Would you go up to a pregnant stranger and rub her belly? Do you pet with your mouth?

I would sure hope not. What about taking it down a step and just petting a random stranger’s arm? No? Well there is no difference between petting a pregnant woman’s belly, petting a stranger’s arm, and petting a person’s guide dog or service dog. Seriously. This has just gotten out of control and I am sorry if you feel like I have ranted about this a lot lately, but this is OBNOXIOUS. I was pretty much at my point of being almost angry today and so I feel the need to share why. Do you have popcorn? What about a soda? You may need something because you’re in for the long haul on this one.

We did a decision-making activity in class last night and my “decision” was whether or not to tell every single person that tries to touch Makiko it’s NOT okay. I had to weigh the pros and the cons. Afterward, I was asked about how many times a day we are interfered with. I said 5 on days I just work in my apt and then go to class and 10 on other days. And it is sometimes in between there, sometimes greater, sometimes less. But then this got me thinking and it really doesn’t matter the number as much as the level of impact each individual has. And lately these people have been coming out of the cracks and really impacting us.

So I’ve obviously explained the first part of the title of this post and I’m guessing a lot of you are wondering about the second part. One of my very best friends has a guide dog and we were talking about us having issues with the public. It is going to happen to us ALL. One of the guide dog handlers on a forum I am on said to me, “Welcome to the guide dog community and lifestyle.” And I’m TOTALLY for advocating, and I will continue to tell the people, even if its the same people that I’m telling over, and over again. But anyways, back to our discussion. So we were talking about some experiences we have had recently. She admitted that her dog is probably pet a lot more than she is aware of because she cannot see much of anything anymore. I notice it and I will not stand for it any longer. These dogs are really smart, that is how they are guide dogs. Even if you don’t say their name, if you make eye contact with them, use a certain pitch, have certain body movements, they WILL pick up on it and think you’re talking about them.. aka “petting with your mouth.” If Makiko tries to get your attention, you can tell me subtly but don’t do anything directed anyway toward her direction and you won’t be “petting with your mouth.” Oh how I love that phrase!

Another analogy for you– would you run up to a blind person unannounced, take away their cane, spin them around in many circles, and then run away with their cane? No. Their cane is essentially their eyes and my guide dog is mine. You just don’t do that. This was an analogy my good friend also gave me. Dang I have a lot of great support from individuals with disabilities and without alike. I’ve also thought about saying, “You do realize that you are putting me at risk of getting killed AND harming the $30,000 training of a guide dog? Would you like to pay that money all back AND face legal action?” Now that might be a little extreme but it’s the truth. When I said $30,000 just to clarify, the total cost to place a guide dog with a handler over their lifetime together is close to $60,000 but I’ve heard different smaller numbers about the formal training of the dog part of it. Another one– how would you feel if you, as sighted person, were crossing the street and suddenly someone came and blindfolded you. You knew you weren’t being kidnapped, you were just going to have to make it across the street blindfolded. You heard the surge of traffic coming at you and after you passed the median you knew there were cars also coming in the other direction. You know you’re going to get hit if you stay there, you can’t go back, you can’t go forward, you can’t go to the left or right, or at least you don’t think you can. This is kind of what it feels like when you seriously distract a guide dog from their work. You don’t know what to do, the dog has lost focus, and you’re stuck and your safety is seriously jeopardized. Not cool.

So why does this make me so mad? I could tolerate it until most recently when now it is somewhat reversing Makiko’s training on distractions from people. She still handles the mass vajority of interactions fine. With people who COMPLETELY ignore her and don’t laugh when she does something to the point where she knows she’s getting attention, even if you think it’s subtle (it’s not to her–she’s smart), Makiko doesn’t bother. A few of my classmates have worked really hard to learn all the rules and 99.9% of the time because they DO follow the rules, Makiko doesn’t go to them. For example, I went to lunch with one of them today and Makiko sees this lovely lady at least twice a week. This gal has a dog so probably has some scent on her from it, and this gal is very sweet. She doesn’t pay any attention to Makiko and Makiko rarely ever pays attention to her. Fabulous.. that’s how we need it to work. Now sometimes there are people who also really try hard but Makiko gives them a sniff now and again and that’s not their fault, we gotta work on that ourselves.

