Buddy the Wonder Dog and I face off with a restaurant manager. We win.

When Buddy the Wonder Dog isn’t being a furry anxiety anecdote for my son, he and I are a team. We go everywhere together – grocery shopping, to the library, to the gym, and to Ulta in search of the Diva’s special brand of hair conditioner, sold for the price of a month’s worth of organic grass-fed beef.

Buddy almost always wears his service vest when we’re out. By law it’s not required, but it helps business managers understand that Buddy is a working dog. Sometimes, though, I don’t have the vest handy, which was the case earlier this week when my friend and I went for a walk, then decided to pop into a local cafe for coffee.IMG_0317

This spot is a local hipster joint – just a block from the ocean – with awesome organic food and drink. I’d been there with Buddy several times before without incident; I adore the Bittersweet salad there. It’s the type of place that makes you want to grow dreadlocks and get a(nother) tattoo.

On this day, it was near closing time and only a few customers remained. My friend and I walked to the counter and ordered. A minute later, a man approached us swiftly and said loudly, “Excuse me, there are no dogs allowed in this restaurant.”

I was prepared for that. I smiled and said, “I know. He’s a service dog. I’m sorry, I just don’t have his vest today.”

The man – he didn’t identify himself, but I assume he is a manager – kind of scoffed, and said, “Well, I need to see some identification or some kind of paperwork.” I stayed very calm. Buddy, I should mention, was laying quietly at my feet. “No,” I said. “By law, I don’t need to provide you with anything. I’m happy to show you the law on my phone. Would you like me to do that?” I realized I didn’t have my phone, so I borrowed my friend’s and Googled the Americans with Disabilities Act clause regarding service animals. But the man had turned quickly and walked away.

My friend and I sat down with our coffees, again with Buddy at my feet. The man returned, stood over us, and loudly spoke. I noticed other customers staring at me. “Okay, now I get it,” he said. “I have the right to ask you what kind of service dog it is and what he is going to do for you here while you’re at this restaurant.”

I was shocked at the sarcasm in his voice. But I answered him, still very calm. “Buddy is a psychiatric service dog. He helps my son, who has extreme anxiety because he suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder. I’m his trainer, and so I have a right to have him here with me.” The man looked at me with his head cocked, then turned around and walked away without a word.

We could have left and sat outside. At this point, however, I wanted to remain inside on principle. It’s true that I do not need Buddy to navigate daily life (although it helps). But Buddy is my son’s service dog – and since Buddy doesn’t go to school with him, he needs to be stimulated and worked out every day in order for his training to be continually reinforced.

Had the man told me to leave, I would have called the police. Really. Because here’s the problem – I am a strong, confident woman who can articulately voice my rights. Suppose a disabled person with an animal – perhaps a vet with PTSD, or a mother with a child who has autism – had stepped through this restaurant’s doors and been treated with the same haughty suspicion by an employee inexcusably ignorant of the law. Suppose my 11-year-old son had been with me? What would he be learning about tolerance for people who need help navigating society? I can tell you this – if that man had used the same attitude to belittle us in front of my boy, my calm demeanor might have been swallowed by my very sharp tongue and little known ability to shoot laser beams out of my eyes.

Business owners may not agree with the law, but they must follow it. And listen, I understand it can be hard – yes, you can buy service vests online. Yes, I’m sure people occasionally pretend their dogs are service animals, although there are not many canine pets well trained enough to get away with it. But shouldn’t we err on the side of the disabled here? My dog was not disruptive – he was behaving exactly like a service animal should. I did not mind answering politely-asked questions, and had exact, rational answers and explanations. And yet I was treated like unwelcome, undesirable clientele. That, my dear peeps, is discrimination, and it’s against the law. I could argue the man committed a crime under Florida state statutes:  Any person, firm or corporation….who denies or interferes with admittance to, or enjoyment of, a public accommodation or otherwise interferes with the rights of an individual with a disability or the trainer of the service animal while engaged in the training of such an animal pursuant to (the law) commits a misdemeanor of the second degree. 

I love this particular place; it’s popular for a reason. I struggled with whether to name it here. But I’m not interested in boycotting it or diminishing its reputation. I’d like to go back. Maybe they’ll teach me how to make their delicious kimchee. And maybe Buddy and I could teach them a lesson or two in exchange.


21 responses to Buddy the Wonder Dog and I face off with a restaurant manager. We win.

  1. Todd O says:

    Well that stinks. I feel the desire to bring my 6 foot, 245 pound ass in there and have a little discussion with our “friend” You handled that so well. Thank you for staying on principle even though at that point the joy was sucked out of your experience. As the father of an autistic son (who does not have a service dog) and a board member of a non profit that provides adaptive baseball for children and adults, many with service dogs, I thank you. You are one of my wife’s and my heroes even though we have never physically met.

    • tricia says:

      Todd, you say the word and I will meet you any time. Thank you for reading, and for understanding (as I know you do) that the most extraordinary people lead the most ordinary lives. xo

  2. Valle says:

    You (and Buddy) should go there every day til the dude begs your forgiveness

    • tricia says:

      YES! The lattes are very strong, though…. xo love you sister.

