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I’m Jess Chancey, filling in for John as he attends the World Council of Churches meeting in Germany.
If you’ve met me, chances are you’ve probably met my little buddy, Macy. She’s retired now, but for years, she worked as my service dog. I live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and adopting and training her was a large part of my trauma therapy. She was trained to intervene at the first sign of a panic attack to prevent it from getting to the point of a dissociative episode. You see, before her, I would experience a trigger, start to tremble, hyperventilate, lose the ability to find words (a condition known as “aphasia”) and eventually become unresponsive, sometimes including loss of consciousness or falling out. It was really scary to see, but even more frightening to experience, as some of these falls resulted in concussions and other injuries.
But then came Macy. She would sit in my lap and pay close attention to my every movement and breath. If I started to shake, she’d nuzzle my hands to get my attention and ground me in the present moment. If that didn’t work and I went into the hyperventilating stage, she’d stand up, rest her paws on my chest, and start licking my face. And that worked every time! I haven’t had a single dissociative episode when she’s been with me to prevent it, and it’s been a decade since my last concussion.
Unfortunately, though, Macy is cute. I mean, REALLY cute. She’s a tiny black chihuahua-dachshund mix, weighing in at just 6-and-a-half pounds. I often keep her hair cut short, but her ears and tail are super floofy. She’s so cute, she’s charmed people who previously claimed to hate dogs.
But you heard me right. I did say, “Unfortunately,” and that’s because some of the worst experiences of marginalization I’ve had as a person with a disability were related to having her as my service dog. What with the increasing scrutiny of service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs, we’ve realized that there are a lot of dishonest people out there who will claim that their pets are working service animals, just because they don’t want to leave them at home. These are people with no disabilities, carrying their poorly behaved pocket dogs into public places and making us all look bad.
I’ve had people come up to me in public and ask where they can get a service vest like Macy’s for their small dog, and my response has always been that they can talk to the person who treats them for their disability about that. And, of course, the answer has tended to be, “Oh, I’m not disabled!” At which point I let my face show my disgust as I walk away.
Other times people have confronted me and accused me of having a “fake” service dog, because, as they say, I don’t “look” disabled. Or they throw out these phrases like, “four on the floor,” referring to some forms of service animals being trained to keep all four paws on the floor, something Macy clearly cannot do if she’s going to be able to reach my hands and face. I’ve been cursed at, yelled at, and thrown out of public spaces, all because I have an invisible disability, and I had a particularly cute service dog.
But you know what? Many people have invisible disabilities, and many of them have small, cute service dogs. Did you know that dogs can be trained to sense their humans’ blood sugar levels? These diabetic alert dogs are incredible, and they do life-saving work. And they come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and breeds.
As for Macy and me, we have a different relationship now. Through years of trauma therapy, I’ve become much more self-sufficient in managing my triggers, and I no longer need Macy to keep such a close eye on me. The unwanted attention and harassment her work attracted became more distressing than being out without her. She is able to rest at home now, enjoy doggie daycare when I have to be away, and be my emotional support in a more generalized way.
If you heard my episode about friendship, you know that I believe friends are truly gifts from God, reflections of God’s love in our lives. And what better, more loyal and loving friend could there possibly be than little Macy? She has kept me safe as I grew into the minister I am today, my little protector and life saver, and I thank God for her every day. And now, I think it’s time for a walk, as Macy and I go on this, our journey into the mystic.