The Raw Emotions


Sometimes, I just wish I could blend in. Folks, my emotions are pretty raw right now. I waited 9.5 hours from when I was super emotional about all of this to start writing but I’m still pretty raw. This is not a pity post, this is a “let’s get real” post. I have had stuff go on in the past and wanted to write one of these but then didn’t. Most days, I am proud of who I am, blindness included, so didn’t want to give off a different impression, whatever that may be. But fortunately, I am part of several online groups that have shown me that it IS okay to say blindness sucks sometimes and IT is okay to feel how I’m feeling.

I’m working on unpacking why my emotions have been so off this week and why a lot of things that are inherently involved with living with blindness and the guide dog lifestyle have affected me more than normal. I’m still working on this but this is what I’ve figured out so far..

A state agency moved into our office building this week. This was supposed to happen in April, then May, etc. We have a few office spaces and a lot of cubicles available and so they moved in. Change is hard and we had a pretty developed office culture. Now, we have to be a little bit quieter when out in the hallways, etc. Not a big deal, but still a change. With the move-in came a lot of people who left tons of carts and boxes in the hallway and absolutely did not understand about service dog etiquette.

A few months back I went to the Emergency Room because a staff member left a filing cabinet open and I went full force into it. I don’t always have my guide dog with me when going around the office. She stays on her comfy bed while I do what I need to do. Since then, our office management has been really pushing for people to be more cognizant of safety in the office, not leaving things in the hallway for not only myself but the other co-workers and consumers with disabilities, and making sure things are properly closed/taken care of. Now, I know it’s inevitable that while moving in things are going to be in the way and out-of-place.. but it’s still really stressful. Especially when I open my office door and there are things blocking me from getting out, etc. So that heightened my anxiety level this week.

Then there was the obsessive petting of my guide dog. Makiko is a very friendly dog and so I am very conscientious of who I let her say hi to and when. Almost every time when I’m walking up and down the hallway this week, someone from this other agency would try to do a sneak/drive by pet. Sometimes they would come into my office while I was at the copier, etc., to say hi to Makiko. Sometimes I would be getting ready to go and they would call Makiko. Sometimes even they would try to call her from across the hallway. I started by asking them not to distract/pet/call her. I also ignored them sometimes and gave them the “cold shoulder”. I even sternly said “That’s not ok” and explained how her focus on me is essential to her job and my safety. But it still persisted. As I posted on my Facebook, my tolerance for this kind of thing this week has been limited. I tried the education route.. didn’t work.. at least up until that point. Management scheduled a meet and greet for this morning so all night last night I was thinking of the phrasing and delivery for how I was going to efficiently and effectively express that distracting/petting/calling her is NOT ok. I found the Access and Etiquette brochure on Guide Dog for the Blind’s website and sent it to my work email to print. I had already told my management about the issue as well. I came up with what I was going to say in my head. Around 9:30am, I printed 15 copies of the Access and Etiquette brochure and placed them in the conference room. At 10:00am, the announcement was made to head to the Conference Room for the Meet and Greet. I harnessed Makiko up (even though she isn’t always harnessed for just walks around the office) and headed that way. One of the building managers stopped me and asked if she could pass the brochures out. BINGO! I said absolutely and advised her that our office staff already knew everything on there. She passed out the brochures and explained that everybody needs to be aware of this kind of thing. Then a few minutes later one of my awesome managers also made an announcement about BOTH the obstacles issue and the service dog issue. When it came time for me to introduce myself, I said a few sentences about appreciating them not distracting her, calling her, or petting her so that she can keep me safe. They seemed to all understand. THANK GOODNESS!

At this point though, I think my anxiety was already pretty high and i just didn’t realize it. I went back to my office to work for a little bit but then somebody said a few things that while directly didn’t appear to have anything to do with my disability, indirectly, they did. I was expressing how I had so much paperwork to go through and then comments were made that upset me, even though they were teasing. I’m not going to go into them here though because I respect this person very much. The point is.. why did they upset me?

