Victory!

Today there was a great Victory. Not just for me but for others with animals that are their helpmates. Service animals have always been controversial with in the doctor’s office. I have had to change doctors a few times given the responses, some places just refuse to accommodate your needs and when asked they would rather be reported for an ADA violation than bothering with reasonable accommodation. Today after my appointment I was told I couldn’t bring my service cat back in. I asked to speak to the person who made the decision and pulled out my well worn copy of the law. I realized this copy is the one I used last time a doctor’s office discriminated immediately, there was highlighting on the portions about medical offices.

I asked the why, and I was told something new. This office does allergy shots and the risk of exposure for other patients is a concern. I asked if we could compromise which startled the office manager. It actually made her freeze her eyes wide with shock. Compromise? She asked what I would suggest so using the ADA as an outline I pointed out that I sometimes cannot even get out the door without her, but I do not want others sick. Sprite will wear her most covering outfit when we go in and I will call in advance so I can go straight into the office where I will see my doctor. This was our compromise. This allows me to have my needs met but does not infringe on the rights of others.

I expected a huge battle, but instead I was given victory. I left a copy of the law with the office, and explained what each part meant to the office manager as well. She hadn’t really ever bothered learning the ADA laws and therefore was unaware she had been about to violate my rights. I did remind her ignorance is never a viable reason in the court room, but is instead the fool’s gambit. I said it as nicely as I could of course. Victory, glorious victory. I feel more secure going to the office now, I feel respected, I feel human, and I feel alive.

In other news, I started with my newest caregiver today. The previous person was so great but that partnership is at an end. She has moved on to another client who speaks her language fluently, so her needs are being met. The new caregiver and William are already attached, and she is going to see if she can take him home. William may have a home. She understands his needs, and is willing to make the commitment. All feels right in the world, though it is a bit rainy today. Oh well, it couldn’t be a perfect day… that might be asking just a bit too much!

Oh, and if you want some great audio entertainment… check out Pendant Audio. They do radio shows! I know that not everyone is into this sort of thing… yet their work is really high quality. I am currently catching up on my Earth-P radio listening. The shows are short and make great waiting room time killers for those days when you just can’t read.

Kitty Retiree

I judged a Toastmaster’s competition today and did so without Sprite at my side once again. My beloved Service cat has aged, she has begun to fall ill too often to work, and now is a retiree. As of this morning I no longer have a working service animal. Not outside of the house anyway. Sprite will still travel with me if I will be going somewhere over night, but beyond that? I do not feel confident in her ability to perform or to stay healthy. Despite my happy day this is still a moment of sorrow.

She is six years old, and with her history she has worked long for her life. She came from starvation and ill health, therefore I cannot fault her for her body quitting. She was upset I left her this morning, and there were consequences, but there were still good points too. It turned out a service dog who doesn’t behave at all around cats was at the contest today. Sprite’s at least partial retirement saved us from a fiasco.

What does this mean for me now? Well, it means I need to find out if there are any dogs I am not allergic to, I need to consider a horse though I do not think a horse will be compatible with my life style, and I need to start saving up cash so that I can feed another animal. Sprite will no longer need her monthly payments though I think I will continue them, so that she has the benefit of consistency. Perhaps I am wrong and with a bit of extended rest she will resume working. I still need to persue another avenue.

Does anyone have a service poodle? I know I am not allergic to purebred poodles. I had one once upon a time, and depsite his behavior issues I could pet him and brush him all day long, without any problems. No rashes, no boils, and given that the Hidradenitis Supprativa has it’s own sets of issues the last thing I need are more sores and skin problems. I will begin my quest for a service poodle, though this could take years. I feel fear, I feel sorrow, but I am happy for Sprite and William. They will get to play and pounce daily. Sprite also can protect my socks.

That is William’s latest fetish, he has stolen my socks! My Person caught him in the act this morning, and described the act as cartoonish, cute, but ultimately detrimental to my ability to own socks. Sprite can take care of him, she won’t be lonely, and that is important too.

