Washington was just as one might expect; rainy, beautiful and gray. Traveling with Rally was a breeze. We arrived at the airport early, giving ourselves plenty of time to pass through security and find our boarding gate. The TSA agents were very thoughtful and polite, waving Rally and I towards the metal detector. I took off my shoes and walked through with Rally. On cue the detector beeped, noticing the metal on his vest and dog tags. The TSA agent led us to the side of the traffic, and gave us both a through pat down. She was very interested in Rally’s past as a rescue, and we chatted cheerfully as she ran her hand along the inside of his vest. Rally laid down obediently as she turned to pat me down, and once cleared, we bid farewell and headed to our boarding gate. Once there, we boarded our plane and Rally settled down at our feet. The take off was a bit bumpy, but Rally was occupied with a bully stick, and slept peacefully until we landed in Seattle.
Traveling with a service dog always presents unique situations, and while everyone at the airport and rental car agency was kind, respectful and polite, we did encounter individuals who were less educated about service dog teams. One such charming person was the manager at a Chinese buffet. By now I can sense when I am about to be challenged over Rally’s access, and I braced myself, plastering a bland, polite smile across my face as she leaned over the counter.
“No dogs.” She waved a finger. “No dogs.”
“He’s not a pet.” I explained. “He’s a service dog.”
She scanned me; not blind, not visibly physically handicapped, no obvious mental impediments. “Need ID.”
“Actually, service dogs don’t require ID.” I said, consciously keeping my voice calm. “There is no such thing as an official service dog ID.”
“ID.” She insisted. “Need ID.”
I repeated myself, and she became annoyed. “ID.”
Becoming a little annoyed myself, I pointed to the numerous patches that adorned Rally’s vest, some which read, “Medical alert service dog”, “Access required by law,” and “Do not pet.” “ID.” I said.
She grudgingly allowed us into the restaurant, where we were promptly led past the clean, brightly lit tables and placed in the far reaches of the building. The booth was dirty and it was gloomy. We were served our requested tea by a woman, who stared in open fascination and suspicion at Rally curled up at my feet, and after that, never saw a waiter again. We felt very uncomfortable in the hostile environment, and left quickly after eating.
I mention this incident not to draw attention to the lack of education of the restaurant staff or to complain, but to merely point out that when traveling with a service dog, one can become too confident in one’s welcome. The plane and rental car agency were a piece of cake to navigate; but no matter how many of the public that is educated about service dog teams, there are always those who treat us-especially those with invisible disabilities-with skepticism and disbelief. After my encounter at the restaurant, I made myself a promise that if I was ever met with such open hostility and doubt, then I would turn around and take my money elsewhere.
Other than that slight blip in an otherwise pleasant evening, the rest of our trip was wonderful. We explored various local cafes and attended a comedy/improv show. Flying back to Nevada, I reflected on our vacation and realized how fortunate I was to have Rally and my best friend Alex to accompany me throughout life. It was fun to travel, but it’s good to be home.