I spoke with James a few more times, including another visit to Starbucks. This time, it was just the two of us meeting. I had hoped to speak to his friends, as well, but I never learned if his friends were unavailable or if they simply hadn’t been invited It was cool, though. I came to believe that our private meeting was no accident. James had something he wanted to discuss.
“Dennis,” he began, “What’s involved with you teaching me more about service animal access challenges?” I’m always interested in supporting people in learning more about the ‘day in the life moments’ of being partnered with a service animal, so I told James, “I can arrange to take you out on a training trip, this afternoon, if you care to.” If you’d like to do this, I can meet with you, for a little while, but I’ll need to leave you and reconnect, this afternoon. What do you think, James? He animatedly said, “Yes, that would be great! Thank you so much. I don’t know anyone else to ask about this!” The squeaky wheels in my brain started to whir. A potentially new way to educate people about the service animal experience? We’ll see. James and I sat and spoke for about another 30 minutes. I shot off some text messages, as I needed a very important “piece of equipment” for this afternoon’s training with James. I hoped the equipment was available.
The equipment I sought was Bo. Bo is a scraggly beast of a dog, looking much like a slightly smaller version of an Irish Wolfhound (perhaps a smaller bitch). However, Bo is decidedly male, or rather neutered. He lives with a former dog adoption, and current pet services client. I was not scheduled to see Bo, today, but I checked with Bo’s human – Bo was available for an audience – I acquired The Great Long Bo from a rescue organization in the South. They assumed (likely correctly) that a “huge grooming project of a dog” would likely rot in their kennels. A trustworthy comrade-in-dogs provided an initial assessment of Bo, and ultimately made arrangements to bring us together.
Like many dogs that come through to rescue pipeline, Bo had some minor medical issues that needed to be addressed. I had been told about an ear infection and a protozoan issue (potentially messy, but he’d likely recover fairly quickly). The ear infection wasn’t a big deal for me, either. It would edify me about how much handling Bo was accustomed to, and how he managed having sensitive body parts touched, multiple times a day. I needed to learn about any possible body sensitivity issues, in any case. While Bo was initially resistant to having his ears manipulated, he quickly learned to acquiesce without a lot of drama. This is good because Bo is a large dog. At greater than 90 lbs. range – we wouldn’t want to discover how strongly he might resist pulling away from my flesh. Thankfully, Bo overcame his health hurdles and became one of my favorite dogs to work with. He read my body language, really well. He was sharp, and flashy. If I had been looking for a dog, and wanted a dog that required grooming, Bo would have been a serious contender as a working partner for me.
Bo’s people were not professional dog handlers, but they clearly appreciated all of the non working benefits to life with Bo. He lived the life of a spoiled Prince. Of course, when Bo and I were together – we walked, we worked and I enjoyed the flow of our rhythm. I explained (to Bo) that today was going to be a “public service event” – that we’d help a community member who may partner with a smart dog, one day. We might also help some local businesses stay on the proper side of federal, state and local civil rights laws.
I took Bo home with me. We brushed up on some of our earlier work, and once we snacked, drank and I felt we were ready, we walked to meet with James.
It was a nice day, probably on the low 70’s and not a rain cloud in sight. As Bo and I approached our rendezvous point – a local 24 hour coffee shop that was mostly empty, this time of the day – James appeared from within the shop. He apparently had been waiting for the opportunity to greet Bo. I sent Bo ahead of me to engage the uber friendly James. They had their moment, and James, who had lowered himself to his knees, rose again and brushed himself off, exclaiming “Dennis, that’s a big dog. How are they not going to have a problem? Isn’t it unfair for us to take so large a dog into the shop?” Aren’t we asking for trouble?” Smiling at James, I shared, “Good question, James. You are not restricted to any size, breed, or mix of dog. A service animal may be male, female, neutered or spayed. I hope that you make informed choices. Just consider that choices have consequences that are attached to them. If you choose a tiny service animal, and it is unable to perform a task where a larger service animal would be able to do the job, you will have to deal with that consequence. If one has a giant sized service animal, and it is necessary to fit the dog into a small space, it is not the public accommodation’s responsibility to start construction so your dog fits into the corner. If you cannot fit your service animal into the available space, so it is out of the way – not interfering with the business being conducted, you will not be able to keep the animal inside. You are expected to use good judgment. Smaller service animals are typically less sturdy – it’s one thing if someone drops a briefcase on a 60 lbs dog. It’s another thing, altogether different, if the dog is 4 lbs.”
