Outing Your Dog

Outing Your Dog
May 10, 2012 by Steve Duno
pom shopping cart2.jpg
The woman in front of me on the supermarket checkout line petted her nasty little Pomeranian standing up in her cart, as he snarled at me with Lilliputian rage. Then she swiped her debit card to pay for her groceries.

"He's a therapy dog," she said, palming his fuzzy head as he kept up his squeak toy rant. "He's my emotional support."

While wondering how long the cashier was going to put up with the nasty little cur railing against the world, I saw that he wore a little red therapy vest. How this scorpion could be classified as "emotionally supportive" I will never know.

"We asked her not to bring the dog in, but she threatened to sue," said the cashier, as the woman and her rabid Pom left the store, the woman grinning like a bobble head Buddha. "She showed us a letter from her doctor," he said sheepishly. "So now we just let her come in with him."

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), that little hawk bait can technically be classified as an emotional support animal (ESA), and therefore allowed in situations where other dogs would not normally be permitted to go. But the ADA also stipulates that said ESAs must behave reasonably in order to be allowed in business. Specifically, it says:

A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal's presence.

So much for the furry snapping turtle.

But what about this? Clearly an aggressive dog shouldn't be allowed near patrons of a business, yes? In this case, the manager of the supermarket did not understand the law, and was erring on the side of litigious caution. But if the dog had bitten a curious child in the face, the store would have been liable for a much more serious law suit. A combination of naiveté and political correctness could have resulted in a bad scene, the closing of a business, and the loss of jobs.

I've since told the manager of the law's stipulations; we shall see if the Pomeranian lady shows up again with her monstrous little emotional support system.

It got me thinking how unfortunate it is that, here in the States, we just aren't allowed to take our dogs out with us to pubs, restaurants, stores, golf courses- for a variety of litigious reasons, it just doesn't wash.

Friends in the U.K. and continental Europe often scoff at our anti-canine imperatives. They take their pooches nearly everywhere, with seemingly no adverse effects. Odd that in Europe, where individual liberties sometimes take a back seat to the welfare of the group, liability concerns vis a vis public dogs seem not to be an issue.

The reason for this is, in my opinion, somewhat of a beneficial Catch-22; dogs in Europe are, in general, better behaved and socialized because they go out in public much more often than do ours. They live in somewhat more urbanized surroundings, too, and as such become better desensitized to crowds, noise, and distractions. Like riders on the uptown local subway at 5:30pm, they become inured to confrontation, and just go with the flow. An oversimplification, perhaps, but you see my point.

Dogs here tend to live a more cloistered life, among lower density populations. They interact less with strangers, and tend not to leave home all that much. They don't get the chance to desensitize to crowds and unpredictable stimuli, and as such, tend to take on a more reserved air than do their European brethren. It's a phenomenon I notice when comparing rural dogs to those walking the streets of Manhattan, or some other dense urban environs; city dogs usually take confusion and unexpected occurrences in stride, while rural or homebound dogs often overreact, or stress.

Take that observation and combine it with the fact that many of us humanize (and spoil) our dogs, and also rationalize bad behavior, and you begin to see why taking our pooches out to the local pub might constitute a legitimate liability hazard.

Though I don't think this is going to change much in the near future, it doesn't mean you can't learn from the European model. To that end, try getting your dog out of the house more. If you get a puppy, bring her out among people and friendly dogs as soon as her vaccinations are completed. Take her to any safe public venue that will have her. Walk her in different neighborhoods. Slowly desensitize her to busier areas, until honking horns and belching busses don't even make her blink. As is done with true therapy and service dogs, so can you do with your own little "emotional support animal." Just don't let her wear the therapy vest unless she truly earns it.


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Dog of the Week!

Meet: Kato