Today we had a really discouraging experience. We were asked to leave a shop because of Casper. We knew this would happen eventually, but that does not ease the emotional blow this dealt. In fact, we are surprised by the magnitude of emotions that this caused and disheartened because we know this is only the first time.
Before I get into the details, though, we want to share a positive experience from today. It happened first so we will tell it first.
We went to Mystic, CT today. It is one of our favorite spots and the weather was so beautiful we really wanted to get out. I have a lot of homework (3 online classes this semester) and there is cleaning to be done, but we decided to go anyway and do all of that tonight.
Our first stop was at the Old Mystic Village shops, right next to Mystic Aquarium. We love to walk around and window shop and there are a few stores we regularly patronize. One of the first shops we went into is called “Raining Cats and Dogs.” As you might have guessed it is a shop with all pet things, not a pet shop, but has a lot of knickknacks of all kinds of breeds on hats, banners, mugs, etc… The woman at the counter told us she used to have an all black Dane named Razor who had passed away. She wanted to meet Casper, who we were calling Thor today, and we had to let her since she was a Dane lover. As she was getting to know him a woman walked in with her son, probably about age 4. He was immediately taken with the “big doggie” and his mom was telling him how the dog was working. They moved in closer and we could tell the boy really wanted to meet Casper so we said he could come pet him it he wanted.
Let me explain something. Casper LOVES kids. He loves them so much he can, if we let him, jump on them or even lunge at their faces, though just for a kiss. So when we let him meet kids we always have him under control with a firm grip and the correction collar in one hand. With a few reminders he is always a gentleman pup.
The little boy pet him and let Casper sniff at him. Then the boy leaned down and hugged Capser around the neck. He was a perfect little guy; he did not rest his weight on him or hug too tight. It was this sweet gentle show of affection. And when he stopped Casper nuzzled the boy in the neck, making him giggle. It was perfect. Perfect! We told Casper how good he was with his manners and we thanked the little boy for having such good manners with a dog.
We left the store feeling high on the lovely day. We stopped at a few more shops. We let Casper look at some ducks through a fence. We ran in to a couple of elderly ladies still sitting on the bench were we saw them when we got there. They, of course, were also IN LOVE with our boy. Then we went into our favorite shop. We have been known to go to Mystic (an hour away) JUST to visit this shop.
The shop is named Mystical Elements. It is a Wiccan based shop, but is really lovely for anyone. (Don’t worry Mom, I have not converted to Wicca.) Dan has gone there for years and we have gone there together many times to buy candles, books, jewelry, and other items. The girls love these little beaded “wish” bracelets they sell and want one every time we go. We have even had to buy the bracelets for their American Girl dolls. So, we have been good customers and usually the people there recognize Dan.
Today I had a few things in mind that I needed. I especially wanted to buy lavender to make a calming spray to help our oldest daughter sleep. (I don’t want one from a store with all the chemicals in it.) I had just grabbed some lavender and noticed someone had a dachshund in the store. Dan had just stepped up beside me so I warned, “Dog.”
Casper has very few kinks we have to work out, but the biggest one is meeting dogs. He gets very excited and can pull Dan, or can step on the dog trying to play. We have worked it out pretty well so far, but he still has more to learn. For now, though, he can be within a few yards of a dog and, although he is excited and slightly distracted, he will not pull or bark. If the dog gets closer he might start to pull but Dan usually is one step ahead of him and if need be I can also take hold of the harness, but lately that is not necessary.
At this time Dan was in a situation where he would have to go forward to turn around to leave and was thinking this might be best, but the girl (who was in her teens or young 20s) stepped closer and blocked the escape. Dan told her that our dog was not very good at introductions. She did not seem deterred so I said I was afraid our dog would get excited and step on hers. She said, “It’s ok, mine just barks.” In retrospect I should have been more forward. I should have very nicely asked if she would mind taking her dog out because it was distracting him from his job. Or at the very least I could have asked her to back up so he could move out of the store.
