Sometimes being out in the world with a service dog can be draining and hard. You receive a lot of attention – some of it good, some neutral, some negative – but attention, nonetheless. Gone are the days of being just “part of the crowd.” People always notice you. So there is constantly a sense of being watched, observed.
As I have just noted, much of it is good attention. Folks like dogs. They want to say hi, ask about Ripley, tell me about their dogs, just chat. They often want to pet her. All of this is OK, but at the end of a long day, when I have been asked for the umpteenth time, it begins to wear thin.
Then there is the neutral attention, the people who are simply looking. I’m not sure what they think, but I know they are paying attention, watching me as I stand in line, or walk across the room.
The worst, of course, are those who for whatever reason don’t like dogs. The people who think maybe I’m faking it, that Ripley isn’t a service dog, that I’m cheating, or that it’s not fair that they can’t bring their dogs everywhere. They are watching for the slightest misstep, an error, a reason to be able to ask me to leave.
All of this, of course, is exacerbated by the fact that I do, after all, have a disability. Sometimes I am not well. So I find myself sometimes in the situation of having someone trying to carry on a conversation with me about my dog when I am in the middle of having a physical reaction, a small medical crisis, that Ripley is trying to support me through. It would be funny, if it weren’t so ridiculous at the same time.
So it is with deep gratitude that I receive the small wonders that arise during my forays out in the public – those brief gifts that come, unbidden.
One happened this week. I went to Plank Coffee in Cloverdale after a short meeting, having about half an hour to kill before my driver was scheduled to come pick me up for an afternoon of errands. When we go to Plank, we always order the same thing: a large soy latte in a big red mug, and one of their fifty-cent luscious peanut butter dog biscuits, which Ripley gets to eat just outside on the sidewalk, as snacking indoors while working is taboo.
After making short work of her cookie, we came back inside and took a seat. Our barista said he’d bring the latte to our table. I pulled out a notepad, and started going over some lists. Moments later, he delivered the steaming mug of coffee – with a surprise. The baristas there often make a design with the foam – a leaf, or a heart. But here, rendered perfectly, was my dog’s face. The barista smiled and said, “Special portrait.”
That simple gesture erased every little ounce of negative energy I was carrying. I was so touched. And as I sipped that latte, with my beautiful, faithful service dog at my feet, that face stayed intact, right to the bottom of the cup.
As I got up to leave, I brought the mug back to the counter, and said to my barista, “Look. She’s still there!” He grinned, and said, “That’s because she’s well behaved, just like yours.”
Nothing could tarnish the glow of that morning. Thank you for the small wonders, and kind gestures, granted by so many of you out there.