I’ve been unpacking that all afternoon in my head and I think I’ve figured out most of it. I appear sighted. If I didn’t have my guide dog with me, you truly would not know that I had a visual impairment. I do not fit what society has in their minds of what someone who is blind looks like. With that being said, I do utilize specialized equipment and do need assistance in several areas, but most people don’t see this. People don’t hear JAWS or my screen reading software because I have a headset in or am behind closed doors. People don’t see me using my PEARL camera with OpenBook to read printed documents that are hard because it just looks like I’m using my computer.. etc. But what they don’t realize is that what would take a sighted person 15 minutes to go through takes me about 35 – 40 depending. And, if you know anything about state government work.. you know there is always a TON of paperwork. So that pile of paperwork which is of significant size is even more significant to me because I know how long it is going to take me to go through it.

I continue to lose my vision. It’s not fun, but I deal with it. Pretty much everybody that knows me well or spends a lot of time around me, knows my condition is degenerative. But it’s not like I’m going to go up and provide periodic updates – “Hey hey! My vision has declined again.” I would be doing that all too often, unfortunately. And I do get it, that because I don’t appear to be that impacted by my vision loss on a daily basis based on what other people see, they don’t remember or don’t think about it. I don’t blame them.. but sometimes I just wish they would. I don’t need them to pity me or constantly worry about helping me, I am pretty dang good at self-advocacy and will ask for help when needed. I just wish they would keep in the back of their heads that I am visually impaired. That I have really very little sight and that simple to complex tasks that require sight take me a lot longer and can be very tiresome. (I’ve been thinking about trying to do my own simulation of how I see.. but gotta think about how to execute this). And if we’re being perfectly honest here, the thought ran through my head.. if I wore sunglasses… they probably would treat me different… because that would be their constant reminder that I can’t see very well. But that just is due society’s image of what blindness looks like and I don’t need nor want to use sunglasses all the time.

As I was thinking about writing this post and then as I was about to hit submit, a thought came to mind.. what is the solution? One of my really close friends and a counselor that I have the utmost respect for always likes to discuss solutions. So if there is a problem with something and she brings it up to that person, she likes to have a solution in mind of how to fix it. I LOVE this approach and have tried to keep it in the back of my head more often. So how can I fix all of the above? Well, with people petting her, etc., I hopefully have addressed that in the workplace. Out in public we don’t have this issue because I’m a little more stern with the public. With the obstacles issue, I might start working my guide dog in the building when there is a lot going on in the future and I will be a little more vocal if there are persistent problems. With the people being more aware of my blindness, I’m not exactly sure how to tackle that issue. I don’t really hide when I utilize my equipment, etc., but it’s not exactly obvious either.. I might stop working so hard to make it less obvious and just let it be. For example, in group meetings, I may not utilize something necessarily to make a document accessible because I don’t want to stand out.. I guess that’s an adjustment thing.. I will be working on that.

As I’ve said, I don’t want people to treat me any different.. I just want them to understand and respect that I am blind, I do have to do things differently, some things take longer, I am human and will get frustrated, and that’s okay.

All in all, most days I am just fine and adjusted to my disability. But I do have experience the rare day where I wish I could just blend in the crowd and not be stopped six bazillion times a day due to my guide dog, not have to deal with worrying about obstacles, not have to deal with the stigma, and not have to deal with a largely inaccessible world.

And that’s okay.

HB2992


Today, HB2992 will be discussed in Texas. The bill has been proposed to help the fake service dog issue by making it a misdemeanor if someone puts service dog identification or equipment on a dog that isn’t a service dog. When they do that, they are either misrepresenting themselves as having a disability when they don’t, or if they do have a disability, they could still be faking their undertrained or untrained dog as their service dog. I was interviewed by NBC5 Ben Russell regarding this issue. Read the article and see the video here:

http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/politics/TX-Bill-Would-Punish-Those-Who-Use-Fake-Service-Animals-419593253.html

Overall, what do I think? I love that it is being recognized as an issue by politicians and think it is a baby step toward a solution. 

I wrote a letter to Rep. Victoria Neave’s office. She is who authored this bill.

