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To the Woman Who Harassed a Man for Bringing His Service Dog Into a Restaurant

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To the angry woman who argued with a man who brought his service dog to a restaurant,

So you didn’t want to eat next to a dog. I understand your opinion. I do. However, the way you expressed your opinion made you look bad. Your tantrum made you look uneducated about the law and the Americans With Disabilities Act. It also made you appear to be a nasty human being without any compassion for people with disabilities, which is just plain wrong. Don’t even get me started on what animal lovers are saying about you.

Judging from your strong opinion, I feel as if you’ve never had to struggle with any sort of physical or mental issue or disability, and therefore you do not know how to empathize with those of us who live with them on a daily basis. Many of us rely on others to help us do things the everyday person takes for granted. Like being able to walk into a restaurant. Like being able to see the menu. Like being able to know when you might have a seizure before it happens.

Service dogs aren’t regular pets. We didn’t just throw on a leash and bring them to dinner because we’re worried our little Precious has to stay home alone. Service dogs are highly trained canine assistants that provide a service. Humans have found a great way to utilize dogs to fill those roles. There are several disabilities that qualify someone to obtain a service dog, none of them being laziness or loneliness. Also, it’s not easy nor is it cheap to get a service dog. Some dogs cost upwards of $25,000. You don’t actually think a $25,000 dog is going to be ill-behaved in a restaurant, do you? Yeah, neither do I.

I forgive you for not understanding the true need for these dogs. I forgive you for thinking these dogs are “just pets” or maybe even believing they’re nasty street dogs with diseases and fleas. Let me assure you, this is not the case. Service dog handlers take better care of their dogs than many pet owners. That’s because it’s mandatory. Handlers know their dogs will be in public, wearing a vest. It’s their responsibility to present a well-trained, clean dog. The dog knows this, too. When the vest is on, the dog is a working citizen. He knows his role in society and his job. He is proud to wear the vest and to go to work. He depends on his handler as much as the handler depends on him.

The dog is not lazy, he’s not entitled, he’s not looking for handouts and, above all, he’s not an asshole. Not ever. Even when he’s having a bad day. The dog is hard-working, he never fails to do his job, he never lies, steals or cheats, and he never complains. That dog is a better citizen than some people I know. He’s also cleaner. I have a teenage son and trust me, there are times when I’d rather sit and eat with a service dog than some of my son’s friends. They’re great kids and I love them all, but eww.

Please know this: my little girl is sick. She’s been diagnosed as terminally ill, though we don’t refer to her as such. She has a congenital heart defect turned disease as it progresses. Her GI system barely works, which means she’s in great pain 24/7. She takes medications every day, all day, and growth hormone injections every morning. She was recently diagnosed with cirrhosis of her liver. She will most likely need a heart and liver transplant. She has PTSD because of the trauma she’s survived. She’s died and been brought back to life more than once. She has a brother and mother with congenital heart problems.

A few months ago, she found a husky at an adoption event and they both rescued each other. We adopted the dog, named Echo, and raised enough money to have the dog professionally trained. But that was the start. The two of them must continue to train together, in classes and at home, forever. It is a daily job. Our daughter has to work with her dog every day. She has to groom her dog every day. She has to make sure her dog is healthy and safe every day. In return, Echo is her best friend and protector.

Echo has been trained to recognize Cadence’s signals when she is sick or about to experience an episode of pain. Echo will help our daughter lie down and then apply a special pressure technique to our daughter’s abdomen to relieve the debilitating pain. This also helps reduce the fear and anxiety associated with such pain. She’s just a little girl and she hurts every day. Echo is also being trained to recognize a dangerous arrhythmia that our daughter’s pacemaker may not catch.

I don’t know if you have children, but I love my daughter. We’ve fought hard to keep her alive. If a dog can predict a dangerous situation or rectify pain and suffering, I’m 100 percent supportive. I also want that dog with her wherever she goes. Echo has completely changed our daughter’s life. She has been able to reduce the number of medications she takes on a daily basis and even the amount of as-needed pain-relieving medications.

You can’t see my daughter’s disabilities. In fact, you won’t anything when she’s smiling through her pain. She’s tough. Now she has a partner to help her get through even the worst days. She doesn’t bring her dog into restaurants only to let go of the leash. Our daughter doesn’t get on her phone and ignore Echo, letting the dog wander and jump up on tables. That never happens. In fact, Echo becomes quite agitated when she is “working” and gets separated from my daughter. The service dog’s job is to take care of the handler so he will stick by the handler’s side. Echo is trained to slip under the table and stay there the whole time. She’s even trained to hold off on shaking her fur, as most dogs do, and to wait to groom herself until they depart the restaurant. If you see a dog acting up, I can assure you it is not a “real” trained service dog.

I forgive you for not being able to see past your fears that a service dog might contaminate your food or, I don’t know, harm you. I forgive you for your tantrum and thank God it wasn’t in front of my little girl. My daughter fights for her life every day. The last thing she needs to see and hear is a spoiled, rude woman yelling at her for bringing her life-saving partner somewhere where she was well enough to eat, on a day she wasn’t so sick she couldn’t get out of bed. I wouldn’t want her to hear your foul mouth yell at her when she has real problems to deal with. I forgive you for your out-of-control behavior, the kind of behavior you will never see from a true service dog. They have better manners. I’m sure you probably had a bad day. Or year.

Lastly, you should know our service dog also saved my husband’s life this year when he collapsed while running. He had a major heart attack. Echo did exactly what she was supposed to do. She went into alert mode — she circled my husband and alerted loud enough that a neighbor came outside to see what was happening. That alert led to a 9-1-1 phone call, which saved my husband’s life. He would be dead without our service dog.

I hope you can learn to see the value in service dogs, and look past the dog and at the people whose lives they’ve changed. I hope this changes your mind and behavior the next time you are seated next to one in a restaurant. Just please don’t pet or feed the dog. That dog is very busy… doing his job. Saving a life.

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Photo by contributor.

Originally published: September 26, 2017
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