Written by Katie Cuppy
I am going to be honest.
When I heard your curious son enthusiastically questioning why there was a dog in the grocery store, I did what I always do in that situation: I take a deep breath, smile, and wait to see how you (the parent) respond. I prepare myself to step in, and kindly educate the curious child about all of the amazing things my guide dog, Gabrielle, does, and why she goes everywhere with me. An internal battle sparks in my brain: “Should I go over and answer the child’s question, or should I just let the family carry on with their day without intruding?” You see, I am a teacher, so I love educating people! But, in this situation, I often struggle to decide whether or not to step in. After all, we’re not in a classroom, and you don’t know me. I don’t want to intrude on a potential teaching opportunity between you and your child. I also know your day is busy, and you may not have the time to chat and let your child ask me questions, and that’s okay! Because truthfully, I don’t have time to stop what I’m doing and educate every curious child. Sometimes, I just want to get my groceries, and go about my day, because constantly having to educate people can be exhausting!
” Believe it or not, that response is fairly uncommon. So uncommon, in fact, that I felt myself begin to tear up. Witnessing that moment was so touching to me. “
I understand that you probably felt uneasy and unsure of how to answer your son’s question; most parents do.
Talking about disability can feel very awkward. In fact, when some parents are faced with the same question you were, their children are met with hushing responses. They tell their children, “Just because,” or “I’ll tell you later,” or even, “Don’t ask that!” Some parents even utter silencing “shhh”’s or rush the child away. Others blatantly try to change the subject, and some parents ignore their child’s question completely. But not you.
You answered your son’s question in a respectful, informative way.
“That dog is very special. It has a job—it’s a service dog! Service dogs help people with disabilities. That dog has probably been training it’s whole life to help her. It’s important not to ever pet service dogs because they need to concentrate.” Believe it or not, that response is fairly uncommon. So uncommon, in fact, that I felt myself begin to tear up. Witnessing that moment was so touching to me. In that moment, you taught your son not to be afraid to ask questions about disability. You taught him how to approach service dogs with respect. You even emphasized the importance of the work that service dogs do. I couldn’t have asked for a better response.
I wish I had the time to come up to you and tell you these things, because the simple, “Thank you,” I uttered before leaving the grocery store didn’t capture my appreciation for what you did. There is no way to explain the gravity of that simple interaction between a parent and child, or what it means to me as a person with a disability. Whether or not your son will remember this encounter in the future, I can only hope this small exchange gave him a better understanding of service dogs and the amazing work they do. Maybe this small encounter was enough to answer all of his questions. Or maybe, you talked about it more during the car ride home, or at the dinner table. Regardless, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for educating your son in that moment. I truly appreciate you.