A few days ago, I had dinner at Chipotle with a couple friends. My experience there is what inspired me to write yesterday about how having a service dog isn't always fun.
I'm told, by other service dog handlers, that it's not at all uncommon to hear people say things like "I wish I could take my dog everywhere" or "You're so lucky to get to take your dog everywhere with you." But it had never been said to me, personally, until a few days ago.
It was raining hard. After standing in the rain to put on Isaac's service dog vest, I was soaked. And shivering. It was a cold rain.
As I went through the line to get my food, Isaac at my side, an employee behind the counter said, "I wish I could bring my dog in here."
The remark surprised and upset me. I don't know why it surprised me, really, because I've heard so many stories from other service dog handlers of people saying things like that. But I'd never heard it myself and it did surprise me.
I said, coolly, "If you become disabled, then you can have a service dog, too." Which I thought would be enough to set him straight.
And he said, "My dog's a really good dog. That's good enough for me."
Which surprised me further. And pissed me off.
I said, "Well, that's not good enough for the law."
Do you get why it pissed me off so much? Most dogs, no matter how "good" they are, would not be able to behave appropriately in a restaurant. Isaac had a ton of training to learn to behave in a restaurant. And not just the 18 months of training he had before I got him, either. I worked with him extensively to get him to the point that he just goes right under a table and lies down and lies there quietly for an hour. He had a hard time with that when I first got him.
When I first got Isaac, he simply could not handle a restaurant for more than 30 minutes. And during that 30 minutes, I would have to tell him several times to go back under the table and to lie down. So I started practicing with him at home. I would put on his service dog gear and sit at the dining room table for 10 minutes. I would watch the clock. Every two minutes, I would reward him with a bit of hotdog, as long as he was lying quietly under the table. We did it three times a day. After a couple days he was doing that easily so I increased it to 15 minutes, with a bit of hotdog every three minutes. After a couple more days, I increased it to 20 minutes, with a bit of hotdog every four minutes. Every day. Three times a day.
Once we were doing it for 30 minutes, I only did it twice a day. But every single day. Increasing the amount of time by five minutes until we were doing it for an hour. And then I started cutting back on the number of times I rewarded him. Do you get how tedious and time-consuming that was? Trust me, it was not fun.
So I was pissed. I stayed mad while I ate my dinner. And I thought about how I wanted to handle it.
I decided to speak to the manager before I left. I went up to the register and asked to speak to the manager. Guess who came out to speak to me. Go on, guess. It was him! The insensitive doofus!
That really caught me off guard. But I asked him his name and then told him I'd be calling to talk to his supervisor. He just looked confused.
I came home and got online and went to the Chipotle website and could not find any kind of phone number. I ended up calling the restaurant I'd eaten at. A woman answered the phone, so I knew I wasn't speaking to the manager I wanted to complain about. I asked who his supervisor was and how I could reach her.
I called the supervisor first thing the next morning and she seemed very receptive. She told me they'd had some other problems with that manager, though she didn't say what those other problems where. She said she'd speak to him and take corrective action. I hope she does.