This is my first loss of a service animal, but I am thankfully able to keep her around as a pet. My heart aches, yet she is alive. That is reason enough to celebrate. I do know I cannot handle training my own service animal at this point in time. I am too weak physically to cope with a dog if they misbehave, I cannot afford to introduce another cat into the house at this time as the two we have are bonded and the other cat would cause mayhem.

The ecosystem of my household is balanced, My Person does what he is needed to, we also share our love and intimacy in ways that are unique to each of us, the interactions and feeding schedule with the animals has it’s own balance, as do our activities out of the home. The balance must shift, but, to add stress to the lives of my animals adds stress to me. A dog will be stress yet a cat moreso.

My one regret with sprite retiring is selfish. I regret that she cannot be with me to tell me when my body is going to fail. I regret that she cannot remind me to take my medication, she is my caregiver. I must adapt, yet I feel that same fear that I felt when I started training her. What do I do now? How do I grow? How do I continue living?

I do not have the exact answers but this is another learning point. I have no choice but to go forward. I choose life over stagnancy. I will adapt. I will find a way to thrive, i will find a way to live. Sprite will have a longer life if I respect her medial needs, and I cannot be cruel to her. I love her too much to force her to risk her safety.

The Antidote for Discrimination Is…

I have felt the urge to blog repeatedly, but until now I have not given in. Blogging can be as personal as writing. I have spent the last week in preparation mode skimming the internet reading other blogs, seeing what I liked, what I didn’t like, and the power behind the words. Some of these bloggers brought me to tears, and that is no small feat. Others made me laugh, some caused me to feel sorrow, and a few gave me the chance to feel angry.

I wasn’t sure how to start my first post, but, since I am an advocate for all disabled, all women, all men, all people in need I will start there. The topic nearest and dearest to my heart is Service Animal Law. Some of you who read this might think you know about service animals, and you might be right. Others will presume that a service animal is only for a blind person. You are not correct. A service animal, by the federal definition, is any animal trained to assist a disabled person with a task. This does mean that if you have a seizure alert dog, it has to do more than that. The law even gives behavioral guidelines.

I have a service cat. She is trained to do things including retrieval, seeking assistance from specific humans in the case of an emergency, medication reminders, object retrieval, and she has also been trained to help me balance. A lot of these tactics came out of her instinctual responses, but those needed to be honed. She also had to be trained to handle a crowded mall. Now she handles it better than I do. People often ask me why a cat, and my response is simple. I am not allergic to cats, most of the time but I am allergic to dogs. I also trust cats, and I haven’t trusted many dogs in my life. I have to trust my service animal partner.

I have faced some serious discrimination because of being disabled. When I was still walking most of the time, it was harder because I was in extra agony since forcing myself to walk through a store took all of my energy. The more tired I am, the more pain I feel. There have been times when I have had shopping carts jerked out of my hands, causing me to either fall or nearly fall. I have been denied the right to buy groceries, and recently I have been illegally denied medical care.

I am perusing legal action but I am well aware that other people might not know how. Today, one of the blogs I read, reminded me that not every person is trained in how to handle discrimination. When you are disabled, you might feel more vulnerable to attack, and when people threaten to take away your service animal or refuse access, it can be terrifying. I feel often as if I am going to be hit if I push forward. I was an abuse victim for most of my life, but, adulthood came and I found a way to break free. Not everyone is that lucky.

So, here it is, my guide for other disabled people with any LEGAL service animal on how to advocate their rights. A side not before I begin, if you do not need a service animal, do not lie. We will catch you eventually, and the crime has a punishment. Depriving people of their rights through your shallow behavior is the worst thing you could possibly do, and, whether you believe in Karma, Hell, or just recriminations in this life from other people, you will pay for it. The law will get you, Advocates will get you, and if Karma gets you, it will be worse than anything I could dream up.

The Guide– Dedicated to Renne, Helen, Aimi and Snow, but especially Bree. (All Links will open in a new window/tab.)

