Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Let me say right up front that I love dogs. I’m head over heels crazy about dogs. Unless a dog looks like it wants to take my arm off up to the elbow, I want to pet the dog, though I always ask the owner. Some of my earliest good memories are of our family dogs. (One of the worst, too, when we all saw fat old Maggie tumbled beneath the wheels of an 18-wheeler.) I can’t even name them all; I’ll just tell you a little about the last two, both Shetland sheepdogs.

Fuchsia (AKC registered name: Lady Fuchsia of Gormenghast) who lived for eleven years, gave us three adorable litters, and then got out of the yard and was hit by a car.

And our darling Cirocco. At the puppy farm she was known as “Too White,” because she had too much white fur on her legs and chest, plus a white spot on her rump. So we couldn’t AKC register her. Not that we wanted to. In my opinion all the fluffy white around her neck actually made her prettier than the trimmed and groomed show dogs you see at the Westminster show every year. We had her for nineteen wonderful years and then had to put her down. You can read about her life here.

Our landlord here in Vancouver specified that we couldn’t have a dog. A cat, maybe, but dogs are harder on houses than cats are. I can’t disagree, but I still sort of wish I could have another dog. But it’s probably not a great idea. My mother and sister Kerry have a miniature schnauzer named Mojo, and when we need a canine fix we go over there and pet her. My other sister, Francine, and her husband, Jerry, have a wonderful little cross-breed something named Triscuit, who travels with them in their big RV. They are due back in the Pacific NW in a few days. Looking forward to seeing Triscuit again. She always goes bonkers when she sees me. Well, she goes bonkers for everybody she knows, but still …

I say all this to let you know that I am a fool for dogs, from the Chihuahua and the chin-chin and the pom-pom to the Saint Bernard, Great Dane, and Newfoundland. And I say it because I’m about to get a little harsh on dogs. Just some dogs, you understand, and what that really means is some owners, because a dog really is an expression of how his or her owner raised them.

* * *

There is a certain type of person who will take advantage of something that was meant to benefit people, and totally fuck it up

Take Disneyland, for instance.

When I was married my wife, Anet, was someone who had contracted polio as an infant.* One time we took the family to Disneyland. Three boys, myself, and my wife. We were surprised and gratified to learn that Disneyland’s policy was to let disabled people move to the front of the line. Not only the disabled person, but everyone in her family. I was pushing the wheelchair at that time. Later, she got an early version of a powered chair, which was incredibly liberating.

I admit that I, totally able-bodied at the time, sometimes felt a little embarrassed. But when people saw her get out of the chair and lock her leg brace and limp onto the Peter Pan flying ships, no one ever had any objections.

So how do you fuck that up? No problem, to a certain type of greedy, unprincipled, and usually rich person. In short, a creep. What you do is you visit Craigslist and find what I guess you’d call rent-a-cripple. You can actually hire a handicapped person to accompany you and your family to the head of all the lines. They charge anywhere from $50 to $100 per hour. That’s how you fuck it up for everybody else.

When we went to Disneyland back then all you needed was “visible evidence of a disability.” Hell, when Lee and I went just a few years ago they had the same policy. All they needed to see was the cane I’ve walked with for some years now. I swear I didn’t even know that was enough to be classified as disabled. But since that was their policy, I didn’t argue with the cast members.

Then they changed the policy, because the number of cheating “families” was getting ridiculous. So up until March 1 of this year, 2018, you had to register and get a pass, which would get you to the head of the line. You were supposed to present documentation from a doctor, but that was about as hard as getting qualified for medical marijuana on Venice beach, where boardwalk hawkers would take you by the arm and try to steer you into the dozens of competing pot clinics.

The disabled pass system worked okay for a while, but then it just got swamped by bogus doctor certificates issued to “cripples” who were clearly in great health. Women who claimed bad backs and ankles. Men who claimed arthritis, or lumbago. Bone spurs, too, I’ll bet. I’ve seen videos of these “disabled” people laughing out loud as they hurried along, in no apparent pain, with their client families.