With some people, strangers and friends alike, when she is in harness she will make an attempt to do something like rub her nose up against them or something similar and that is NOT okay. And it isn’t this poor girls fault really. I mean, yes, she should know better, but so should I and so should the public. I should have spoken up more and the public needs to keep their hands off. So I was upset about this and I had been wanting to call the Guide Dogs for the Blind Licensed Professional Counselor who is trained to help us with situations like this (for free!) and she helped me a lot. She said many things that were significant. One of the reasons that I am afraid to tell friends more than strangers is because I don’t want to offend them. I like that they like Makiko and they think she’s cute, I love that they support us, and I love them so of course I don’t want to offend them. With strangers I’m not so much worried about this. But what this counselor said to me was, “why is it okay for them to offend you and you not to offend them?” Now she didn’t mean that in the way like they do something, you do it back, but she meant it in the way that they are offending us, whether unintentionally or intentionally, by distracting my eyes and teaching my eyes something that will eventually jeopardize our safety. We are still very much in the bonding stage and still learning what’s okay and what’s not and that cannot be taught to her that its okay. Because right now I’m almost positive her way of thinking is “Oh, someone comes up to talk to Jess or Jess talks to this person for awhile, I get attttentionnnnn.” Sorry sweetie, that’s not how it works. Another thing that this counselor said to me was that I can tell the people that I have to correct this poor sweet little girl who really didn’t do much wrong because of THEIR actions and they led her to believe she can do something she can’t. And this makes total sense. Think about it if you have two toddlers at your house, one being your own and one being a close friend’s child, if the close friend’s child teachers your child something really wrong, you’re going to reprimand that child right? This is a very similar situation and you also have to reprimand your child for doing the wrong action because you don’t want it to continue but your child really didn’t do much wrong on his/her own.

This led to another something that was said to me and that was, “You really don’t like correcting Makiko do you?” I replied, “No, I don’t like correcting Makiko, who likes correcting their baby?” to which this person said, “No, I get the feeling that you don’t like being the alpha in the relationship.” I somewhat agree and somewhat don’t. I don’t like correcting her, but I will. It sucks, but I will. She is part of me though and if someone offends me, I’ll most likely speak up so I really need to extend this to her.

I sent a message to my Guide Dog instructor last night simply saying, “The public is obnoxious. They really have no hands-off concept.” She replied, “It would be interesting to do a study on which rude people will pet first – a pregnant woman’s belly or a guide dog?” Interesting idea, huh? She also told me that one of the individuals she trained would end situations/”conversations” by saying, “Sorry, I’m running late for an appointment with the restroom,” and that would suddenly make people move out of the way. I found this hilarious and I really bet it IS effective but I don’t know if I could ever put that to use, haha.

These are situations that have all happened in the past week and you’re going to think I’m joking on some of these because they are just THAT obnoxious but I’m dead serious.

  1. An individual prances around in front of my dog because she is scared. She is doing like the scared jump prance but just kind of does it RIGHT in front of us. She doesn’t move AWAY from us, she just shrieks and jumps. And she wasn’t faking it to be obnoxious. Not entirely sure I understand this reaction.
  2. A little kid is walking by us with her Mom and she just swipes her hand all the way down Makiko. Now I understand that this little girl is too young to understand and her Mom DID correct her, so while it was frustrating I understood and didn’t get upset about this one.
  3. A Mom goes “Look there’s a cute little doggie. Why don’t you go pet her?” And then encourages the daughter over and over again to come pet Makiko until she does. I didn’t hear this but another person informed me of this after. Um, this just blows my mind. The daughter obviously doesn’t want to pet the dog, she doesn’t even know she’s not SUPPOSED to, yet the Mom who SHOULD know is encouraging her dog to? Oi.
  4. Makiko and I are at a halt and Makiko makes contact with the person whether that be by eye or touch and the person “pets with their mouth,” by saying in a high pitched tone “No, I’m not gonna pet you.. No, I’m not.. No, I’m not sweetie pie..” or some variation of that. This has happened multiple times.
  5. When I get locked out, someone comes to let us into the apartment, I can’t see a thing because it’s night time and I didn’t honestly even know the person was there until I feel Makiko doing something weird. Oh, hello there, sir. Now I don’t know if he knows I am blind so this is one of those situations where I should have stood up and spoken up more but stillll dude.. her “Guide dogs for the Blind” thing IS reflected and you ARE sighted.

I’m working on getting a sign. I have a different harness than the standard GDB harness so I have to contact the company to make sure it will fit. The actual sign isn’t that expensive it’s the sleeve that fits the harness that is the expensive part and really that’s been my hesitation about getting it, is the price. But now it’s come to putting a price on my sanity and safety, and there is no price label for that so I’m going to get one if it will work.

