Sunday, November 13, 2011

Food for Thought: The Service Dog & Dining Pleasure

Being early for an appointment is not good. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. --- Well, OK actually I just love doughnuts so that’s why I recently stopped in a local shop.
Goodee the Service Dog climbing out of her seat leads me to the handicap access ramp. I had a sudden flashback. In previous times I fell in this very spot. It’s too high, my hips lock and I crash to the ground. I snap back to reality, Goodee forges ahead. The Service Dog provides extra balance and compensates for my impaired peripheral vision. —, There’s no more access problem. “No problem,” I thought to myself.

We entered the doughnut Shop. The wonderful smells hit our noses. We stayed 3 ft away from the counter, Goodee looked forward more concerned with the clerk than the food in the display counter.

UAH… Long pause--- “That’s a dog!” The young clerk says. “Yes, she is my Service Dog,” I replied. AHH---Long Pause---“But, there’s food,” the clerk replied. “As if I don’t know that.”(I thought to myself).

Goodee’s head came up quickly as she looked at me, rolling her eyes. I am familiar with --“the look” Goodee dislikes upset of any kind. Any stress from me goes instantly down the leash “
“Education,” I thought to myself. “not upset” “not a barrier” “just education.” I hoped Goodee would understand I am not displeased with her. My frustration comes when I have to explain the same material 60% of the time.

I explained to the Clerk that Goodee is my mobility from point A to B and that the ADA requires Service Dog Access even to areas with food.
It was clear to me that the Clerk had been taught local health codes. The only thing missing in her training was the Service Dog Exception.

One receives startling results with a Google of any fast-food chain and “service dog access.” Not only have Service Dog handlers been asked to leave in less than polite ways, they have been assaulted.

Recently we took in a day of horse racing. I am continuously amazed to see the things I can do with Goodee that I couldn’t do without her. I was able to climb 3 flights of stairs quickly with her. In the past I needed a handrail and someone at my side to move slowly.
Well, no more access problems. Everything is great.

But then---

A Food Services Manager told me I would need to move away from other patrons to “feed my dog.” – “You mean, my Service Animal,” I replied. “Well yes, we make exceptions but you will still need to feed your dog away from the people and food.” I advised the Manager that this was our third year to attend the event. In years past, there was never a problem with Goodee eating her dry food in her dish under the table. I said that I would be glad to call the US Department of Justice for advice on what was “reasonable access” in this situation.

The Manager said “whatever” throwing his hands upward He later sent a waitress to tell me we had permission to do whatever we needed to for Goodee’s well being. I was so glad we came to an understanding because this was a 13 hour day for us.

The next day I received an apology phone call from the Facility General Manager with his pledge to go over ADA Access requirements with his staff.

The Service Dog is a medical device for both ADA and Federal Tax purposes. — Everyone should think of the Service Dog as a necessary item-- Perhaps a special medical appliance that requires delicate care.

Would we say: “leave your walker outside?” How about, “leave your anxiety medication, or glucose test strip outside while you eat”? -- Well no., Of course not. We wouldn’t want to single restaurant patrons out just because they have special needs.

It is like that for the Service Dog Team. We each have disabilities both visible and invisible mitigated by the specifically prescribed medical device.
Remember my scenarios above. -- In each instance the aid of the dog allows me to do something I was unable to do without her. She is necessary for me to perform ordinary tasks. She is not an amusement or accessory.

If you have questions about ADA Service Animal Requirements, Contact: U.S. Department of Justice toll-free ADA Information Line:
800-514-0301 (voice) or
800-514-0383 (TDD).

We visit many Service Dog Friendly establishments. To you we say “Thank you.”

You may see us out and about in your favorite food spot. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted even for a few seconds. We love to say hello. However, please understand we may have to say : “Not Now We Are Working.”


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