This was the letter I wrote: 

Dear Representative Victoria Neave:

My name is Jessica Naert. I am a resident of Denton, TX, a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, very involved in my community, and I am also blind. I have a wonderful guide dog, Makiko, from Guide Dogs for the Blind and am very active in the guide dog and service dog communities. 

I am very appreciative that Rep. Victoria Neave’s office has taken the issue of “fake service dogs” so seriously and is taking action against fake service dogs by proposing a bill that would make it a misdemeanor by putting some sort of identification on a pet that would identify it as a service animal, when it is not indeed a service animal. I feel this is a good “first step” towards making improvements in the great State of Texas toward diminishing this issue. 

We call it a “fake service dog” issue but really it is not the dog that is committing the offense or faking anything, it is most often a person without a disability wanting to bring their pet animal with them everywhere. Sometimes it is a person who might have a disability but doesn’t have a dog that is trained specific tasks to mitigate their disability, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires. 

When someone is so ignorant to do this, it is harmful for us who have legitimate disabilities and have legitimate service dogs in many ways. First, most often these “fake service dogs” don’t have the level of basic obedience and public access skills, aren’t very well socialized and the environments that their owners put them in cause anxiety and bad behaviors, such as urinating or defecating in places of business or restaurants, incessantly barking, attacking others, damaging goods, etc. Often times when one of these fake service dogs enter a place of business, they put a bad taste in the business owners mouths and then when I go in the place of business with my well-trained service dog, I may be denied access because of that bad experience or experience significant harassment. This is just not fair. It also puts our service dogs at serious risk. There have been many stories of “fake service dogs” attacking a legitimate service dog. Can you imagine being blind and just hearing this dog growling and attacking your dog and often times being pretty helpless to stop it because you can’t see what’s going on? Many times this kind of trauma significantly affects that dog’s ability to be in many types of situations, especially if dogs are around, and tragically the guide dog could need to be retired due to serious trauma or anxiety, physical and/or emotional. This also of course affects the person with a disability’s emotional well-being and can affect their livelihood for years because they aren’t able to live the life they lived with their service animal. Waiting lists for many service dog organizations are years long. 

In the past several years, we have seen a steady increase in people faking a service dog. Something needs to be done and that is why I am so grateful that we are making baby steps toward resolving it for Texans. It is very difficult to resolve this issue because state codes can’t be more restrictive than federal law (the ADA). So, before I go further, I want to express my deep gratitude that your office is taking this issue so seriously and caring about Texans with disabilities who use service animals. 

I do have one concern and would like to make a few suggestions as well. My main concern – how will it be enforced? As I understand it, any time an individual has an animal in a restaurant wearing some sort of identification or equipment that indicates it is a service animal, it could possibly be flagged or reported as a possible fake. This may be what needs to happen but I also can see that this can get pretty sticky because there are many people with invisible disabilities and general society isn’t very knowledgeable of invisible disabilities, so they could automatically assume because someone doesn’t have a visible disability, they are faking. I am a person with a visual impairment but it is not immediately obvious. Would I get reported? Additionally, once it does get reported, how will it be investigated? Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses can only ask the two questions: 1) Is it a service animal? 2) What tasks was the dog trained to perform to mitigate a disability? These are just a few questions I would like you all to consider regarding enforcement. Protecting service dog handlers and businesses from fake service dogs is something that has to be done and more protections need to be in place, but they also need to be careful to still protect the civil rights of people with service animals and their privacy.  

I would also like you to consider adding additional verbiage to the bill. By stating that the person would be committing a misdemeanor by falsely representing their pet as a service animal by some sort of equipment or identification, you are implying if a person without a disability brings in a dog as their “service animal”, they are faking a disability. However, I think that it would be so much stronger if it was specifically stated that faking a disability to get an animal access and/or portraying an animal as a service animal that isn’t task trained to mitigate their disability are both criminal offenses.  

Please feel free to share this as needed. 

Again, thank you for your time and for caring about something that is so important to people with disabilities. Our service dogs are so important to our livelihoods, our independence, and our freedom, and fake service dogs make it so much harder for us. 