And this even carries over to letting your dog “mount” my dog, tackle my dog, play with my dog, run in front of my dog, try to tease my dog, etc. YOUR dog is under YOUR ownership and if YOU think it’s amusing or if YOU don’t control YOUR dog, then YOU are offending ME and I will do what I need to do, within reasonable limits and the law, to defend MY dog who is actually PART of me and MY eyes. People just don’t seem to get the picture. I took a night walk around my complex with Makiko tonight. I don’t normally do that but I felt like it tonight. She was in harness of course because I couldn’t see anything, at all. Suddenly Makiko is acting strange and I know it’s either a dog or a person. It’s a dog. Gosh darn it! And this dog is practically bouncing in front of Makiko, licking Makiko, etc. We can’t continue on. I hear people nearby at the basketball court and I yell, “Can you please get your dog?” Nobody responds, dog’s still there. Okay I really think they didn’t hear me this time so I yell again, “Um, Hello? I’m blind and this dog is interfering with us.” No response. “Can you PLEASE get your dog? My guide dog really needs to get back to work.” And then they start calling their dog. I don’t think they were doing this on purpose and I think they did take me seriously but their dog was still off leash and still an nuisance and Makiko and I are trying hard to correct our behaviors with dogs and other people but it’s really hard to do in situations like that. I corrected her, corrected the people, but my power over the other dogs is virtually nonexistent.

One person recommended I use the Gentle Leader. I have thought about that. The public often thinks it’s a muzzle but it’s not. They can still eat, drink, bark (although guide dogs don’t bark) with it on. It’s just a better way to control their heads and especially for a person with a visual impairment, it is a great way to feel the direction their head is going so you can catch the occasional sniff or you can catch if their head is going towards someone that is going to pet her, etc. I may do this but I have mixed feelings. I think it would be beneficial in that I could control her head a little more and have more knowledge of where her head is going. But then that brings up another underlying issue and that is I am a perfectionist and I am self-conscious and I hate to admit when there is a problem. Makiko is an amazing dog and she is one of the best dogs you will ever meet and I don’t want to tarnish that opinion in other people’s minds by putting on a Gentle Leader. Part of me thinks that’s admitting that we aren’t doing something right, and that’s partially true. Makiko shouldn’t be doing that and I should be speaking up more. But if the public just kept their hands (and dogs) off we wouldn’t have this problem to begin with. I’m still thinking about this one though. I guess we’ll see how tomorrow goes. We’ll be out in public a lot. It’s just with the occasional person though that she goes up to them, but its with what seems near every stranger that comes up to her so that makes it a bit harder to gauge.

Another person even recommended getting a taser for the times when a specific dog or two constantly comes at us. I don’t think I could ever taser a dog (or a person) though. Another person has said if I’m feeling brave I can just start petting the person. I mean after all they are petting an extension of me right? Again, not brave enough to do this one. I’ve also been told that I should really get mad at the people because that will make them take us more seriously. I could do this more easily than the other two suggestions but then the fear of me being a small female and them being larger males comes into play and jeopardizing my safety that way, etc. I’ve been told a way someone handles this situation is “I know my dog is irresistible but you really need to try, thanks!” I’ve also been told that when they say, “I know I’m not supposed to touch the dog but he’s just so cute. I’m really trying though,” you can reply, “Great, thanks, try harder.” Snarky, but probably conveys the point. I could probably do the irresistible comment, maybe the snarky comment depending on who it is. For the situations that happen around the complex, it was suggested that I contact my apartment complex office and ask them to include it in the newsletter or put it up in every building and the office door. I have thought about this but I have already gone to them about one situation awhile back with the aggressive German Shepherd and I really don’t want to put a bad taste in their mouths about me as a guide dog handler so I’m holding off on this one for now. I don’t want to be a nuisance.  I’ve posted this situation in a guide dog forum and have gotten a lot of feedback (aka all the above). I knew this and I’ve experienced it before but not in a long while. (I say that like I’ve had Makiko for a long time but I really haven’t.) Some people will think even though they know they can’t pet the dog, because we can’t see, they can pet the dog without us knowing. Except that’s not the case many times. We are very in-tune with our dog and their movements and behaviors that we can many times detect when something is up. With me being partially sighted, I can many times see them but sometimes if they land in just the right spot I can’t but I do often know something’s up by the way Makiko is acting. Some guide dog users have funny stories about different ways they have shocked the public when they tried to do this. Again, not yet brave enough I don’t think but I’m not really sure on that one.

I mean think about this, we all know that with children or animals, you have to embed in them what is right and what is wrong from the very beginning. If Makiko thinks that getting distracted and not paying attention to what is around us with her full attention and instead paying partial attention to me and partial attention to whomever or whatever has decided to be a royal pain, when she grows older this will still be the case. We could be crossing a street.. BAM there’s another dog, and we’re stopped and we get hit. I mean, this is not an extreme case. This very well could happen. However, I will say that so far Makiko’s distractions have never put us in jeopardy. They have always been when we were in a safe area or stopped/halted. It is STILL not okay, but Makiko has always put our safety first and I have honestly not been this safe in years.