The coffee shop is nearly empty, James. We should be fine. If there are questions, or problems involving Bo’s presence, I’ll address them. Your job is to listen, observe and take notes. speaking of notes, “It would be very helpful, in the event of a problem, if you would record the time, date and take pictures of the relevant people with your phone, if you could. Thanks, James.” With that, we entered the shop.
I made it approximately two steps into the coffee shop before Bo was noticed. Aside from anxious countenances, and mutterings in a language that was foreign to me, littel happened, immediately. However, by the time I reached the counter, someone wearing a button down shirt and tie, approached the cash register, still on the opposite side of the counter. He looked a little queasy, but he said, “Sir, I’m afraid that you’ll have to take the dog out of the store before we can serve you. We aren’t allowed to have pets in the store, Even if we were, he’s so big..” I smiled at the man and said, “Good afternoon, sir. My name is Dennis. The dog is my service animal. He is needed because he is trained to help me with my disabilities. I could see from outside the shop, that my guest, my service animal and I would have space – just in that corner. Thank you sharing your concerns with me. Will you be taking our orders, or will one of these other fine people do it? Seemingly chagrined, he stepped away from the register and motioned to one of the uniformed employees. A young woman approached and took my and James’ orders. After I paid for my junk food, I claimed a space in the corner, near the window, where a prone Bo could not be stepped on. James soon approached with hot chocolate and donuts.
James was agog; practically bursting at the seams! “Dennis, why didn’t he continue to argue?” I was surprised, and asked James, “Are you disappointed? There really wasn’t anything to argue about. I explained what he needed to know. I told him that the dog is my service animal – trained to help me with my disabilities. In saying this, he knew that I knew that pets are not allowed. In New York City, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene teaches a class that one or more people in this business had to attend. They discuss the rights and responsibilities that they are expected to abide by. There are a couple of questions that he could have asked – ‘Is the dog required to be here because of a disability? He could also ask, What kind of work does the dog do? It would be improper and illegal for him to ask about my disabilities.” James said, “Why do you think he asked to begin with?” I think he’s required to ask. He is probably a supervisor or manager. He can’t afford not to ask. New Yorkers will bring their dogs all sorts of places. He really isn’t allowed to have pets in the shop. If someone brings in a pet dog and there’s an injury to an employee or customer involving a pet dog – and no one questioned the presence of the dog, there’s going to be all sorts of headaches for the business. He’s obliged to ask, just as the rank and file employees were obliged to let him know that someone was bringing a big, hairy dog into the shop. Make sense?
Just then, the gentleman in the suit and tie approached our corner table. He asked, “Why is the dog so big?” I said to him, “My name is Dennis. What’s your name?” The simple response, “Mohammed.” Now, I knew who I was speaking to! “Mohammed, it’s good to speak with you, again. Are you asking me why I chose a large dog as my service animal? He nodded, up and down, several times. “Cool. I like big dogs. In my case, I needed a larger animal to provide me with the proper support for my challenges. Some people opt for smaller dogs. Some people use multiple dogs, depending on their dogs’ training and their needs. I have the big guy with me, today. Are you surprised that such a large dog is well-behaved?” Mohammed said, “I am. I don’t usually see dog like this that are so large. Most people bring in smaller dogs. I had a thought and asked, “Mohammed, how many managers work here? Is it a group of managers that work for someone who owns/operates multiple locations?” Mohammed smiled and said, “Their are two owners and they have five or six locations, here in the city and on Long Island.” Now, I was the one nodding up and down. “Mohammed, if you believe it would be helpful, I would be happy to speak with your bosses and/or the rest of the management team about working within the civil rights laws, and how to handle customers with dogs. There are appropriate ways to interact with customers who bring dogs into these shops.” It would be my pleasure to help out and a training opportunity for the team. I’ll leave you my contact information, and if you believe it would be helpful, I can email you some information to share with the relevant team members. What do you think? Would you like to share a phone number and email address?”
James was amazed that a public access challenge had developed into a possible opportunity to inform business owners – who are responsible for multiple coffee shop locations! We left the shop, shortly after we finished our donuts and we walked for a time, before I told James I needed to move onto my next appointment. He seemed satisfied. I asked him if he wanted to properly greet the large rug at my side. He was ecstatic. He recalled that he shouldn’t distract a working service animal. I appreciated his attention to that, especially while we were in the coffee shop. I released Bo from my control and he had his way with James.
I reminded James to ask his two friends to reach out, if they wanted to speak. I told him, again that I didn’t have any way to contact them, since we hadn’t exchanged names, phone numbers or email addresses when we met (see the earlier posting, “James, Service Animal Certification, and Access Challenges”).
All in all, it was a very good day.