  3. Matz says:

    Some people don’t understand that Crohn’s disease is also covered under ADA, and you can just imagine the conversations that I have with airline personnel, restaurant owners, taxi drivers, etc. I literally have to bring a card with me that proves that I have the disease, and must be seated in a certain area, or must make frequent stops. The stares that I get when I pre-board (because I have to sit on an aisle seat) are perhaps the most annoying. You can just imagine what I want to scream out to these idiots. “But, you don’t look sick.” Go f yourself.

    • tricia says:

      F yourself indeed. Have the courage of your convictions, dear Matz, for you are breaking ground, conquering battles, and taking names. Love. xoxo

  4. Leigh D. Muller says:

    My surgeon told me that when he opened me up, he couldn’t understand how someone with that much internal damage could still be alive. Oddly, as awful as I felt, even the doctors thought I couldn’t be “that sick, because you would look a lot worse if you were.” It became the standing joke, the expected punch line that would send Jim and me into gales of laughter with each new doctor we met. I even took to going without makeup, but it didn’t help. By the time we had surgery booked in Minnesota, I was too weak to walk through airplane terminals, so Jim arranged for wheelchairs. I was still stubbornly fighting for normalcy, so when Jim dropped me off curbside and went to park, I waved off help, pushed the chair inside the terminal, and sat down. A group of 3 women was passing, and they thought I was simply claiming the chair in laziness. I’ll never forget their rudeness, or how hard it was to sit in that chair, even temporarily, when I wanted to be up, walking, independent, and perfectly average. So this week? When you stood up in the face of ignorance and schooled it? You were for damn sure speaking for voices who can not speak for themselves.

    • tricia says:

      I’m so sorry for the anguish you’ve endured, Leigh. You are stronger than you know. Sending love and faith. xoxo

      • Leigh D. Muller says:

        I wouldn’t have chosen the last three years, but I have gained a great deal from the experience. It has changed me, and in every case other than physically, for the better. Added to that, I’m almost back to average, which is all I want and so much more than many people ever get to be. You and your family are so tender, bright and rare. It’s an honor to follow you.

  5. Frieda says:

    Sorry, but I call bull for this particular situation.

    It’s your son’s service dog, not yours. You were not engaged in training. Rather, you were out socializing with a friend and in search of some “awesome organic food and drink” and wanted the convenience of having your dog with you. Such a selfish view to take on the world and the regulations that are genuinely intended to help the disabled. If you had called the police — using public resources to further this travesty — it would have been even worse.

    And “discrimination” is a heavy word to accuse someone of just because you didn’t like their tone of voice. Mr. “haughty suspicion” deserves more compassion/understanding than you give. First, he simply asked the questions that were in his rights to ask. And more importantly, he DID NOT ask you to leave once you provided the appropriate info.

    Why such offence for him asking you a couple of questions — especially when you did not have the vest? How was he otherwise supposed to differentiate you from the hundreds of people he’s dealt with in the past who probably tried to saunter in with non-service pets? Working in the service industry, you see a lot of crap…

    • tricia says:

      I appreciate your point of view. However, whenever I am out with the dog, he is training. He cannot stay home all day, every day, or he will regress. As far as the man’s tone, it’s absolutely relevant – he did not quietly and discreetly ask the questions. He loudly confronted me, which is, again, against the law. I know that people in the service industry face a lot of crap. But not nearly as much as people with mental disabilities.

      • Frieda says:

        Thanks for being open to a point of view admittedly very different from your own.

        I understand that you felt singled out. But tone is subjective, and volume variable. There’s absolutely no reason why you should feel discriminated against just for being asked the resonable questions to establish your credibility — which it sounds like you successfully did.

        I really can’t address your comments about people with mental disabilites facing more hardship than people in the service industry, as that’s a total strawman arguement. As is your equating my suggestion that you not take your service dog to your social lunch to him staying home “all day, every day,” which of course is not the same thing at all.

        Choose your battles wisely, is all I’m suggesting. And be cautious that you don’t confuse discrimination with either reaping the effects of poor judgement (the missing vest) or someone stepping on your sense of righteous entitlement. It gives all the real discrimination happening out there a bad name….

        • tricia says:

          Hi Frieda – I respectfully disagree. His tone was not subjectively aggressive – people were staring, and he was clearly angry at me. And it wasn’t poor judgement for me to be without the vest – it was just the situation. I was not taking advantage of the law – the law was written specifically to protect my right to be there with my working dog. I understand people not familiar with service dogs and their need to work might not understand my point of view, and I’m happy for people to ask questions and even okay with people who think I’m full of crap – as long as they comply with the law.
          I appreciate you reading this, Frieda, and taking the time to write not just once, but twice! I’m hoping that on the next issue, we might share more common ground!

  6. Kelly says:

    I would love to go get coffee with you and Buddy at this hangout anytime:)

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