On Dogs and Shoes

So a couple people I love and respect have brought up to me that they think the Shoe Analogy is problematic, because it compares dogs to inanimate objects and they don’t feel that dogs should be treated like things. Rather than continue to address everyone one at a time, and assuming that there are others out there who feel the same way but don’t trust me enough to approach me, I thought I’d clarify.

Despite the fact that I usually sound sort of flippant, I actually thought long and hard about the Shoe Analogy. Because (as I hope anyone reading my blog would realize) I do not advocate treating dogs like inanimate, disposable objects. I would hope, reading the way I write about my dogs, and dogs in general, and for that matter cats and chickens and Jeremiah Swakhammer the Eastern Box Turtle, that people come away with the sense that I cherish each one of these little beings whose lives are basically in my hands.

But I needed to find an analogy that able-bodied people would understand. Something almost everyone uses and would not dream of going out without for fear of getting hurt, getting sick, or just being really uncomfortable. Something so commonplace that unless the person is making an effort, no one remarks upon it. Something people of all genders use, so that no one would feel left out. That’s when I hit upon shoes.

Stop and think for a minute about your shoes. Odds are that unless you have problems that require special shoes, or spend a lot of time on your feet, you hardly think of them. So let’s pause for a second and consider all that the humble, taken-for-granted shoe does. A good sensible shoe lets you go anywhere you need to go. It protects you from harmful or just uncomfortable surfaces, it supports your arches so you don’t get weird random leg and back pain, some of them will even go the extra mile and support your ankles, too. Your shoes let you get up and get out of the house without having to think about where you’re putting your feet constantly, without having to ask if you can make it into the dog food store because there’s a ton of unshaded black pavement lying under the summer sun between you and a 30lb bag of grain-free kibble. Your shoes, in a very fundamental way, set you free.

And it says something about the way I think, the number of my friends who have disabilities that affect their mobility, the problems I deal with in regard to my own pain and balance issues, that I didn’t say legs instead of shoes. I could have. I mean, when was the last time you saw someone walking around and followed them to stare at their legs? (The right answer is “never” because otherwise YOU ARE CREEPY.) When was the last time you approached some random person in a store and were all “Wow, you have legs! I have legs! I had these great legs when I was a kid, I got a matched set the day I was born! Hey, can I feel your legs?”

But in my world, among my friends, legs are not reliable. My legs certainly aren’t, and I have a number of friends whose legs also cannot be depended upon. There are two things that make it possible for me to get out of the house: my mobility aid (the dog when possible, my cane when not) and my shoes. One holds me upright, the other keeps me from getting tetanus. So legs really and truly didn’t occur to me until I started writing this post. And before people object to me comparing a service dog to a cane — that’s the dog’s job. To be an infinitely superior cane, who will keep me from falling over whether I wobble left or right, who gives me a point of balance that I never have to lift up to move along with my feet. When I’m working Beowulf, when Sid gets old enough and well-trained enough, the dog is my cane. He is also my friend, companion, confidant, and adventuring sidekick, a pair of inquiring brown eyes, a wet nose nudged into my hand, a big heart (they both have huge hearts). He is not a pair of shoes, but I don’t know any other experience that I share with you, able-bodied gentle reader, than a good pair of shoes.

So, y’know, to those of you who found the shoe analogy problematic — stop for a minute. Remember whose blog you’re reading. Read what I actually wrote, which does not advocating treating dogs like shoes except insofar as everyone ignores shoes.

Let me close my quoting my beloved friend s. e. smith:

Access is a twofold issue: 1. You need to actually be able to access spaces safely (don’t pet the dog, don’t offer the dog food, don’t try to talk to you where you are in the middle of a task) and 2. You need to feel welcome and safe in public (don’t point and stare). Access is not just a physical need, it’s also an emotional one, and it’s possible to feel welcome and safe without being physically able to access, or to be able to physically access but feel very unwelcome. Being looked at like some sort of strange alien…yeah.

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Comments (1) | Life at the Manor — Tags: , — Andrea @ 0405 on 18 March, 2011

One Response to “On Dogs and Shoes”

  1. The 3rd Assistance Dog Blog Carnival « The Trouble Is…
    2315 on May 3rd, 2011

    […] informative post is Service Dog Etiquette for Dog Lovers. Due to some comments, a follow up, On Dogs and Shoes was also […]

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