Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Adventures in Service Doggery

The first time we went to put the service vest on Dusty, she backed up. I was on my knees, following her as she backed into a wall. That’s when I slipped it over her head and fastened its blue airy mesh loosely under her belly with the Velcro strap. She walked tentatively around the block. For week she did this, walking with the vest unsure, as though something was wrong.

Then we took her out, to a store. We went food shopping. Into the car she went, jumping in as though she thought the vest would inhibit her ability to make it from the ground to the seat. Once in, she was happy. Does this vest mean car trips? Indeed so.

She was in heaven walking into the grocery store, stayed by my side, wagged the entire time. People asked if they could pet her. Of course. She’ll let you. Many people simply gave us a wide aisle to walk. No need, but I didn’t argue. Kids yelled “doggy” and adults remarked “how beautiful.”

After that, we never had trouble getting a vest on her again. Not that she needs one. All she really needs is my service dog say-so. But the vest is the accepted symbol in this culture. She also has a tag on her collar stating she is a service dog, with the appropriate law and corresponding numbers. I have a card in my wallet but I have never had to use it for her.

One Sunday we walked to a nearby church fair. Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, whirlybirds. Games, food and many other things I had no intention of taking any advantage of. I just thought it would be a good walk for her. Cops came by, asked if they could pet her. Children patted her.

One gentleman left the game he was running to come over to us - a set-up designed to make it seem easy to knock down a pyramid of bottles, placed there for the sole purpose of giving you the easiest task in the world just so they could say you did something, anything, to deserve the stuffed animal they so very much wanted to give you. It didn’t look like they were running out of prizes anytime soon. He tried to get me to play.

“No thank you.”

He knelt down in front of my dog, nearly nose to nose. “Is he blind?”

Who goes nose to nose with a dog they don’t know? Who talks into a strange dog’s face? What else could I say? “No, you moron, the dog can see perfectly well.”

We took my daughter’s dog to New York. She had left her with us while she moved and got settled in. We took a plane up so we could drive her now unused car back.

As a working dog, she was able to come on the plane with us. At twenty-five pounds, she didn’t take up much space and sat on the floor against the bulkhead. Good doggy!

The plane went from Melbourne, Florida to Atlanta and then, with an hour layover, to Newark. We were told Delta had a greenpatch for dogs, this not being the first service or working dog they’d had on a plane.

We disembarked. We asked at the gate for the greenpatch. No one knew where it was.
They called for someone to come get us. Apparently it was a security risk to tell us where it was and let us go ourselves. But the person coming for us knew. Just be patient.

One call. Two calls. We pace. We walk. Time to get back on the plane. Someone comes, apologizes, and hands us napkins.

“I’m so sorry we weren’t able to get you to the greenpatch. I don’t know what went wrong. But here are some napkins in case she has an accident so you’ll be able to clean it up.”

I let Lee handle this one. “First of all, this is cruel. You and Delta are being cruel to this animal who has behaved as well as anyone could want. Two, that would not be nearly enough napkins, I’m sure. Since she has been holding it since six this morning and it’s now noon and we won’t be landing again until two-thirty. Three, you can be sure, if she goes, it won’t be an accident. And you can be doubly sure it won’t us cleaning it up.” Back on the plane. Poor doggy.

Once we landed, Lee got the luggage and I raced the pooch outside and she saw the first plant since we left the house. She raced for it. I timed her. One minute and twenty seconds worth. What a pup!

In the meantime, Lee had procured a shuttle from Newark to New York to drop us to meet Sef at NYIT.

Seven people and a driver, us and the dog. The driver wants to know where the dog’s cage is.

“No cage. She’s a service dog. They knew that when we got the tickets. No cage on the plane and no cage now. Service dogs don’t have cages. They wouldn’t be of any use in a cage, now would they?”

“Well, he can’t get in the van without a cage.”

“According to US law, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, she goes where I go. And as long as she behaves, no one can deny access.” I showed him the tag and the card I was carrying that described the rights of the working dog and his or her owner/handler.

“Well, according to Super Shuttle law, she needs to be in a cage or she isn’t going.”

“You know, there was a time when someone would have said I don’t care what US law says, people who look like you still can’t ride in the front of this bus and you sure as hell can’t drive it.”

That did it. He just stared at me while seven people waited. “Well, if it’s ok with them,” and he pointed to the other passengers.

“It doesn’t have to be ok with them. You are going to lose this one no matter what. But ask any way if it makes you feel better.”

An old Scots lady said instantly, “Of course it’s ok. Shall we just go?” Others said similar. We were loaded, on our way and, of course, no problems with our pup at all. Everyone said good bye to her. But no one much spoke to the driver. When we departed, the last passengers, at Columbus Circle, I tipped him. Let sleeping dogs lie.

Today I took Dusty to the grocery store. Nothing much appealed to us at home and Lee wanted a sub. We walked there, walked in and waited at the deli counter. And waited.

Dusty sat by my legs, as she always does when we wait. People comment on her, as they always do. My turn was soon to come. After this, I’d walk with her to the pet aisle and let her pick out a treat.

Along came a man, impossibly tall, wearing a stocking cap that reached high enough over his head that I have no real idea how tall he really was. He could have had a cone under there. He could have been hiding three stacked rolls of toilet paper under there.

Beneath that, he had a face full of beard and a tattoo high on his left cheek. A shiny white t-shirt over a pot belly and black shorts with a white strip reaching mid-calf. Stolen, I imagine, from a middle school marching band. Up his leg ran tattoo flames. Down his arm ran the same.

Then came a shopping cart with two infants and his wife/sister/friend. “Doggy. Doggy” She asked if the children could pet my dog. Certainly. Yes.

One child walked over, cookie in hand, and gingerly started to pet Dusty. The impossibly tall idiot bent down behind the child. Now, I do not say he was an idiot for his mode of dress, hat, height or tattoos. But for the fact that, the moment the child touched my dog, the idiot barked in the boy’s ear as loudly as I think he could muster. In front of the deli counter.

The child jumped back, dropped the cookie. My dog jumped back, pressing herself against my leg. The impossibly tall idiot picked up the cookie and began eating it. The wife/sister/friend hit the impossibly tall idiot on the arm. “What did you do that for?”

“I wanted some of the cookie.”

“Why didn’t you just ask for it?”

“I don’t know.”

She asked again if the children could pet the dog.

“I think it’s best they do so they don’t stay traumatized. You can too. But I don’t think she’ll let him pet her,” I said, tilting my head towards the impossibly tall idiot.

On the way home, walking through the grass, I noticed her leash had somehow come off her collar and was dragging behind me. No difference. She was right by my side. A very good dog.