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Answering Googled Questions

“answer to rude people who want to know what your service dog does for you”

My good friend s.e. smith supplied this answer for me, when I wrestled over the same question: “I don’t discuss my medical record with strangers.”

If you’re feeling polite, you can smile while you say it and tack a “Sorry, but” on the beginning. If this is the fifth person to ask you today and you are all out of patience, practice a flat, matter of fact tone. I don’t explain further, I don’t do a song and dance. I just say “I don’t discuss my medical record with strangers.” and leave it at that. There is pretty much no need to explain further, really, because as soon as I say it the person realizes that they’ve been rude.

The next thing that usually happens is that the person begins apologizing profusely and trying to tell me how they didn’t mean to be offensive. I had a woman follow me down the hallway at school once, telling me all about how she has a friend with a service dog and blah blah blah. I tend to try to deflect the rampaging apologies, because I’m generally not feeling up to reassuring someone that no, really, I don’t think they’re a bad person (just a thoughtless one). If I’m feeling energetic and it’s someone I have to spend time with, I may try to change the subject to something non-dog-related entirely. The weather works well. I can almost always come up with something to say about the weather.

But really, you don’t have to tell people what your service dog does. You don’t. Supercrips aside, those people who have limitless energy for educating other people about disabilities and service dogs (and will often try to get you to do the same, or feel guilty for wanting privacy and setting boundaries), you do not have to discuss your medical issues with every random curious stranger. You are allowed to decide what the world knows about you beyond what is immediately visible, and to defend that boundary against people who think their curiosity is more important than your privacy.

It can be really hard to refuse to answer questions, admittedly, because a lot of us (especially women) have been raised to be nice. Disappointing strangers, or possibly offending them by implying that they’re prying into private matters that are none of their damn business (which is exactly what they’re doing) is not “nice”, and it’s hard for us to overcome the training. Which is why I suggest practicing until that is how you respond automatically.

And don’t let the Supercrips tell you that you have an obligation to educate everyone in the whole damn world. You don’t. If you don’t have the time and energy for it, that’s fine. You’re not a bad person just because you want to get out, grab some milk and bread, and get home and collapse in front of the TV with a cheesy movie. If other people feel a calling to educate people indiscriminately, I think that’s wonderful that they’re called and able to do so, but they can lay off the rest of us who have limited energy and would like to be able to get some groceries without turning it into an After School Special Episode on disability.

So there you go. If you feel uncomfortable asserting boundaries, like maybe you’re not being nice enough, drop me a comment or an e-mail via the contact form and I will write you a personal permission note to have privacy, seriously. Sometimes it helps to hear it from someone else.

PS: This phrase works for every other mobility aid and assistive item, too. Use it liberally when people ask things like “What’s wrong with you?” (AND YES THEY DO ASK THAT QUESTION and I hate it every time) and “When are you going to get rid of that cane/chair/dog?”

6 thoughts on “Answering Googled Questions

  1. This a WONDERFUL post, though I am sad it had to be written at all.

    I am going to end this comment now and look at more of your cute critter pictures, because otherwise I will wax cynical for three paragraphs about how rude people are and how much I hate the general public. LOL

  2. …People actually ask that? Good grief, whatever happened to courtesy and couth and common sense?

  3. Mines a little longer, but about the same difference. I use “While I appreciate your interest in service dogs, and mine in particular I don’t share my medical information with strangers” Generally followed by a card with places they can get more information about service dogs.

    Sometimes I’m having a good day and feel like answering people, but not always. Some days I just want to be left alone and not hear for the 300th time how much my service dog looks like Lassie… and hope that the person didn’t Have a collie/sheltie at some point in their life that I then have to hear about. Sad part is.. my dog is a border collie and other than vaguely being a similar color looks nothing like ‘Lassie’.

  4. I have found my way here through a certain friend with a fluffy poodle who looks good with green polkadots. :) I noticed that you’re not too far from me and was wondering if you had any recommendation on trainers for service dogs. Thank you kindly.

    1. I unfortunately have no clue on service dog trainers in the area… I trained Sid myself. If you can break down what behaviors you want, you should be able to get any trainer to help you out. The ADI Public Access Test ( will give you a good place to start for the basics!

  5. How’d I miss this post? I love it!

    I’ve often responded as s.e. does. There’s also the issue of vulnerability–if someone knows what the dog does, they also know what you can’t do, and as a crime victim, I can’t recommend that people know your limitations. Of course they may see the dog do some tasks.

    I feel rude when I don’t give the dog’s name to people who ask. But I don’t for his safety. I don’t want someone to immediately call him and distract him from a loose leash. Or call him into the parking lot, as they’ve unthinkingly tried to do when we unload (he ignored them, but what if someday he was more interested?). I don’t want someone showing up outside my home and trying to lure him (violent crime makes me pretty paranoid, maybe appropriately). Sometimes people will hear his name incidentally, but I try not to use it in public.

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