Respectfully,

Jessica Naert, M.S., CRC

Guide Dog Equipment and Upkeep


Did you know there are three parts to a harness?

 

At the top of the picture is the harness handle, followed by on the left is the body of the harness and in the bottom right there is the small belly strap.

There is the harness handle: 

 

There is the body of the harness:

There is the belly strap:

Other common pieces of equipment for guide dog teams are the leash (of course), the collar (different collars are used but many from GDB use martingale collars), and many guide dog teams often use gentle leaders as well. (No, they aren’t muzzles). A martingale collar is where it has a few chain links (not prongs), so that if you need to do a correction, you can, but the rest of the collar is fabric so it is comfortable for the dog. A gentle leader is a piece that goes across the dog’s nose and behind their neck and is very useful to a blind handler to feeling where the dog’s head is moving so that they can make necessary corrections if needed, but also many guide dogs are on their “tip top behavior” when wearing this.
A few months ago, I started to notice a few different things about Makiko’s equipment:

1) It was looking pretty beat up/used. I noticed it needed to be cleaned and spruced up a little bit. Why does this matter? Makiko and I are constantly in many different professional environments for work, but every single guide dog team is also an ambassador for their school and also the guide dog community as a whole. Makiko is an extension of me. I care about my appearance and care about hers, but I also care about the equipment’s appearance.

2) I also have been noticing over the past year or so that there has been more of a gap between Makiko’s body and the harness. At a recent guide dog event, I heard a few other handlers say that they have also had this problem.

3) Makiko’s collar was getting pretty worn out and pretty quickly after adjusting it to be tighter, it would go back to being loose. So, our field rep also sent us a new martingale collar.

So here is what I decided to do about it:

My boyfriend and I stopped at Home Depot when we were out running errands. We got “Leather Cleaner and Conditioner.” This stuff did WONDERS. We had purchased some leather polisher a few months ago but read on “Guide Dog Handlers Network,” a group I admin on Facebook, that really it should be washed first with something that works well with leather. It took me all of 15 minutes with this leather cleaner and a shop towel to really get her harness looking better. (Why didn’t I do this a few years ago?)

When our field rep, Michelle, was out a few months ago, I showed her the concern I had with the gap in the harness. We discussed a few different reasons it could be there, such as the leather just slightly changing shape. She suggested that she send us a body piece that is one size smaller and see how it fits. She sent this to us awhile ago but we hadn’t gotten around to trying it until just now. Since we were working on her equipment, we figured that it would be a good time to do it. So far, we are pleased. Why does this gap matter? Most importantly, having less of a gap can increase the amount of feedback the guide dog handler can get from the harness. It could also potentially make her a little more comfortable (although I don’t think she was really uncomfortable at all in the first place).

The harness body on the left is the one that Makiko has worn for 4 years. It has a pretty distinct shape and has been thoroughly worn. The harness body on the right appears to be brand new. It looks “squished” because it hasn’t been worn and the leather is quite stiff. 
In this picture, you can see the gap between her body and her chest strap, right above her shoulder. This is with the old harness body. 
This is a picture of her with the new harness body. You can see barely any gap. It does need to be worn in a little bit but looks significantly better fitting. 
My view looking down at Makiko in harness. (Note: There is no leash because we are simply just trying on the harness)

She also gave us a new martingale collar to try out. I didn’t take a picture of it because it looks exactly the same as the old one but if you’d like to see it, let me know.

So now we will put it all to the test tomorrow as we go to work and about our day and see how she seems to feel it in and how it feels to me as we work. I’ll bring the other piece along just in case something does go wrong or bothers her.

Did you know that a full harness can cost as much as $500 for this specific type from GDB? That’s pretty wild, huh? Thanks to the generous donations of donors to GDB, we don’t have to pay when we have equipment problems like this. If we lose it once, we do get it replaced at no charge to us but if we lose it again, we do have to pay for it. I know weird things happen, but to me it’d be pretty hard to lose something like this. 🙂

GDB is so incredible in supporting the guide dog team throughout the whole process and I have been nothing but pleased. They are very innovative and receptive and want to find what makes the most sense and works the best for each guide dog team. They also recognize that what works best and is necessary might change over time and they are totally cool with working through each team as they go through any changes.