Step 1. Stay Calm. This is for me the hardest part of advocating for your rights. Sometimes I want to run, other times I want to scream and cuss. Neither tactic is helpful. As hard as it is, you have to be the bigger person, and stay nice. You can have anger in your voice, do not deny the emotion but do not let the emotions over ride your goal.

Step 2. Calmly as you can, state that they are breaking the Federal Law. This is what I have practiced saying in the Mirror daily for the last two years. “You are violating the Federal Law. The Americans With Disabilities act provides protection for my use of my service animal.” When I say this I hand them a copy of the law. You can get a copy of the service animal laws from the ADA.  I  have the business brief printed with my state law on the reverse side. You can obtain access to your local service animal laws at http://www.animallaw.info/ I carry  my print out in aUSB case on my scooter keys. You can also buy laminated cards from various businesses with the law on it that explain your rights. For some people this is easier. Those cards are usually kept on your animal’s harness.

Step 3. Explain the law in simple terms and how they are violating it. This does mean you need to know the law. Not only does knowing the law protect you from discrimination, but, it lets you educate people. The biggest cause of discrimination in my experience is a lack of knowledge. If someone isn’t willing to learn, or admits they know, then you have a larger problem. One of the main causes of confusion with service animal awareness is that few businesses train their employees. It is illegal to require a service animal to wear a vest or show an ID tag. When someone asks me for this for my cat, I show them the law and educate them. Often, they will try and state she cannot enter because she is not a dog. My local laws state only dogs can be service animals. The laws are written so that the stronger law prevails. This means that if the Federal law says I can have any animal, that is trainable and meets the standards and the local law does not, we refer to the federal law. However if you live in a state like California that requires ID tags for all service animals, then, the law requires you have an ID tag. This is another source of confusion, but, it is an attempt at increasing the rights of many.

Usually by this point I am either in the building or they are just going to break the law anyway. If you have reached this point, it is time for Step 4.

Step 4. Take a very deep breath, and remember Step 1. Then ask to speak to their supervisor. If they refuse or are the supervisor you can try explaining the laws again, or calling another advocate to try and help. I keep the number handy to the local advocacy organization, and they have helped me countless times. Even knowing I can call day or night, is helpful because I do not feel alone. At this time I have no national links, but if you are in New Mexico, contact Service Animals and the Law. (Link forthcoming). If you have links nationally to websites that can help, post them in a comment. I want this page to be a resource for any person in need.

At this point you should be through the trying time, most managerial staff listen well and correct their employees. Recently I had to fight my way into an apartment complex using this tactic for three months. Even when I had food poisoning I had to try and follow my rules, but, eventually I prevailed. Advocating for yourself is the hardest part of having a service animal.

Not every person responds to this and if you still cannot get through to them, you need to contact the ADA. You can email them a detailed complaint, include names, addresses, contact information for both parties, and send it to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov . If you would rather call you can contact the ADA via their hotline using these numbers: 800-514-0301 (TTY-800-0363).

Remember, you are strong, you are beautiful inside and out, and you are not alone.

Other posts in this series: What is a Service Animal?

Additional Resources will be added as I find them:

Information:
http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/
http://www.deltasociety.org
http://www.ada.gov/svcanimb.htm
http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm
http://www.equipforequality.org/resourcecenter/ada_serviceanimals.pdf

http://www.animallaw.info/
Service Dog Vests and Supplies:
http://www.pettop.com/
http://www.raspberryfield.com/
http://www.activedogs.com/servicetherapyvestharness.html?gclid=CI-6iKm7rpgCFQEpGgod3QL9Ug
http://www.ldsleather.com/patches.html
http://www.petjoyonline.com/ADA_Federal_Law_Information_Card_for_Service_Dog_p/svd-0054.htm The Law Info Cards
Scholarships
http://www.assistancedogunitedcampaign.org/scholarship.html
http://www.keystonehumanservices.org/ssd/ssd.php
Blogs:
http://www.servicedogblog.com/

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