“Store Policy” > The Law?

We brought Mickey to bar trivia for the first time on Monday night. I had agonized about this; I was terrified to bring him; terrified that we’d face discrimination, or that Mickey wouldn’t behave, or that we’d get nasty looks or shade.

To prepare, I called ahead (JK Stefan called ahead because I was too scared to), told the manager we’d be coming with a service dog, and requested to reserve the one table in the bar that’s a “lowtop” (which we thought would be the best—and possibly only—workable option for Mickey to fit next to). The manager assured us it would not be a problem, and said they’d save the table for us.

Mickey was perfect. Despite it being a loud and crowded bar, he settled by my feet and proceeded to fall asleep instantly. I’m pretty sure most people that night had no idea there was even a dog in the room. The extent to which this dog was un-fazed by his environment was amazing.

After about an hour, he began to alert me pretty insistently. When I tested my blood sugar I was 124, not actually out of range. When this happens, it’s possible the dog is picking up on a trend—you’re dropping or spiking—or, of course, it’s possible that there’s some other trigger in the environment that is causing a false alert. In either case, you’re supposed to wait 10-15 minutes and test again to see what your blood sugar has done.

He kept alerting. Really insistently. My Dexcom indicated I was holding steady, but I set an alarm on my phone for 10 minutes, and tested again then.

Alerting in the bar!

I came in at 104. Again, Mickey continued to alert. Five minutes later I was 95, and I conceded that Mickey had indeed caught a drop—early. I ate some Starbust and gazed at the Wonder Dog in awe.

Five minutes after that my Dexcom alarmed “Low” (late to the party much?), but soon the Starbust kicked in and I popped back up to 100, where I stayed for the rest of the night.

Because Mickey caught that low before it became a low, I was able to treat before it became dangerous, uncomfortable, and painful.

It was f%*king awesome, you guys, and exactly why I got a service dog. If I had waited for Dexcom I would have probably felt that low; instead, I kept my body mostly within range the entire time. SO MUCH SAFER for me. (More comfortable, too.)

It helped solidify why I did this; why I opted into a Service Dog who would forever mark me as disabled, Other, different. Why I opened myself up to judgment from strangers.

Service Dog law is almost entirely Honor System — when you go into a store or restaurant, the staff are allowed to ask you two questions:

  1. Is that a service dog? (Yes.)
  2. What services does it perform? (Medical alert dog.)

If you can answer the first “yes” and the second with a legitimate service, they are required by law to let you stay. They can’t ask you what your disability is, they can’t ask if you have “paperwork” or if the dog is “registered” (meaningless). Unless your dog creates a disruption (poops on the floor, attacks someone), they cannot force you to leave.

I didn’t get a Service Dog on a whim, and I didn’t get a service dog as some kind of expensive indulgence, because, say, I love dogs and want to be able to take mine anywhere. I got a service dog because I genuinely believed he would make a clinical difference in my diabetes management, and help prevent scary, life-threatening medical situations.

I recently watched a promo for The Human Trial, an incredible upcoming documentary that follows the development of groundbreaking encapsulation therapy to treat type 1 diabetes (that would be considered a “functional cure”). The one line that stuck out the most to me was a guy describing the disease as “spending your life not dying.” I couldn’t have put it better.

Honestly some days I wake up and think, goal for the day: don’t die.

Tools in hand for Not Die Goal: my constant vigilence, insulin, a glucometer, some juice boxes, a CGM.

And now, Mickey.

Today Mickey and I went to a local health food store so I could buy some probiotic rich foods since I’m on antibiotics at the moment. As soon as I walked into the store, an employee chased me down.

“Miss!” she called, “No dogs allowed!”

Mark it: I’ve had Mickey for 12 days exactly and here’s the first pile of bullsh%t I had to wade through.

I literally spun around, my entire body tensed. It’s like I’d been waiting for this moment not just since Mickey arrived, but since almost 1 year ago when we sent in our deposit for him. I can’t describe to you how amped, how anxious I felt. I’ve known this was coming. And here it was.

“He’s a service dog,” I answered as sweetly as I could manage when my body was literally flooded with adrenaline, fear, shame, anxiety, excitement.

“OK, but it’s store policy—no dogs allowed,” was her counter.

