Thursday, September 26, 2013

The People in Line Behind Me

When you raise a puppy and you're out in public, you try your best to project a good image. You vigilantly keep Puppy from sniffing the lower shelves at the grocery, from blocking a busy doorway at a store, from tugging towards an interesting person passing by, from squirming as you stand in line. But of course, nobody (me or Puppy) is perfect. Sometimes it can feel like you and Pup are against the world, that the eyes watching your movements may be a little harsh and unduly critical. That is until you get a pleasant surprise.

Yesterday Piper and I had a package to mail at the Danville post office. Normally we go to our tiny p.o. in Chatham, but today, running errands in "the big city", we stop at their large main post office. We take our place in line, and Piper plops down and takes five. After an already busy morning doing his best effort at Being Good with the therapy dog group at an assisted living home, he is rather tuckered out. A middle-aged couple drops into line behind us. Soon we are chatting about service dogs and all the jobs they do, how far along Piper is in his training and the usual things a PR discusses to interested, friendly people. It does make the time go by. As we talk the line lengthens and stretches out behind us. Every so often, the line moves and Piper obligingly rises up, moves forward by my side, and plops down again.

Piper last weekend at "Dog Days", a sale at a local greenhouse business. Every year I set up a table and tell people about service/guide/therapy dogs. People bring their pets. It is much fun and a great exposure for Piper.

Finally our turn. The clerk behind the counter calls us, and we walk over to the high counter. "Is that a dog you have there with you?" she asks, just a little too sharply I think. As she leans forward she reminds me of a disapproving judge at his bench in court. "Well, yes, he's a service dog in training," I answer. Her eyes narrow. "Do you have a disability?" "No, I don't, he's in training to be a service dog. I am training him." "Well, if you don't have a disability, then he can't be in here. I will go ahead and wait on you this time, but I don't ever want to see you bring a dog in here again."

Oh, groan. It's as if you can see the shades roll down and the shutters slam shut on her face. There is no reasoning with a person like this. Still I make one last feeble attempt. "How can a service dog do his job if he isn't allowed to train in facilities like this?" I ask. But she isn't considering anything. If I had more time, I would ask to speak to her supervisor, but it has already been a long morning, I have more errands to run with Piper and am in no mood for a fight. Since I normally don't come here anyway, why even bother? I pay the postage on the package and turn to leave.

As I start to walk away, I pass the line of people. The line I had so recently stood in. I see their eyes resting on me and my service pup who walks calmly by my side. I head outside, walk Piper along the edges of the parking lot, then give him some water A lady appears and she tells me how sorry she is I got treated that way inside. I guess she heard the whole thing. She is upset and ready to go back in, and wait in line to speak to the supervisor. We talk a little, say good-bye and I thank her for being supportive.

Later that afternoon I get a call. It's the same lady from outside the p.o. She did indeed go back in the building, waited in line and talked to the supervisor. The supervisor said - get this - SEVERAL other people had complained about the way Piper and I were treated! Wow, I thought, it was the people in the line behind me. And they cared enough to stand up for me, Piper and assistance dogs everywhere, when I was too busy and tired to try. How awesome is that?

It makes me take a fresh look at the public:  the anonymous people in line, in the crowd, the ones we think don't notice us. Or maybe we think they watch with a critical eye as we work our service pups with faltering steps up the ladder towards their important future role. Yet in fact this anonymous public often secretly and silently watches with approval, and is surprisingly ready to spring to our defense when the going for us gets tough. You guys at the post office Tuesday morning, I don't know you and I'll probably never see you again, but I just have to say "Thanks" to the people in line behind me.


  1. Just when I was about to give up on humanity . . . :0)

  2. Such a great story! There have been several situations lately (mainly regarding my community college) about not wanting my puppy, and this is such an encouraging story. A grocery store employee did almost the same thing to me several months ago, and I was most frustrated that not a single person -- employees (who all know us), or customer said anything. Thankfully, I came back later and spoke to the manager, who was very nice and apologetic, but what a great thing to know you have the support of those kind strangers around you.