Thursday, May 19, 2016
This story has no ending, no moral resolution or lessons learned. There’s no way to tie up this story with a neat little bow at the end and leave with a satisfied sigh. It’s unfortunate and for this, I apologize. If a resolution is to be found, I hope a reader could find it and let me know. I would love to an ending.
Being the overzealous twenty-somethings that we are, Dusty and I have yet to learn how to “ease into things” or “take it easy” or even “slow the eff down”. We throw caution to the wind and follow the pace of our beating hearts; fast and with a fury. We decided upon leaving Salt Lake City that we’d next try the infamous Yellowstone National Park, a monument to the West often making the news for some form of wildlife or another approaching stray tourists. Challenge accepted, we dared fate. From Yellowstone we then chose Seattle, home of the famous Pike’s Place Market and newest dwelling on Whidbey Island to another recipient and family of the Service Dog Project, Renee Le Verrier and Sir Thomas. Renee’s Tommy is also Ethel’s uncle, his brother having sired Ethel’s litter. It had been over a year since the two dogs had seen each other.
Our first clue that we might be in over our heads occurred just south of the entrance to the park, as a traffic jam rivaling the staus of Stuttgart, Germany welcomed us. Throngs of cars, RVs, bikers and tourist buses honked and waited for the slow crawl to advance. Any hints of trepidation I’d felt began to mount. Thus far, Ethel and I had not encountered crowds together. There was an infamous day at Lamberts Café (a notoriously packed Missouri restaurant made famous by the waiters and waitresses actual throwing the rolls at the patronage), where Ethel tried her hardest to stay down amidst the piles of stray rolls and other food fallen on the floor. We had only been together a few weeks at that point and it was a rougher day for both of us.
But I still hadn’t been prepared for those two days. It had been over a year since I was been made to feel like such a spectacle, a show to satisfy someone else’s curiosity and provide entertainment. It began shortly after we parked the RV and I took her for a run, holding onto her harness and letting her gallop as I rolled with her. “I think that’s cheating!” a potbellied middle aged man in a trucker hat yelled across the parking lot and then proceeded to guffaw at his own joke. That was followed by an entire family yelling at each other to “Come, look!” and each held up a camera to their faces and shot away as I urged Ethel to “Giddy up” and get us out of there.
The next day we set out again on our morning run and I tried avoiding any crowds leaving the lodges. No such luck. “Hey, I’ll getcha a saddle!” I heard someone yell behind me and I steered Ethel off into some deserted parking lots.
But suddenly Ethel stopped without warning, her nose high in the air. “What’s up, girlie?” I asked her and looked around. Not twenty feet ahead of us was an enormous, bushy bison.
“Ok,” I said, trying speak softly, slowly and not as hysterically as I felt, “Just back up, that’s right, we’ll walk backwards for just a little bit… do not show fear, Ethel, that’s the key, don’t show fear”. We crept backwards until we were a safe enough distance away and then, with impressive speed, pulled out my phone and snapped a picture. Because, I mean, photo opportunity of a lifetime. Then at my command, Ethel took off galloping us to safety.
But the day went downhill from there. It started to pour and didn’t let up until that evening. To keep dry, the three of us huddled down in one of the lodges and drank hot coffee. But not in peace; we were interrupted every 1o minutes by someone, or a group of someones, wanting Ethel’s picture or wanting to tell us about their dog or the worst, just reaching down to pet Ethel and get their hand slapped away by me. It was exhausting. “No, she’s not a Dalmatian, she’s a Great Dane from the Service Dog Project. Here’s their poker chip”, “No, you cannot pet her, she’s a Service Dog and she’s working”, “No, you cannot take her picture, you’re interrupting us and she’s working”, ” I’m sorry you lost your dog, but you absolutely cannot touch her” and “Ma’am, please tell your children to stop bothering my Service Dog. They’re distracting her and that’s endangering me”. I put in headphones trying to deter their attention, but that left Dusty getting bombarded instead.
We left Yellowstone for the safety of our RV and made a team decision to lick our wounds and take refuge in the welcoming Service Dog Project that awaited us in Seattle. For two days we relished in the rich love of the Le Verrier family, laughing over the antics of our Great Danes frolicking and Ethel stealing any bone or bed that her uncle Tommy had. They sympathized with our experience at Yellowstone and shared similar stories. Capturing the fantastic and resolving curiosity seemed to be of greater priority than respecting personal boundaries or privacy to many of the people we had encountered.