Emergency Preparedness


A red text box with white letters - TORNADO WARNING DENTON CO
Tonight’s weather was a little scary in Denton, but mixed with a few circumstances, it got my adrenaline running! I’m usually pretty good in emergency situations. 

I moved into this rental house a few months ago. I’m pretty familiar with it obviously by now and we have a few items ready to go in an emergency but I hadn’t thought about where I would take shelter. Makiko was eating dinner (with a special treat) and I got the notification to “TAKE SHELTER NOW!” I looked it up real fast online and indeed saw that we needed to take shelter. I spent about 3 sec thinking about where to take shelter, realized all rooms had windows, so I picked up the phone and called my handy dandy resource for everything, my Mom. We chatted for less than a minute and then off to a closet we went. My house is pretty open and we have windows in every room, even the bathroom, with no closed halls.

When I decided that we were headed to the closet, I called Makiko to come and she came IMMEDIATELY. Now that’s some good training. She loves her dinner, especially when she has a little treat topper, so that really impressed me. We hung out in the closet with pillows as Facebook notifications came in, more emergency alerts, texts from Mom and one of my best friends, and we just watched the storm pass online. When the hail hit, that was intense. Tennis ball sized hail was reported and the tornado did touch town about 30 mins from us. Once we got the all clear, we stayed in there a little longer and then went out to the living room, where I am now typing this as I hear lots of emergency vehicle sirens going off outside. Praying that everything turns out ok. 
Oh, did I mention that we did this all without electricity? 

With all this in mind, I wanted to share a few tips that I had heard throughout the years for people with low vision or blindness in emergencies. This list isn’t for tornado specific emergencies but rather can be applied to many situations. 

  • If you have a guide dog or service dog, make sure to take their leash to the closet or wherever with you. You don’t know how the dog will react if it gets pretty serious and this can keep the dog safe and with you. 
  • If your service dog gets panicked and is unable to work out of the emergency situation, such as a fire, have a backup plan such as knowing where the emergency exit is and just going as fast as possible by feeling walls, etc., or if possible, heel your dog beside you and use sighted guide. 
  • Know where the closest exits are in any building. Remember if you rely on audible cues to help you navigate a situation (such as the sound of a coffee maker, you may not be able to use these if the electricity is out etc. 
  • Have a few contacts in your phone listed as Emergency Contacts so that others can find them easily if they need to call someone on your behalf. 
  • Make sure you know where the fire alarms are and how to activate them. There are many different kinds of alarms, some you have to break through to activate the alarm. This can be challenging for a sighted person and definitely for someone with a visual impairment in an emergency. 
  • If you work, have someone that you trust that will be your buddy if you need help getting out
  • Know how to use the emergency button in an elevator, or at least where it is. 
  • Make sure you keep your necessary assistive devices and medication in one place so that you know how to get them, if you have the chance to, in a hurry. Make sure to know your pharmacy info in case you have to get a prescription filled if you are evacuated, etc. 
  • Know where the gas and water shut offs are in your home and how to use them
  • Grab your cane, even if you are a guide dog user, if possible on your way out. (Obviously if it was a fire, you wouldn’t probably have time to do this, but if you are evacuating or have a little time, this is smart) 
  • If you have to evacuate, make sure you take everything you will need for at least 3 days for yourself and your service animal, including food, water, a toy, and a portable bed. . 

Emergency situations can be scary for anyone, especially if you have a disability. The American Red Cross and local disability organizations often have tips as well about how to prepare for an emergency. 

Thank you for giving me my life back


Dear Makiko,

Four years and two weeks ago today, I laid my eyes upon you with your gorgeous brown eyes and black fur. We went through very rigorous training and exactly four years ago today, we walked across that stage at Guide Dogs for the Blind and officially became a team. Little did I know at that point just how much you would change my life. You’ve wagged, cuddled, and kissed your way into the hearts of so many people.