We waited to long and her dog inched closer than lunged forward. In that split second Casper took a half step forward, but Dan caught him and he stopped. He was very alert and wanting to play, but he was totally in control. That step, though, set the other dog off growling and barking. Casper let out on very low small “woof” and that was it. I don’t think anyone else could have even heard it.
She snatched her dog up. The girl’s mother turned around, worried. I said, by habit, “He was just saying hello.” Then I stepped in front of Casper to break his gaze. Dan told him to lay down and he was in a down-stay by the time (this all took maybe 30 seconds) the woman in the shop came around the corner and across the small store shouted for the dogs to get out.
The woman did not see this altercation at all and probably did not even notice Casper’s vest from where she was. I stepped forward and said that he was a service dog and was allowed to be here. She asked for papers to prove it and I told her we didn’t have to show papers. I pointed out his vest was on. Then she said something that turned me into the protective momma bear. She said that he was disruptive in the store and that he was “vicious” and growling! Yep. VICIOUS.
It really makes us angry that because he is the bigger dog he is automatically assumed to be the aggressor. I can guarantee that a person is far more likely to have gotten bitten by that other dog than by Casper. And disruptive? Did you guys read our post about going into Salem? We regularly get compliments about how well-behaved he is in shops, even tiny ones that are hard to navigate.
Now, Dan had already stepped out at this point and I wanted to just follow, but I could not let that go. You just don’t mess with my family. I told her that he had not growled at all. I told her the other dog caused the whole problem and that ours was perfectly under control. Her answer was that she also made the other dog leave so it didn’t matter. I told her we were regular patrons and she had lost our business, put the lavender down on the counter and turned to go. I also reiterated that he was most certainly not vicious and that she was violating our rights. She said, as I was walking out, that she would like to see it in writing. Ok, lady, done. l said to go online and read the Americans with Disabilities Act. Then Dan pulled out these handy-dandy cards we carry in Casper’s vest which state the service dog rights under the ADA.
I walked back in, card in hand. I told her that I was particularly offended by her saying our dog was vicious because the other dog was the one causing the problem. She told me that if it was up to her no dogs would ever be allowed in shops because of people who are afraid of them. I explained that he HELPS DAN WALK. I mean, he is not just there for show. She then tried to hand the ADA card back, but I asked her to keep it and read it. I told her that she should learn the law because the shop could get sued for things like this. THEN, she said that he could come back in. No apology, no thank you, just an invitation back because I said the magic word, “sue.”
No thank you, lady. We won’t sue you, but we also won’t be coming back. And that is a real shame. If she had taken the time to learn something at the beginning of this situation, apologized, maybe thanked us for educating her, we might have considered just letting it go. We like that store. A lot. Now, though, the energy of that place is tainted and we know we won’t be back.
We spent the rest of this afternoon in a sulk. We didn’t go down Mystic Main Street because we didn’t have the energy to deal with anyone else like this. And we told ourselves, and each other, to get over it. We shouldn’t let her ruin our whole day, but we did, and I think I know why.
We are having this deep emotional reaction, not only because we liked this place and never expected this kind of treatment, but because we know that it didn’t affect her at all. Not really. She will lose our business, and maybe business from some friends, but not enough to make a difference. She might tell the story a couple of times about that big “vicious” service dog and his crazy family. Then it will be gone. Her reaction to me handing her that card showed me how little she cared to even learn what rights we have. Likely, she threw it in the trash.
I plan to email this blog post to the shop so that they might know how it effected us. Really, that is what I want from all of this, and why I hope our readers share this: for people to see how their reactions to our service dog either makes our lives fuller or makes it harder. That little boy today, and the one we met in Salem, made us so happy. It made the day actually seem brighter. Then we were treated badly and our day was done. Casper is not our pet. He is our family but more importantly he is Dan’s service dog. He helps Dan walk. Without Casper Dan would likely have taken a tumble in that shop and broken a few dozen items. Even with his cane he was less steady than he is now with his Dane. When you tell the dog to leave you are essentially saying that Dan is not allowed to shop in your store. And that means that I won’t shop there either and I encourage others not to patronize your shop. I hope others will read this as well and think about how their actions and reactions always have an effect on other people.