When you have a service dog, meeting with the general public in situations where conversation is encouraged can bring up some interesting interactions.
On Sunday afternoon, Rocky and I joined 23 other Southern New Mexico writers for the “Celebrate Authors” event at the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library in Las Cruces. From 2-4 p.m., over 80 lovers of all things literary came up to the Roadrunner Room on the second floor to chat with authors, buy autographed copies of books, and munch on a alarming amount of delicious food prepared for the event.
The event was sponsored by library staff and Friends of the Library, and we authors couldn’t have been more spoiled or well taken care of. Each of us had our own table, a nice blue table cloth, a name plate, a bottle of water, note pad and pens, plus a library book bag filled with cool swag waiting for us when we arrived. Visitors were handed a guide sheet that had all the authors’ names with a list of our books and brief descriptions, a mini-road map, as it were. Really, I’ve never been to a more well-organized event, start to finish.
It was great for me, because of those 23 names, I didn’t know anybody. The last author event at a library I attended in Sonoma County, California, I knew everyone on the list. Sabrina, my wife, was with me on Sunday, which allowed me to leave my table periodically to wander around.This opportunity to meet both local writers and readers was a real boon. Rocky, of course, is always up to new venues and people, so we were ready for a good day.
But I’m never completely prepared for some of the questions.
As I was talking to author Pierre Nichols, a woman writer at a nearby table, obviously looking at Rocky’s vest, said, “I’ve always wanted to know – why does it say, ‘Please don’t pet?'” I guess that’s an honest question, even though the answer seems so obvious to me. I explained, “A service dog is working. If someone pets her, it’s a distraction, and she can’t focus on her work. She said, “Oh! That makes sense!”
Moments later, I asked another gentleman whether both of his books were for young adults. As he explained that one was for a YA audience, the other for adult readers, he said, “So, how long were you in the service?” Puzzled, I said, “I’ve never been in the service.” I wondered what about my appearance or behavior made me seem military. Then he said, “But it says, ‘service dog.'”
Whoa. That’s a first.
I again went into education mode. I told him that service dogs helped people with disabilities, that she was “in service” assisting me. “Oh,” he said. “All this time I’ve misunderstood that.” He was a kindly soul, and well-intentioned, so I went further into my explanation than usual, telling him a little of my personal history, and we ended up having a very nice chat. He said he thought I should write about my disability, and I could probably make it humorous, too. Then he wasn’t sure if I would take that the wrong way. I laughed, said, “Don’t worry! My close friends and I all have jokes about it. It’s the only way to deal, sometimes.” Which led to him telling me some very funny stories about when he used to work at a cemetery. You never know where a conversation is going to take you.
Later, back at my author table, despite my special sun glasses, I began to feel overwhelmed by the banks of fluorescent lights (one of the triggers for my paralysis episodes), and realized I needed to get out of the building for a few minutes, and quick. I told Sabrina, and stood up, using my cane because I was already a bit unsteady. Right at that moment, a woman approached and wanted to talk about service dogs. I’m standing there, flushed, getting light in the head, wobbly, and she wants to chat. Luckily Sabrina was there, so I simply pushed past her and let Sabrina take over. It’s hard because my “nice” self doesn’t want to appear rude, but my survivor self doesn’t want to fall on my face onto the floor in front of 50 people.
We managed to get outside, and the natural light and air helped me revive. When Rocky and I came back in 10 minutes later, Sabrina and the woman were still talking. Good thing I hadn’t tried to be polite.
Other than that, the only issue was the man who showed up with a dog. Now, I’m almost positive you can’t bring dogs into the library. But somehow, because this event was on the second floor, he thought, well, no one will mind. In pranced this little dog – no service vest, no purpose. I convinced Rocky that he was not there to visit her, despite the fact that he was clearly not on the job. Just out for a stroll, I suppose. And a little light reading.
All in all, it was still a good day.
Rocky is getting used to this dog-and-person show, I think.