Friday, April 05, 2019

COLUMN: Dog in a Bar


I like to think that I'm a reasonably good person.

Sure, I've used salty language now and then. I've walked across streets in a jay-like fashion. I've cut tags from mattresses with carefree abandon. But if you judge me on a grand scale, I think I'm one of the good guys.

Odd, then, that I spent time last Saturday researching ways to get a disabled person arrested. This may require an explanation.

As regular readers may know, I usually spend my weekends moonlighting in the DJ booths of area nightclubs. Last Saturday, I was grateful to be booked at one of my favorite haunts. It's a laid-back neighborhood bar that I'm proud to be a part of.

Not that they need it, but this bar employs off-duty police to work security on the weekends. But since it's usually just a lovefest, the officers spend much of their shifts loitering around with their friendly neighborhood DJ. Over the years, I've come to know and respect these guys a great deal.

I wouldn't trade jobs for all the money in the world. Never mind the inherent danger of police work. What makes THESE cops special is their patience. If you've ever wanted to see people at their MOST irritating, step into a bar at closing time. I generally like people, but let's be honest: some folks can really try your patience. Give those folks booze and it's a whole new level of annoyance.

These cops have the thankless job of keeping drunken shenanigans to a minimum and making sure everybody has a fun but SAFE night out. Even when patrons are unruly and occasionally intoxicated, I've never seen them treat anyone with disrespect. If problems arise, they quickly defuse the situation and firmly but politely send the bad eggs out and safely on their way to a hangover. I don't think I've witnessed them arrest anyone. But man, last Saturday I was sure hoping for it.

It all started when a customer walked in with a large dog in tow. Well, not so much "in tow" since he took a seat while the dog strolled through the bar barking and sniffing and, well, being a dog.

Since its not every day you see a retriever running roughshod in a bar, the curious canine was drawing a lot of attention. And unless this dog was a service animal, they're not allowed inside. So the officer went up to inquire about the pooch. Now, this guy was on the other end of the bar from me. Inbetween us, I was giving numerous subwoofers a hefty workout. But even in a loud bar with MY well-abused ears, I could still hear the customer start screaming.

"YES IT'S A SERVICE ANIMAL! YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO QUESTION ME! I CAN SUE YOU!"

Let's get one thing clear: service animals are amazing. The roles they play assisting members of our community are crucial. Guide dogs help the visually impaired, hearing dogs assist the deaf, psychiatric service animals provide emotional support. There are even specially trained animals to detect allergens in the air. The Americans With Disabilities Act ensures that people with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by service animals pretty much anywhere.

Maybe this was a legit service dog, maybe not. We don't have the right to invade anyone's privacy by asking about their disability or requiring the animal's certification. All you can legally do is ask whether or not the dog is a service animal and what specific tasks it performs. And that's all the officer asked before this guy went ballistic. It became evident REAL quick that he was less interested in a drink than a grand self-righteous confrontation.

Eventually the officer walked back to my half of the bar. The crusading customer decided to follow.

"ARE YOU LOOKING UP THE LAWS? DO YOU REALLY WANT TO GO THERE? LET'S GO THERE. I DARE YOU TO GO THERE!"

What followed was ten minutes of the most unwarranted verbal abuse I've ever heard anyone take, let alone a cop. He called the officer every name in the book. He called him a few names that weren't even IN the book. Backup had to be called, but that just fueled the guy's indignancy even more. I had no idea what tasks his service dog performed, but I started hoping I'd find out if one of them was picking his owner's teeth off the floor.

How do I know so much about the ADA laws? Because cops are patient, but I'm not. While the officers were enduring his torrent of abuse, I was on my phone looking up the laws. None of this involved me, but I was so horrified by this unjust rage-storm that I wanted to find any loophole, exemption, or bent rule that could put him in handcuffs. I have unlimited respect and admiration for anyone who perseveres over a disability, but that shouldn't give you carte blanche to be a jerk.

Eventually the guy tired himself out and he and his poor dog huffed out of the bar. I don't know how the cops kept their cool. He told me later that they could've ticketed the guy for not having visible rabies tags on the animal, and he could have even kicked out the dog for barking at other customers. But because those cops are better human beings than me, they decided it'd be best to let the guy have his soapbox, vent a little, and calm down.

I might be a good person, but those cops are GREAT people.

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