Still wanted to experience Seattle, we borrowed the Le Verrier car they graciously offered and headed to the city. Ethel wore a borrowed blue vest and collar from her uncle Tommy for me to see how I liked the design, with the words SERVICE DOG printed much more boldly than on Ethel’s normal vest. After finding parking, we meandered to Pike’s Place Market in downtown Seattle. The wind coming off the ocean masked the roar of the throngs of tourists occluding the market and spilling out into the surrounding streets. People yelled for family members, high pitched shrieks of children echoed off the walls and sellers laughed loudly at the inside jokes they shared with one another. The Market, being a true maze in itself, was too packed to wander deeply in and Dusty went on ahead to find a stall that sold something to have for lunch. Almost immediately as the people swallowed Dusty into the crowd in front of where I stood with Ethel, off to the site of a part of the entrance, a finger tapped my shoulder. A woman motioned to her camera, which was pushed so close to my face I had to jerk back to avoid head-butting the invasive object. I pointed to the “SERVICE DOG” clearly written on Ethel’s side and shook my head no. Before she could respond, a man squatted in front of Ethel and began to baby talk “what a pretty girl she was”. I asked Ethel to back up and told the man to “Please stop interacting with my service dog, she’s working” to which he said “Geez, sorry” and walked away. I spoke with Ethel, explained to her what had just happened but was then poked again. “Oh, she is just a doll,” a woman with a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt cooed. “So what do you have? Cerebral Palsy? MS? I’m a nurse practitioner,” she explained, as if that gave her permission to ask about my private medical history. Before I could answer this baffling invasion of my privacy in such a public setting, I noticed that two separate people behind her were filming me with their phones. “Stop. Leave us alone”, I told the group with what I hoped was a voice that hid the exasperation I was feeling. Suddenly there was a high-pitched wailing coming from a child being held by her overwhelmed mother already holding the hand of an older brother. “She gets to have her dog in here, why can’t I have Maxy” she cried, her red face glaring at Ethel and me. “Why don’t we ask her if we can pet the dog?” the mom said, trying to placate her crying child. “No, I’m sorry, she can’t. This is a service dog,” I answered, fearing the child’s reaction. The girl’s entire face seemed to split open as the loudest shrieking cry heard yet emanated from the gaping mouth. Ethel and I quickly turned around and fled the market.
Wearily, our trio returned to the warm embrace of the Le Verrier as the sun set over the splashing waves of the sound. We retold our nightmare of the market to their indignant faces, outraged and disappointed that our Seattle experience had matched Yellowstone. They fixed us dinner, gave us beer and seltzer water to soothe our souls and regaled us with stories of their new Washington life. Their happiness and contentment in their new surroundings was evident, even in the quiet face of their 14 year old son who failed to have the surly demeanor 14 year old boys are usually prone to having.
We set off from then to the refuge of Oregon, desiring the trees and ocean to be our only companions and the seals and seagulls our only interactions. I do not know the lesson of our Nightmare at Pike’s Place, only that I lack the thick skin and steely demeanor of someone who knows how to survive in an overpopulated area just like the seemingly cold personalities of so many people I’ve met in New England cities who’ve adopted that attitude out of necessity. If I must, I’m sure Ethel and I can adapt to this lifestyle. In the meantime, I have lunch with a seagull awaiting me and I really can’t miss it.
An old friend, now an international Occupational Therapist, perfectly surmised this experience and gave me her insight. As someone who is an advocate for disabilities and has the unique perspective of having watched me transition from able-bodied to disabled, she identified the true need in both these nightmares: education.
“ Moral of this story: a complete lack of education provided to our society. Lack of education regarding people that appear “different” than us. Lack of education regarding resources for individuals, such as yourself, that utilize various forms of assistance throughout their daily lives. And lack of education for the respect and dignity of people of all cultures, races, ethnicities, and varying degrees of abilities! You should honestly start carrying a brochure around with you. Every time someone tries to touch sweet Ethel when she is working you can emphatically hand them the brochure with a large and friendly 😉 stop sign on the front and then details on the inside about Ethel’s role. Unfortunately, our society, while better than many out there, doesn’t adequately educate the public on abilities and disabilities, and therefore our American people go on living as if they are entitled to handle your service dog!” – Hayley C., Pediatric Occupational Therapist