Meeting New People
I enjoy meeting new people. Often our first conversation takes place online or over the phone, where they meet the virtual side of me – energetic, focused, and blessed with a pretty good sense of humor.
The natural next step is to meet in person, and by that point, most people are generally aware of Grace, my service dog, and that I have her to help me cope with a disability. They often helpfully suggest we arrange the meetup at a dog-friendly business, or they will say “We can just sit out on the patio!” At which point I pause, take a deep breath, and consciously relax the muscles that just clenched up.
The problem is this: “dog friendly” places aren’t always the best place for disabled people who depend on a working canine. And as for the second option, in July in North Carolina no sane person sits outside unless they must and also have a steady supply of icy cold beverages.
There’s no way the average person would know about the first problem, and as for the second one, my new friend probably doesn’t want to swelter in the summer heat either but is willing to endure it because they think it would benefit me. Gratitude, not stress, is the appropriate response here, followed by an explanation and a proposed change in venue. How can people be expected to know how I think and feel about issues like these unless I tell them?
Dog bars, dog parks, anywhere that pets are also welcome aren’t places I frequent with my service dog. Grace is not a pet; I rely on her to help me with things that are physically difficult for me to do and on her alert and response when I am having an episode that requires medication. When we are out together, she is on duty. If other dogs are having fun all around her, how unfair it would be for me to expect her to focus solely on me?
At such places there’s also always the risk of unanticipated behavior from another, unknown dog. I need Grace to aid me, and putting her in that situation would possibly endanger her if another unknown dog was aggressive, and possibly endanger me if she cannot focus to work.
We avoid such places.
As far as “We can just sit outside on the patio” – that statement that presumes my service dog will not be allowed inside whatever business we plan to visit. It also assumes I would like, or don’t mind, sitting outside. Neither of those is actually correct. As a service dog, Grace is permitted by legislation called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to accompany me into all establishments that provide goods or services to the public, including restaurants and retail establishments. This is true nationwide, not just in North Carolina. This means I can meet new acquaintances at all the usual places that someone without a service dog could, and I don’t have to sit out on the patio if I don’t want to – three cheers!
I am very grateful for the laws that allow me to be accompanied by Grace and use them frequently. Many people and some businesses aren’t aware of the benefits they bring people like me, and it’s part of my mission to educate local businesses and the community on all things service dog, and every time I meet a new person, it’s a new opportunity to do just that.