Makiko, you’ve enabled me to do what I love to do. My job as a transition counselor is incredibly busy and we travel A LOT. I don’t think I would have been able to keep doing this position, or I don’t know that i would have even applied to it, without you sweet girl. You give me the confidence to be okay with going new places independently and venture into the high schools which look like colleges. This confidence can be seen in many areas of my life – I am spending less time at home and more time out and about, socializing, volunteering, participating in community events, and being me.

I may be a bit biased but I think you are one of the best looking guide dogs out there and your sweet face just melts everybody’s heart. People want to come up to me and ask me about you and of course, I love to tell everybody about how amazing and beautiful you are! This has led to many new friendships and connections… relationships I know I wouldn’t have made as a cane user. You have opened many doors for me.

Because you have been such an life-changing guide dog, I have wanted to continue to give back to Guide Dogs for the Blind and become more and more involved in this selfless community. Because of you, I have the opportunity to travel and meet people, sharing about Guide Dogs for the Blind. I have the opportunity to help raise funds and introduce the guide dog lifestyle to many other individuals with visual impairments. My public speaking skills are steadily improving and I’m becoming more confident in this area, an area that I have struggled in for many years. I have co-founded and become the Co-President of “The Eyes of Texas”, the Texas Alumni Chapter for Guide Dogs for the Blind, where I have had the opportunity to meet so many incredible graduates with guide dogs across the state. I founded “Guide Dog Handlers Network,” a Facebook social support group for guide dog handlers from all over the world and we have had the opportunity to be there for each other and brighten each other’s lives. Because of you, I have a new amazing community that I have the honor of being a part of.

Because of you, my gorgeous girl, my wanderlust is back in full swing and I want to travel with you by my side because it is SO much fun and I feel totally free when traveling with you.

I am much safer with you by my side, leading the way with me holding onto that harness handle. I’ve had many surgeries and casts through the years due to falls or accidents due to my vision loss. One of the worst ones was when I didn’t see a particularly icy patch in Tulsa when I was going to school there and fell on it, unable to get up. One torn meniscus surgery and a lot of therapy later, I am doing just fine. I am proud to say that while working you, I have not had one vision related accident. That is HUGE. You’re a star at “intelligent disobedience.” If I tell you to go and you think it’s not safe, you will do everything in your power to tell me, “No, Mom.. really.. NO,” and will show me the safer route. You can be quite stubborn and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

You’ve helped me become much more physically fit and active. 5 years ago, I would have never dreamed about wanting to exercise. However now it’s a definite goal and I WILL make it happen. Through walking at your speedy pace, you have made me a much faster walker, even when you’re not guiding me. You understand my busy lifestyle and help me navigate crowds like a ninja. Sometimes, my sighted friends even let you just lead the way because you’re just that brilliant at what you do.

I continue to lose my vision. Just when I think I’ve lost a lot and it will stabilize, BAM.. I lose more vision. You, smart girl, are able to adapt to my vision loss more than the closet humans in my life can. You learn what Mama can’t see anymore or what she’s likely to miss, that she may have been just fine with 6 months ago. Not all guide dogs can adapt that well.

They say dogs are a man’s best friend, but you, sweet Makiko, are much more than that. When I’m having a particularly rough day or struggling with depressive symptoms, you are right there to stick your head in my lap and ask for permission to come cuddle, or lay right beside me. You make me keep going as I will never let your exercise, food, water, and relieving needs go unmet.

As we embark upon year five, sweet girl, I promise to show you daily how much I love you and am grateful for you as we have the time of our lives on this journey called “life.” Thank you for giving me my life back, after vision loss. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you.

Love,

Jessica

Night Travel


I have lost most of my sight. However, during the day I am able to use what little residual vision I have left. At night or in dim environments, my nightblindness kicks in and I am totally blind. That can be a little intimidating. 

When I was a cane user, I felt at risk at night, not safe, and I felt more of a target. Whether that is true or not, I’m not sure but that’s how I felt. I didn’t like to travel independently at night if I didn’t have to and I was always a little on edge. 

