I have had severe pet allergies since I was a child. This led to exclusion from so much — birthday parties, playdates, sleepovers. There were so many places I couldn’t go because exposure to an animal would send me into a severe allergic and asthmatic reaction. It often hurt my feelings when people refused to put their dog in another room or vacuum so I could come over.
The first reaction that sent me to the hospital as a child was from my aunt’s poodle — a breed people swear is hypoallergenic. Really, there is no such thing. The closest thing is an American hairless terrier, a dog I now own. But getting to the place where I could even get near a hairless, very low-dander dog was a process.
I did a cumulative 12 years of weekly allergy immunology shots in my life, very accustomed to needles by the age of 4. I have tried sublingual immunotherapy and every allergy medication on the market — which has helped me to be a bit more adaptable to certain low-dander breeds.
But when I get around certain dog breeds my reactions can last days and send me into a downward spiral. I have a disease called common variable immunodeficiency (CVID), a disorder that impairs the immune system. People with this rare disease are highly susceptible to infection from bacteria and viruses and often develop recurrent infections, particularly in the lungs, sinuses, and ears.
Allergies and asthma are defined as disabilities by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but most people in society just shrug it off or label people like me as being "dramatic” when we ask for accommodations. I’ve even heard some people say that people with pet allergies are lying about it because they don’t like animals. I promise: People with severe animal allergies aren’t a bunch of Cruella de Vils. Some of us really love animals. But we do have a right to be out in the world just like everyone else.
Of course, I understand and respect the need for service animals. In the case of a person who relies on a service animal to navigate the world, I am happy to yield. There is a tenuous relationship between those who need service animals and those with severe allergies. Coexisting is just part of being a human being. But when the animals aren’t there to help? That’s when I become frustrated.
It used to be safe for me to go to places like restaurants, banks, stores, offices, coffee shops, gyms, the checkout line at CVS, but increasingly, I’ve found animals in these places. If I’m lucky, business owners will be helpful and do their best to accommodate me. But in today’s society, where more people seem to be carrying their dogs everywhere, I’ve run into plenty of business owners who don’t believe the problem is real.
Because of my animal allergies, I am terrified about flying on airplanes where there are now more dogs and cats than ever. I worry about staying in Airbnbs where people aren’t honest about their pets. Visiting people’s homes requires extra coordination. My son inherited my allergies and asthma; it breaks my heart when I have to tell him he can’t go to a playdate because his friend’s family has a cat.
Our society seems to care less and less about people with pet allergies, but the issues we deal with are real. Disregarding the needs of those with severe allergies causes harm and exclusion. Please consider this when you insist on bringing your dog everywhere because you love your furry friend’s company. Most allergy sufferers love them too — we just can’t get too close.
Paige Wolf is the owner of Paige Wolf Media & Public Relations, author of Spit That Out! The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy Kids in the Age of Environmental Guilt, and founder of phillytweens.com. @paigewolf