Friday, October 28, 2016

Close encounter of the suspicious kind

Today, for the first time, Trooper and I encountered another service dog in a restaurant.

The occasion was lunch at a favorite cafe across the street from our condo building.

The other dog was a big golden retriever, beautifully mannered and calm even in the enthusiastic face of Trooper, a bumptious terrier who never met a dog he didn't want to play with.

I asked his handler what the dog did for her. I didn't catch everything she said, but it seemed that the dog helps her with postsurgical balance and walking. A sturdy handgrip lay on the back of the service-dog vest. That seemed reasonable to me.

But then I noticed that the handler, an older woman, repeatedly fed scraps from her lunch to the dog—an absolute breach of service-dog etiquette and a disturbing indication that what appears to be a service dog team may not be genuine.

What's more, the handler allowed the retriever to sprawl right in the middle of foot traffic rather than tuck the dog out of the way, as the Americans with Disabilities Act requires. That was not only unmannerly but also dangerous; a waiter had to step gingerly over the dog while carrying plates to patrons. On the way out I had to pick up Trooper to get past the retriever.

Maybe that service dog team was real—that gorgeous, well-behaved golden could indeed have been trained specially to perform a service for a person with disabilities—but that woman clearly had no idea how to behave and handle her dog.

I don't have doubts about the dog's authenticity. I do hers.

OCT. 29: A friend in Washington, D.C., who knows something about service dogs says she has unhappily watched several legitimate handlers doing the same thing that woman did—feeding table scraps and paying no attention to the dog's whereabouts. The human side of a team sometimes needs to be retrained in service-dog etiquette.

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