A Florida mother has taken to social media after an uncomfortable encounter at Disney World to remind people that not all disabilities are visible.
Jenn Bethune, a wife and mother of four from Tampa, Fla., is used to sharing her life with the world on her blog and Facebook page, Red White & Bethune. The owner of a pet grooming salon, Bethune is typically surrounded by animals. The family has four dogs of their own, including Bethune’s trusty service dog, a standard poodle named Theodore.
On August 30, the 32-year-old shared a photo of herself to Facebook with Theodore during a recent trip to Disney World. Despite her smile, Bethune included a heartbreaking message to the woman and man she overheard doubting whether or not her service dog was “real” because she looked “fine.”
In a post that has been shared more than 75,000 times, Bethune writes that despite being able bodied and appearing put together she has come across many people who doubt whether or not there is anything “wrong” with her.
“You see, not all disabilities are visible,” she explained. “I have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from watching my six-year-old son die right before my eyes in a car accident on our way to Disney for his 7th birthday. I see the image of my child being killed every day of my life for the last 8 years… I have awful panic attacks that happen at random and I can’t predict them. I have terrible night terrors and severe anxiety.”
While service dogs are often associated with assisting people with visual and hearing impairment, mobility issues or other physical disabilities, they have become increasingly popular as an aide for severe emotional distress issues, including PTSD.
Service Dogs are trained to meet the needs of the individual. According to Service Dogs for America, any breed of dog can be trained to distract and help someone during a panic attack by nudging, pawing and leaning on them. They can retrieve medications and carve out a personal space in a crowd for the person experiencing panic symptoms and activate medic alert systems to signal for help.
Bethune says her service dog Teddy helps her remain calm and acts as a grounding aid to manage her emotions and bring her back to the present when she experiences panic attacks. With a service dog to help comfort her when he senses her panic, she doesn’t have to rely on medications or sedatives to curb her panic, which can be highly addictive.
“This service dog is my best friend...When he is ‘working’ with his vest on, he walks right beside me, not pulling me. He doesn’t get distracted by other dogs walking by, he is always paying attention to what I’m doing and if I’m getting anxious,” Bethune wrote.
Teddy’s role as a service dog was the result of hard work and training.
“If I just ‘wanted to bring my pet with my everywhere’ he wouldn’t be this well trained and in tune to my needs,” she added.
Bethune hopes that her story will end the stigma towards people with emotional support and service animals and inspire others to practice compassion.
“You have no idea what someone has gone through and what they have lived. Instead of judging someone, maybe just be empathic to their situation and not make snide comments as they walk by,” she wrote. “No, I don’t HAVE to explain myself, but I do it to maybe help someone else with a service dog that has gone through the same experiences of rude people that I have. And maybe, just maybe, those rude people will read this and realize how hurtful they truly are.”
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