Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Dog By Any Other Name

  Today Edgar and I ventured out to do our usual errands around the harbor, which started with me getting my nails done. I have been going to the same salon for almost 14 years now, following the owner as her shop moved and her business grew. It was a special treat that I shared with my daughters, getting mani/pedis together from the time my youngest was in elementary school, and so ticklish that they scheduled extra time just to get all of her little toes painted, to my oldest daughter's bridal party taking turns getting pale polish to match Bride's flowers. We had watched each other's lives grow and change, pull apart and come back together. So, starting my outing there seemed to be both the easiest and most relaxing part of my day, sadly it would be neither.

  I popped in as I always did these days, checking to see if one of my favorite ladies could fit me in. As usually was the case, they could. I picked out my color and Edgar and I waited. There were a handful of ladies in the salon, a quiet afternoon. Edgar sat on my lap as the ritual of soaking my feet and removing old polish to be replaced with new began. He barely lifted his head off my lap. he was so used to being here. Edgar is just over 2 1/2 years old and he has been coming with me for these visits every six weeks or so since he was 2.  Where ever he goes, people tend to notice him. He is a 3 pound Yorkshire Terrier. He is well behaved and attentive and yes, he is adorably cute, so I can easily see that people might confuse him with a pet, he is so much more. Edgar is my lifeline to the outside world.

  Edgar is a service animal. He has his documentation and I have my medical documentation with my as well, whenever we go out, just in case. I am used to once or twice a week being approached regarding this impossibly small aid, I understand that. I have come to expect it when I go somewhere new. I was finished with my pedicure and was moving into another area to have my eyebrows waxed when another customer caught my eye, I gave a nod and followed the staff member to the next room. I had just laid down and she had began the process of readying my brow, when the woman I had seen a moment before leaned over me. I was startled to say the least. She gave no preamble just started with " I just wanted you to know that (owner's name) could get her WHOLE place shut down if an inspector came in here. I know that that (motioning to Edgar, now laying across my lap) is your dog, but you cannot bring him in here" I let her finish, mostly because there really did not seem to be a way to stop her. Also, I was startled. I was in a private area of the salon, in a private moment being confronted in an aggressive way by a complete stranger, in front of someone else, not the owner. I was....shocked. I could feel that thing happen...that lack of breath thing. And Edgar, did his job. He came up to my face first nudging my cheek and then rubbing his face against mine. He was comforting me. I tried to tell this abrupt stranger that Edgar was a service animal and that he was documented. Her response was cutting"I do not care, He cannot be in here." And with that she stormed off. I could feel (employee) trying not to look directly at me. Her hands were shaking as she did her work. I closed my eyes and focused on staying in the present, on not floating (what you may know as disassociating) and on breathing, made all the harder due to the fact that not only do I tend to hold my breath when I am startled, but both my emphysema and the prone position I was laying in made it harder for me to draw in air. I just wanted to disappear. This is why I tend to stay inside, why I do not go out alone. How was I going to get home if I broke down here. I fought the urge to sit up and rock forward and back. I needed to just lay still. Edgar did his part and I reminded myself to breathe. I collected my thoughts. I felt both embarrassed and angry.

I walked out to the (owner's) station, where the apparent, de facto gatekeeper was sitting getting her own nails attended to. I spoke directly to the owner, calling her by name, I reminded her of my family's long standing patronage and Edgar's regular presence. I then presented both his certification and my own paper work. She said nothing. She barely lifted her eyes. It was the Door woman's turn again "it does not matter" she hissed. "You cannot bring him in here." I said the only thing I could think to say to this rude woman. " I told her that her behavior was inappropriate. At which point, she countered that I was inappropriate. All of this was done in front of the other clients and employees. I paid for my services and said good bye and thank you to (employee) and left.

  I take my service animal to every doctors and dentist appointment. If I travel by plane, all airlines allow Edgar to sit in my lap. He has been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Getty Center in Los Angeles, The Hearst Castle, and this last weekend, the Experience Music Project in Seattle, all without issue, simply by showing the proper documentation. However, here, in Gig Harbor, a client of a nail salon feels that she is sufficiently versed in the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) that she would behave in such a manner. It is a sad day. After much thought and reflection, I can understand being concerned for a friend and wanting to "protect her" to make sure that she did not run counter to the law. However, this woman actually did exactly the opposite of that. Not only was she ignorant of the law, she refused to be educated. I must take the words of a dear friend of mine to heart and find the teaching moment.

 I must remember that Edgar still looks like a pet, even when identified as a service dog. He was not wearing his service vest, it was too hot for it today, and he keeps stepping out of it.  We have to be ambassadors. There are still business owners and people in general that do not understand the ADA and service animals. I did try to hand a copy of it to the woman who was so insistent that no animal of any kind could be in the establishment, however, she declined my offering.

I am withholding the Salon's name as well as of that of the owner and the employee. I am still, and will always be very fond of my memories made there. I have no desire to cause the owner any negativity. I know her to be a kindhearted, caring person, nor do I wish to cause her client any backlash. I merely want  her to become educated on the laws. It seems very likely that no one, besides myself for the last two plus years, has ever come in with a service animal. I will be enclosing this blog entry and a copy of the laws pertaining to service animals,  in a card of farewell to the owner. I will be getting my nails done elsewhere.

  If you have read my other blogs here on the Patch then you may know something of my past, if not you can read about the reasons for Edgar being in my life by going to Looking For My Escape on facebook  or . Please remember, not every disability is easily visible. Many of us go out of our way to keep it that way. PTSD is a very real, incredibly debilitating disability and those that struggle with it should not have to constantly explain it's cause to the satisfaction of strangers in order to have their service animal recognized. I say that here, because it is the number one question I am asked, why do I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? I am always stuck between giving some polite answer...something that says...mind your own business...kindly (if you know how to phrase that, please let me know) or being brutally honest, so that they can be the one to feel uncomfortable. We are all broken in our own way, when given a choice, be kind.

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