Navigating the community after a combat injury has its challenges as many of you know. Some days are as smooth as a newly waxed surfboard and others feel as gritty as sand. The one thing that my husband and I can count on is a little help from our canine companion, Wilson. Wilson is a 90 pound, black 4-year-old English Lab who was donated to us by America’s Vetdogs on Memorial Day of 2011. Those of you out there that have labs know how loving and attentive they are. He gives Pat a new level of freedom and gives me piece of mind.
In fact recently, America’s Vetdog allowed Pat to return for a refresher course. Since, the new round of training, Pat and Wilson are completely in sync. They take on the world together daily. Yesterday, we had a busy day planned, physical therapy at 9:00am and then a dental appointment 30 miles south at 11:00am. Our new dentist is a long time friend of Pat’s so it’s worth the drive out to Centerville, Virginia. His clinic is sandwiched in the middle of a modern suburban strip mall outside Washington, DC. Our dental appointments went off without a hitch. By the time we finished up at 12:30pm, Pat, Wilson and I were ready for a bite to eat. Right next door was a mom-and-pop restaurant named The Village Café. Menu looked, great, they had a nice mixture of sandwiches, subs, salads, kabobs and pizzas.
That day was hot. I think we were close to record temperatures. It was almost 90 degrees by the time lunch rolled around. The Café was a welcome respite–cute, quaint and practically empty. There were at most, four lunch goers on the premises.
Pat and I stepped right up to the counter, perused the menu, and awaited service. Moments later, as the owner Mary, was on her way to deliver a Philly Cheese Steak and fries to a table, Wilson caught her eye. “Oh, no!” she said abruptly, in broken English “We do not allow dogs in here.” Mary appeared to be in her late fifties, she had an olive complexion, was of medium height, had a slender build and shoulder length hair. At the time I was unable to place her country of origin.
Pat and I have run into this problem a few times before, once at a Mexican restaurant and once at a hotel. We usually just explain the situation to the owner. Educate them on Wilson’s extensive training and how he assists Pat in the community. This time I found myself trying to reason with a brick wall. I told her, “Ma’am, you see, you don’t understand this is my husbands service dog he is very well trained. Mary wouldn’t hear of it. “No”, she said again waiving her hands in the air, “There will be no dogs in here. You can order then go outside.” Outside I thought! It’s 90 degrees! No thanks, I turned to Pat and said, “I’m not eating here. Let’s go.” Before we walked out I engaged Mary and her co-worker once more. I explained to them what they were doing is against the law. I told them that Pat has a right to bring his dog into any public venue in The United States, which includes her restaurant. Blank stares—that’s what we got in return. So off we went, to Havebite Café in Fairfax who welcomed Pat and Wilson in without hesitation. Wilson curled up under the table and took a nap.
What followed this incident was nothing short of amazing. While at Havebite, Pat turned to Facebook to air his grievance with The Village Café. Many of his friends rallied in his support, condemning, Mary’s behavior and the restaurant for the mistreatment of a disabled veteran. Pat decided to do a story, Wounded Veteran with Service Dog Kicked out of Restaurant, with his sister-in-law, Peggy Fox on local TV, Channel 9 to raise awareness in the hopes this won’t happen again.
Have any of you had any experience with this? Please let us know. How does your service dog help you? What organization did you get your dog from? Are you happy with your new companion? Leave a comment or e-mail the editor firstname.lastname@example.org.