(Pictures below.) Brad and I have been debating whether or not it is possible for a service dog gear to be “too fun” or “too cute” or “not professional enough”. I hope you all can weigh in and help me develop my thoughts on this issue.
When I first started working a service dog, I thought it was very important that my dog look “professional”. For me, that meant only solid color vests and bandanas only on holidays. I felt like having professional looking gear would make people treat me better and take me more seriously.
As time has gone on, I’ve become more relaxed about my dog’s gear, and have started focusing more on little fun details. After all, I figure if my dog is behaving appropriately and their gear makes me smile, why shouldn’t I use more fun gear?
But I still kept it to some manner of professionalism. I had a Hufflepuff vest and a galaxy patterned vest made, though they were regular vest style and in colors and patterns that could look professional from a distance.
I really enjoyed seeing my dog wearing these fun things, and I never had anyone give me any trouble because of what my dog was wearing. On the contrary, I started to get a few people recognizing my Hufflepuff vest and talking to me about Harry Potter! I thought that was fun!
One thing I’ve been looking at for ages but have never actually gotten is a service dog dress. I’ve seen them on etsy and loved how they looked, but always held back because of “professionalism”. A big part of that is because of Brad. He strongly worries that gatekeepers will give me a hard time, thinking I’m a faker because my cute little dog is in a cute little dress.
Well I was recently gifted a couple of service dog dresses from my friend Marian. They are dresses that her dog Martha used to wear. I loved them immediately upon seeing them! But Brad was nonplussed and a bit frustrated at me for considering working Hestia in a service dog dress, except at special events.
I’ve talked about it with Marian, and she reports that people enjoy seeing her service dog in these dresses, and she’s never had an access challenge because of them.
My thoughts are along the lines of PSDP’s slogan “behavior not belongings”. We’ve always said that about certifications and ID cards—that you should look to the dog’s behavior to see if it is a legitimate service dog, and not to what they have to wear or show. Additionally, these dresses make me smile! I think Hestia looks super cute in them, and I like to bring more happiness into the world with how I dress, so why not do it with the dogs, too?
For now, Brad is letting me keep the dresses, though with some compromises like I can’t put them Hestia on when going to doctor’s visits. He doesn’t want me to be treated poorly or be given a hard time. He also thinks it can be very different for someone my age and older, vs. a younger looking person going out with a dog in a really frilly dress.
I should say that Brad does struggle internally about this. It’s hard trying to figure out the balance between representing the community in ways that will maintain respect/disability protections, vs. acting in ways that just make you feel good without hurting anyone—doing things that should be perfectly within your rights because any problem others have with it is a “them” problem. He doesn’t want to stop anyone else from acting within their rights, but he wants to at least make sure we personally don’t act in ways that could practically harm our cause as advocates.
More of Brad’s thoughts in two paragraphs, which he says you can skip if you’re not wanting to do a deep-dive: When we ask whether SD gear can be “too fun”, we should think about it as “too fun in terms of what worries; what is the risk, if any?”. I’m most nervous about the situations where someone has authority over you and can make your life (or others’ lives) miserable. For instance, doctors and lawmakers. I’m least nervous about situations where everyone knows you and knows you have a service dog and they totally support you. There’s probably a continuum between the supportive situations and the risking-authority-adversity situations. For examples, being at a NAMI event where everyone knows you vs. going to a new doctor or meeting with a lawmaker. Everyday errands can be somewhere in between: someone like a lawmaker might see you there and be more likely to want to disenfranchise you if your service dog is frilly that day—but it’s not likely.
So there might also be a continuum of frilliness, where you save the frilliest outfits for the most supportive situations, semi-frilly outfits are acceptable for quick errands in familiar places, and professional-only for the clearly professional or authority-risky contexts. Of course, this frilliness continuum only applies if we care about the practicalities of how you and others in the community are treated. I can see how someone who is really focused on the theory of our rights might ignore my worries and fully embrace frilliness because they are focused on what should be okay, not what might end up being prohibited. I fully realize I am uptight and driven by worry when it comes to this (and I’m the outsider without a service dog, who might reprioritize if I did have one), but I’ve also seen enough to know that these worries connect with real-world, exhausting fights we have to engage in all the time. Especially in the current political climate, I lack the optimism that everything will be okay no matter what we do. Regardless of how others view this, I will continue to fight for a world in which people can safely embrace maximum frilliness with no risk of losing their rights or suffering other harm from anyone.
(Back to Veronica:) I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts about this. Where do you draw the line? Is there such a thing as “too fun” in service dog gear? What do you think of Hestia’s new service dog dresses?
Below are pictures of the dresses. The first dress is made of orange fabric with a pumpkin design. It has like four layers of ruffles around her bum, and a green ribbon bow on her side along with an orange and green service dog patch on her back. The second dress (which I actually have two of—the other one is slightly smaller for my next service dog!) is made of fabric that’s light pink with white details. It has a white lace skirt and pink service dog embroidery on the back.