So now the requirement for a Cripple Card is even more stringent. You have to get a serious diagnosis from approved doctors, not pill pushers or easy graders. And they’re not as magic anymore if you do get one. What they get you now is a place in line. An appointment to return at a certain time, then you can go in. So now real disabled people have to pay for the actions of a lot of cheaters.

You want another example? How about disabled parking? My wife was in the forefront of the disability rights movement, back in the days when there were one or two, or zero, blue parking spaces even in very large lots. There were no wide, wheelchair-accessible public toilet stalls, no curb cuts. Wheelchair ramps were seen only at hospitals or nursing homes. Anet was so into it that she and a few others occupied the offices of the Oregon Department of Health in Eugene … with the support of the workers there! They and others across the country vowed not to leave until Joseph Califano, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare for three years during the Carter Administration, signed regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is the law that mandated all those parking spots, wide stalls, curb cuts, deaf interpreters, Braille signs, and so forth. The protesters won! On April 28, 1977, Califano caved in and signed on the dotted line. You can read about the sit-in here.

So these days it’s all great, right? Well, the curb cuts, ramps, and so forth are here to stay. And the parking situation was great for a number of years. But like I said, there are those who fuck it up for everybody. Now all too often all twenty or so disabled spots at the supermarket are occupied. Next time you’re there, take notice. Vehicles pull in, hang that little blue placard from the rearview mirror … and run to the entrance to get out of the rain.

Hey, my friends, I know there are what is called “invisible disabilities,” such as bad hearts, lung problems, and so forth, and they are real, and such people deserve to park in the disabled spots. So you can’t really say anything, can you? But you look at those twenty-somethings getting out of huge pickups or sports cars and you know, you know that these asshole cheaters are using Granny’s blue card on their own vehicles, or driving Grandpa’s car with the permanent disability license plate. Meanwhile the real disabled are circling the lot hoping one of these bastards will return and get the hell out of the disabled spots!

Which brings me to another kind of cheater: those who abuse the laws concerning so-called “comfort animals.”

Once again, I am not against this idea in principle. Comfort animals in schools for problem kids, retirement homes, and prisons seem to do some good. And sufferers from PTSD, agoraphobia, anxiety, and other conditions really do seem to do better with their animal companion.

The problem is that these animals have been conflated with legitimate service animals. Service animals are rigorously trained, usually for about a year, to assist the blind, the deaf, and even epileptics, with the dog’s uncanny ability to sense when a seizure is coming on. Service animals are mostly dogs, but I have seen videos of small monkeys trained to assist quadriplegics.

So here come the abusers, who just want to take their pet into the supermarket or restaurant with them. All you have to do is buy a vest that says COMPANION ANIMAL on it, and you’re home free. Here’s how to get one.

And here is the law that makes it mandatory to accept such animals in housing, restaurants, and air travel.

Notice that “You are required to have a letter of recommendation from a doctor or mental health professional stating that you have a medical condition and that you are under their care for your condition.” Gee, you think it might be possible to write one yourself? Heck, I’ll write you one myself and sign it Dr. John Varley for only a small fee.

The people in the businesses don’t dare challenge you. I’ll bet you’ve seen it. Somebody’s little shit-zoo running all over the place, ignoring voice commands. Just a few days ago I saw a young couple bring a very nervous dog into the Winco where we shop, and the little bastard would either shy away from other people, or growl at them.

If you carry her in your arms, or in a purse if it’s small enough, I’m fine with bringing her into Winco. Otherwise, leave the mutt at home or in the car. I just don’t buy it that you will collapse in a puddle of despair without Poopsie. And all too many Poopsies are apt to deposit what they are named after on the floor.

(Some say we are too uptight about dogs in this country. In many European countries they have no problem with patrons bringing their dogs into restaurants … as long as they will sit quietly under the table! The dog has to be calm. He has to be okay with a small child running up to pet him.)