“OK,” I answered, “but it’s the law. He’s a service dog. I can bring him anywhere.”

“It’s not about the law,” she responded, “it’s about store policy.”

Which honestly, with distance, I will come to appreciate as one of the most amazing lines I’ve ever heard come out of someone’s mouth. Oh, Capitalism! What you have done to us all—we now live in a world where the Good Word of Store Policy trumps (pun intended) the law of the land.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been so afraid of a confrontation like this that I may have been a little too amped. I proceeded to invite her to call the police (“I invite you to call the police,”) while letting her know, once again, that it was the law. He can go wherever I go.

And she countered, as you might expect, that it was “not about the police,” but it was about store policy. “We’ve been fined,” she explained, and while part of me was genuinely curious as to what she was talking about (you obviously are not going to be fined for obeying the law and allowing a trained service dog in your store), the rest of me was determined, despite the stares of those around us, my blossoming shame, the humiliating tears that were threatening behind my eyes, to hold my ground.

“I’m happy for you to call the police,” I kept saying. (I’m honestly going to have to work on a better rejoinder in the future—because of course I would have been mortified if she’d taken me up on it, even though I was in the right.)

After my third invitation for her to call the police, something must have sunk in, because suddenly this hard-line Store Policy magically changed! She instead told me, “Fine, but you have to keep him away from the food.”

Um, what? I looked around: it’s a grocery store. It’s literally all food. I again countered that he was allowed to go anywhere I was.

People were staring.

I was humiliated.

Mickey, the perfect angel that he is, stood calmly.

“Please, call the police,” I told her again (original, I know).

She sighed. “OK, but you have to keep him away from the buffet.”

Ahhh. Got it. So this grocery store has a hot food buffet, which is where things get kind of interesting. By law, service dogs are allowed to go anywhere the public is allowed. However, they can’t go anywhere the public can’t go—just like you or I wouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen of a restaurant, nor can the service dog. That’s more a question of keeping things sanitary by keeping out strange people or animals.

Buffets are a weird gray area, because technically they can be considered “open kitchens.” Maybe this is where the elusive “fine” she’d been referring to came in—if I had to guess, I’d say that someone possibly brought a dog to the buffet where it licked/was gross near the food, and someone reported it and the store got fined?

And maybe all she meant by “food” was “buffet”?

And maybe what she should have done was not make up an illegal rule and instead approached me and quietly explained “Hey, we have a buffet on that side of the store and we’ve been fined for dogs getting too close to it because it’s technically an open kitchen, so if you could please keep a close eye on your dog in that area of the store.”

And then I would have said, “Of course; this is a professionally trained service dog and he’s not going to interfere with anything.”

And she would have said, “Fantastic, thanks for being a customer and enjoy your shopping experience.”

And I would have said, “You’re very welcome; thanks for handling this so discreetly and professionally and have a great day!”

Instead, the clusterf%ck described above happened and I’m torn between writing an email to store management or never ever stepping foot in that store again for the rest of my life.

Ironically, when I walked to another section of the store, Version B of the interaction did kinda happenA manager appeared out of thin air, benevolently told me “my dog was allowed” (gee thanks!) but if I could please keep an eye on him near the buffet because that area is considered an open kitchen. As before, I assured him that my dog wasn’t going to interfere with open food, and he politely thanked me.

It’s been 12 days, and although Mickey is still learning me and my smells (he misses some highs and lows but we work on it every day), he’s made some unbelievably clutch catches, preventing me from dropping too low or spiking too high by alerting me when I still have time to correct before things get bad. I can already feel the difference. When I imagined getting a service dog, what I imagined most was another level of security in combatting a disease that is frightfully, frightfully dangerous. And I’ve gotten that.

And while part of me can pretend I knew what I was getting into, there’s a difference between imagining it and actually experiencing it. On the one hand, I honestly feel a bit lucky to have made it 12 days before something like this happened. On the other hand, crap. Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like?

Whatever, life’s too damn short to fit in. To not pursue the lifestyle that’s going to keep you happy and safe. And I care way too much about other people’s opinions anyway. I’m too affected by what other people think of me. That’s a dumb way to live, and maybe Mickey will help me outgrow it.

Either way, if he helps keep me safe, it’s worth it.


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