about accepting that we all feel differently about events and we all respond differently to actions. It is about trying to understand each other better so we can close gaps and cross bridges. It’s about seeing past our own perspective to learn what other people see.

Your challenge: Step outside your zone. Not your comfort zone, but the one where the people around you all feel similarly about things. Look at where you live and try to understand your community from a different perspective. Take the time to think about what you’re going to say and how it could impact others. These few gestures won’t take much of your time and the insight you gain and then share makes a difference.