I saw a quote online tonight that said, “One person’s dog is another person’s perspective.” This was used by a puppy raiser on Tumblr who was talking about the sacrifice it takes for them and how hard it is for them to give the dog up at the end of their one year commitment but that dog WILL likely go on to be so much more and will be that person’s perspective who has a visual impairment.

Just a fair warning, this post may be edited over the next day or so. I won’t be taking anything away, just adding things that I’ve heard from others and that I feel relevant to this rant. All of the things that I wrote above were my perspectives as well as other guide dog users perspectives on what it is like to distract a guide dog, and many times you may not realize you’re doing it. One of my friends said during the first day of class, “You’re basically supposed to pretend they are not there,” and for most purposes that would be really cool if people did. I’m not really talking about my classmates. I mean one here or there will do something but its mostly others. Thank goodness that I’m in the Rehabilitation profession and don’t have to deal with that much in class. I’m sorry if I pushed the point too far into the ground but it all needed to be said and all the ways others phrased it to me I felt needed to be mentioned.

So here’s my challenge to my friends and family. If you are with me and you see someone petting Makiko with their hands or their mouth, I should tell EACH and every one of them that it’s not okay. I need to keep reinforcing it regardless of whether it is a stranger, a professor, a friend, or a family member. Cough, remind me, do something to give me the hint, please, that I’m not doing what I know I need to do. “Sorry I’m not sorry” if I offend you or if I come across as being one of those nasty words. You all KNOW how much I did not like using a cane (most of you do at least), you all know how much freedom I have with Makiko know and you know how important both Makiko and maintaining a busy lifestyle is for me. So much of that will be taken from me if I can’t trust her because she does these things. I won’t be mean when I tell others about the rules, I really won’t, but I will stand up for what is best for my guide dog and me as a working team and if you take offense to that because I’m getting stricter and confronting you.. “I’m sorry I’m not sorry.” 🙂 “Time to be a tiger” as one friend recently told me.

Jess and Makiko, a very hard working girl who is confused by the obnoxious public

P.S. Since posting this, I have received a little more insight into Makiko’s childhood and she did this then too. So it’s in her nature and I just need to kind of find a compromise. Makiko is a very social dog and does love people WAY more than dogs and I love this about her, we just gotta figure this out while working. Her puppy raiser also told me she calls the Gentle Leader an “intelligence collar” because often the dog goes back to their puppy raising days when they had to wear them all the time and of course be on their best behavior so sometimes they revert back to that super good behavior. I’m still thinking about when I’m going to use it though. I also want others to know that I wrote this when I was tired and therefore a little bit more emotional. I am really not that hard on Makiko about this issue at all. I probably should be a little more firm and that’s what I’m working on as described above. I am hard on myself but I’m working on this too and that’s mostly because I don’t want a bad habit to develop that will really affect us in the future and when I’m trying to talk to someone it’s hard because I can’t see to determine if she’s soliciting attention and that is drawing somebody to us or if that stranger is just being obnoxious. Most of the time it’s the latter but I still need to redevelop things so that I know most of the time it’s not Makiko’s fault at all, ya know? Last, I will be hard on the public, I really don’t care about that. Or I’m trying not to. 🙂

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Jessica N and Makiko

Jessica is a proud Texan. She graduated in 2014 with her Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling and is now employed. She is visually impaired and has a retinal disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa. Originally Jessica started blogging about everything from being diagnosed with the disease to where she is now, almost 9 years later. Then, Jessica went to Guide Dogs for the Blind and was blessed with Makiko, her new guide dog. Now, her blog "The Way Eye See The World" is about everything related to visual impairments, including guide dogs.

4 thoughts on “Would you go up to a pregnant stranger and rub her belly? Do you pet with your mouth?”

  1. Dear Jessica, You have always done such a comprehensive job in teaching! Bringing your friends and family into the problem solving as assets, allies, and partners joining you and Makiko is brilliant! We all need a team! You and Makiko are an incredible team, and expanding your support system to advocate to improve an important and difficult situation benefits you and Makiko too!

    I can compare your feelings to how I felt as a new mom….I just wished that others would understand the importance I placed on safety, behaviors, and positive reinforcement with very young children….but when they allow their children to behave recklessly, unkind, selfishly, and rudely (just to name a few of them), I had to learn to assert myself in the situation which were not good for my children….and I wasn’t comfortable with doing that because I didn’t want to offend or be rude to them. But I was given an insight one day….that I was sacrificing my children’s best interests for a “stranger’s” priority……and that woke me up! I didn’t have to be rude, just firm with them; and I didn’t have to feel guilty because I have the right (and responsibility)to provide a proper environment and relationship for my children, and I could learn to be assertive without being aggressive.