This pictures below mean a lot to me:

Makiko, a black Labrador guide dog, is laying down briefly. She is wearing her harness but it is hard to see with no flash and the outside environment is almost pitch black.
No Flash: Makiko is laying down momentarily while we wait for our ride. It is hard to see her because it is almost pitch black outside.
This picture is with flash. You can almost pretty much just see Makiko's harness, especially with the reflective strips, and you can see a little bit of Makiko but since she is black it is hard to see her. Outside is almost completely pitch black.
Flash: Makiko is laying down. You can see her a little better with the flash, especially the reflective strips on her harness, but you can also see how dark it is outside.

Why do they mean a lot to me? Because with her, I love getting out at night. I love traveling independently. Sure I still have a little anxiety now and again, but I am happy. I am confident. I am free. 
Last night I caught a LYFT to go out with friends. I waited outside for the driver, then he drove me to my destination, and I independently got out of the car and made my way walking to where we were going. 

As I said before, I am not able to use any residual vision at night so it’s ALL her. And she takes her responsibility very seriously and guide’s me safely. 

She is my rock star. 

Discrimination 


Discrimination has been in the news a lot nowadays, especially with the Trump administrations view on Muslims from certain countries and the Mexican-American border. Recently, I experienced discrimination due to my use of a guide dog and hit me harder and in different ways than before, and I think a large part of that is because of all the discrimination happening in this world nowadays. 

I was in Houston for a work conference and was out with co-workers, some I knew, some I didn’t, for my best friend’s birthday dinner. We both work for the same amazing agency, as counselors, just in different offices. I walk in and am immediately thrown off a little bit because of the dim lighting which makes my residual vision go away. Immediately, as in I had only taken two steps inside, I am asked if Makiko is a service dog. I said yes. We went closer to the table. I sit down, am asked by somebody else. I say yes. I hadn’t even sat down long enough at the table to get Makiko fully settled before this second time being asked. Throughout the night I am asked about 4 times. However, what really really got me upset was I was sitting a few seats away from my best friend’s husband. He was the only male there at this point. He asked me if Makiko had papers. I thought he was just curious although I was pretty sure he should have known the answer. I said she did have an ID. He then said “this gentleman would like to see them.” I hadn’t even seen the man standing behind him at this point. I said “well he can’t..” and then the guy said to me with a very disgruntled tone “ok..” and then walked away. As we were leaving, the waitress was so excited to see Makiko and had NO idea that Makiko was under the table. That is a compliment and how it should be. 

However this “does she have papers?” thing really got to me. I later found out that the guy friend who the staff asked this question to tried to explain to him a few times that I am blind and she is my service dog before he really insisted on seeing papers. It bothers me that he was that insistent. It also bothers me that he asked the male at the table, not me. Finally, what really bothers me is im fairly sure, but not positive, that the gentleman who asked had already asked me earlier on if she was a SD. This was harassment. What has really resonated on my heart though is the “do you have papers” comment and how there have been a lot of members of the immigrant community and even permanent residents and citizens of different ethnicities have been asked this recently. Now I am being asked about my service dog, and not myself, but it still struck me pretty hard.. as if they didn’t think we had a right to be there. 

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, we are only allowed to be asked if she is a service dog and what tasks is she trained to perform? I found in Houston in general they asked this far more than any other place I have travelled. We went into one restaurant and my friend’s everybody was giving us the stink eye. I haven’t had this much trouble or stink in a long time. 

I have several very close friends who are undocumented. I have a lot of friends who are legit scared of losing their loved ones for a while do to being of a different ethnicity. 

I did write the business that did this and they were pretty receptive and apologetic and said they would be following up with the staff that night personally as well as sending out a message about discrimination to all employees. I appreciated that and their response was better than most people have responded with reported discrimination. 

There is just something really wrong about all of this, what happened to me in the restaurant but also what is happening in our country right now. It leaves you literally with a bad taste in your mouth, feeling depressed, and sick. 

When can we go back to loving our neighbor? Loving all..