What Kind of Service, Exactly? Or: how a glassy-eyed, farting dog awoke the dormant father within me

I have a paternal instinct. It kicked in the other day when I was holding the fifteen year old blind and deaf dog of a woman with gas. The dog not the woman had gas. Or at least that’s what the woman said, it’s hard to verify.

Anyway, I was holding the farting dog in my arms close to my chest as the woman waddled over to the manager of the restaurant we were in asking if she could bring in her dog. Telling him, rather, for she had legal documents stating it (the dog) was a Service Dog and she was entitled to have it with her inside. He looked at the papers glumly, looked at her, looked at me holding the dog (not knowing I was internally experiencing the awakening of the paternal instinct), looked at the papers and said it was fine. Later a waiter took us a small bowl of water for the dog.

I wasn’t sure how the dog qualified as a service dog. I thought Service Dogs were supposed to be German Shepherds with a preternatural understanding of human behavior and a rudimentary understanding of basic algebra. This dog on the other hand was blind and deaf, so she couldn’t even respond if you called her name (Sooz) much less lead you through traffic. Actually, she couldn’t even walk, at least not for distances greater than twenty feet. That’s why I was carrying her.

As the glum manager was looking over the papers, I felt within myself the normal response arise. ‘Normal’ meaning my old way of dealing with authority. The impulse was to say Hey Man don’t be a dick just let us bring in the dog. Simultaneously, my other unconscious reaction was to say I know Man we can’t have the dog we’ll leave, sorry. Instead of acting on either these impulses (fight and flight) I realized it wasn’t about me but this dog. The old thoughts went away and I just stood there without saying a word holding the dog like a baby. A sense of calm and confidence took over me, as it suddenly became not about me, but about protecting the dog. I held her tighter. I awaited the manager’s verdict with indifference. My arm was beneath the dog’s ass, which may or may not have been leaking fart into the air. I didn’t care.

The service Sooz provides, it turns out, is emotional in nature. In case the older woman, my acquaintance, suffers a breakdown. I didn’t ask for details and if I did I probably wouldn’t share them here. The point is the dog does provide a service. And what better dog than a blind and deaf dog that can’t run away when you need something to hold on to.

But the service isn’t just for the woman. Sooz is brought into nursing homes to visit patients, too. They love her, says the woman. I believe her. Sooz was soothing for me, too. Actually, being protective of Sooz and holding her with unshaking hands had a lot more significance to me than I realized that night. It came back to me later how when I was a teenager and had a serious problem with hand tremors I had a terrible fear of not being able to hold my kids because of my shaking hands- that doing so would endanger them. By holding her and having it feel so natural, that fear is over.

The bowl the waiter brought us was set on the vinyl booth before Sooz. She sniffed it, started to lap it up, then tipped it over, spilling all of the water. Then she started licking the booth. Then she sniffed out some quesadillas and started eating them off the plate. I felt like I understood why dogs shouldn’t be allowed in restaurants.

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