    In short….Makiko is your “child”. Please don’t put such pressure on yourself! You and Makiko have the love for, respect of, and bond with each other that makes for a wonderful and successful team, despite the mistakes the public makes! You are doing an awesome job…I know that from all your communicate!! Time is going to make things better, and time is on your side!

    We have nothing but respect and support for you both!
    ❤ Sue

  2. Re: “One of the reasons that I am afraid to tell friends more than strangers is because I don’t want to offend them. I like that they like Makiko and they think she’s cute, I love that they support us, and I love them so of course I don’t want to offend them.”

    I feel like you should be more comfortable telling your friends what they do wrong than telling strangers because they should be more understanding of you and your needs. If they aren’t, then I would argue that they aren’t really a good friend. Plus, you are more likely to see your friends more than once, unlike a stranger who you would probably never see again (unless you both need to go to the same place at the same time for something.) It would be much easier to tell them what they shouldn’t do the first time you notice that they are doing something wrong than later on, especially since they think that since they were able to do it before, it is ok to do again. Granted, I do know that it can be intimidating to say negative things to friends, so I am trying to be more vocal about things that annoy me that some friends may do.

    In any case, I agree with Sue’s comment above. I believe that if you saw one of your friends giving your child peanut butter, to which hypothetically your child is allergic, you would immediately tell that person to not do that. Your child may love the taste of peanut butter, but you know that s/he cannot have any. The same applies to strangers. I was going to say you can determine the extent of the allergy in my analogy, but then I realized that it doesn’t really matter. It can be not so dangerous (like when you two are stopped/halted) or super dangerous (like in the middle of the street), but no matter what, it is not safe.

    Regarding the Gentle Leader, I feel like that is similar to people who put leashes on their kids to stop them from running away. Of course, buy “leash” I mean those things that you put on the child’s back which has a long piece of material that you hold on to, but allow your kid to run about as you wish. In any case, I do not think you necessarily need to consider it being the “alpha” in the relationship if that has a negative connotation for you. However, even if you don’t decide on using the Gentle Leader, you need to control your dog, as well. Possibly even more than a pet dog owner needs to. (Not related to them not having their dogs on leashes/controlling them enough/etc. They should still be more strict.) However, you have a duty, too, in making sure Makiko learns/relearns how to pay full attention when she is on duty. It’s like how you would scold your child who likes to run across the street without looking both ways. You have to stop it before it becomes a habit. Once it’s a habit, it’s so much harder to learn not to do it anymore. I know you know this already, but I just want to reinforce that it’s okay to tell her no.

    In conclusion of my long-ish comment, I think a lot of these quotes would make good t-shirts about not petting your guide dog. Things like “if you wouldn’t pet a pregnant stranger’s belly, don’t pet my dog without asking.”

    Sorry if this comment ended up sounding preachy. I just want you to know that I agree with you. 🙂

    1. OH! I left out on the peanut butter part that it may not be malicious that they’re giving your child something s/he is allergic to. They may just not know! So you gotta let them know! They may not realize they’re doing something wrong!

  3. I love your “pet with the mouth” and want to borrow it!

    I am hearing impaired, and have been partnered nearly 9 years with Itzl. We’re closer than any married couple I know and our alert/response is now so seamless many people think I can hear when truly I can’t.

    In my experience, it really doesn’t get any better, even when you do have control over the dog. There’s always a bunch of people who either don’t know or don’t care how you treat a service team (ignore the dog, speak to the human).

    And that “pet with the mouth” thing? *ALL THE TIME!!!* They think I can’t hear, but Itzl tells me they are talking to him and not me. He has this sign he makes where he looks at me, jiggles his lower jaw, cuts his eyes towards them and then looks at me to jiggle his jaw again. It’s his “They talk stupid baby talk” sign that he made up and I learned from him. My signal dog is snarky.

    When I tell people what he signed to me, they have one of 2 reactions – they laugh and think it’s soooo cute and do the “pet with the mouth” *even more*, or they get all huffy and leave. I kind of like the latter response. Then I can get on with my errands faster.

    I can understand your hesitation to correct others, too. Even now, nearly 9 years into our partnership, I am not confrontational. If you are partnered with a service dog, sadly, you have to allow an extra 10-20% more time to get things done because you have to repel the public. I feel so like a ship being boarded by pirates, and my job is to repel the invaders so I can sail on to my destination. Man the cannons!

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