But what is a comfort animal? Anything you want it to be, it seems.

Where it all starts to get to be a big problem is taking your emotional support creatures on airplanes. The policy of airlines used to be that an animal had to fit into a carrier that could be stowed under the seat. Otherwise it had to fly in cargo. Trained service dogs could fly in the cabin.

But when the idea of comfort animals began to really take hold, the abusers came forward. Every year for a while now the number of people claiming that their animals are essential for their very survival has doubled, then tripled, then doubled again. And we’re talking a friggin’ zoo here. Can you imagine someone bringing a six-foot boa constrictor, or a male peacock onto a plane? Both have been tried. The pilot refused the peacock, but not the snake. There have been attempts to bring support parrots, rats, ferrets, turtles, turkeys, lizards, somebody even tried to claim a lobster as a support animal. I don’t know how that came out.

Folks, this is ridiculous. For one thing, there really is no evidence that psychological support animals do anyone any real good. But we all know they do, don’t we? We may know it, but it hasn’t been proved in controlled studies. But okay, okay, let it go. They think they need the critters, and the law says they have to be allowed to take them aboard.

But we really have to tighten the rules. No rodents! Fear of rats is so widespread that we have to measure the stress someone like, say, my mother would feel sitting next to someone with a rat. And my mother wins. Keep your fucking rats off the airplane.

No reptiles, for the same reason.

How about a tarantula? If someone with a comfort tarantula sat next to me, it would soon be a dead, crushed spider. I have arachnophobia, at least when it comes to big spiders. No pigs or birds, except cooked in the meal the flight attendants bring to you.

Even untrained “comfort” dogs have become a big problem. For one thing, some of them are too big to share a row with humans. Some are unruly. Some have been known to roam the aisles, or bark continually. Then there are always the ones who take a crap or a piss to mark their territory. Flight attendant are at their wits end dealing with these animals.

A few months ago a Labrador attacked a man trying to get to his seat and mauled his face. He needed twenty-eight stitches and will always have scars. A few weeks ago a little girl tried to pet a comfort dog on a Southwest flight here in Portland and the dog bit her. These are not isolated nor rare incidents.

The sheer volume is a problem. Delta alone flew 250,000 comfort animals last year. The good news is that Delta and United have written new rules that are a lot more stringent. And, of course, some people howled about that. And screw them. Let them howl. Myself, I would limit the definition of a comfort animal to dogs and cats … and only if they are trained! I think they should start a no-fly list of people whose dogs have misbehaved. Keep that hound on the ground. You need him? You will die without him. Rent a car and drive!

And lastly, there is another real conundrum. There are plenty of people who are allergic to cat dander and dog hair. What about their rights? This can be a problem even with seeing-eye dogs. I’m sure it can be solved without draconian measures such as the airlines implemented to protect people with peanut allergies: eliminate the peanuts. (Darn it, I used to like those little bags of peanuts.) But I’m sure the fur allergy problem could be solved the way they used to deal with the problem of smoking. They just put us smokers in the back. So now when you check in they might ask you “Canine, or non-canine?”

Thanks for letting me sound off. Sometimes things just really piss me off, and this non-blog is the only place to vent about it.

*I’m sorry to say she died from a stroke some years ago. These days I guess she would be called a Person Living With Polio (PLWP), like all the PLWAs living with AIDS. Back then we just called it being a victim of polio. These days no one is a victim unless he or she is being victimized by other people, like by racism, and in that case they are “struggling” with racism. No one “suffers” from cancer anymore, either. They are all “battling” cancer. I’m sorry, that sort of weasel wording bothers me, a bit like those who will never admit that anyone has died, that they are dead. That person “passed away.” Even people who are not very religious seem to feel it’s tacky to say someone is dead. Why is death an ugly word? Why is suffering? I’m fed up with struggling, battling, and passing away.

March 16, 2018
Vancouver, WA