A Dog: Necessary or Convenient?

Well, I did it.

I got tired of hearing about the dog, so I hit the dreaded “unfriend” button for one of my Facebook friends. I’ve done it before when I have gotten tired of political propaganda that I found offensive, but my self-image involves being tolerant, especially when it comes to pets and passions (apart from politics).

However, I discovered fundamental value differences can extend beyond politics into other areas of life. I’m still a little disconcerted to discover this one involves a dog. Granted, I’m a cat person rather than a dog person, but dogs usually like me and I don’t dislike them.

In this case, my friend decided five or six years ago to get a service dog due to her hearing disability. The idea amused me because I have a hearing disability, too, and nothing that distresses her — not being able to hear someone knock on the door, not knowing the direction from which sound is coming, not always knowing when someone is addressing me — bothers me overly much. As far as I’m concerned, having lived with both, poverty far is more inconvenient than a hearing disability.

After becoming Facebook friends, I was amused to discover all of her posts were about the dog. Yes, I post my cats sometimes and my grandkids more than anyone without grandchildren cares to see. However, I like to imagine there’s a little variety in that mix — but I admit I may be deluding myself.

Not long ago, though, my amusement turned to amazement and then to disbelief. A restaurant refused to allow the dog to enter. I’m not sure how they were to know her golden retriever was a service dog and not a pet, but I’d guess there is some sort of identifier they were expected to recognize. Too, it’s possible a language barrier existed because the restaurant — one of my all-time favorite Mexican restaurants — is staffed with quite a few employees for whom English is a second language.

Personally, I’m not sure why she needs a dog in a restaurant, but apparently going anywhere without her dog is inconceivable to my friend. Naturally, she expressed her outrage on Facebook.

The first time or two, I just ignored it. Then she started posting reports on her lack of success in interesting the media in her story. Thousands of people in that city alone go to sleep hungry every night, millions of children in the world are starving, and she felt the media should sit up and take notice because she couldn’t get her dog in a restaurant.

At that point, I had the audacity to speak out. An appropriate course of action would have been to write the management of the restaurant, to provide information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, and to offer to train the staff. That she went immediately from minor inconvenience — and it was a minor inconvenience because there are dozens of restaurants within blocks of the one which turned her away — to media campaign was incomprehensible to me.

Rather than tempering her reaction, my comments stiffened her resolve and caused other friends to rally around her. At that point, I decided i didn’t want to hear any more about the dog and the restaurant and the lack of media interest.

Unfortunately, putting the matter out of my mind has not been nearly as easy. It’s become symbollic to me of the attitude of entitlement the more affluent portion of the American public seems to demand these days.

A restaurant employee, whose annual income is probably less than my friend’s monthly budget, made a decision that inconvenienced her, so my friend decided to make an example of the business, which — had she been successful — undoubtedly would have resulted in the employee losing his or her job in today’s uncertain economy. She didn’t even consider a more moderate response. That’s what I found so offensive. She didn’t even consider a more moderate response.

But, the more I think about it, the more I find myself wondering if this isn’t symptomatic of something even more insidious, the American penchant to confuse needs and wants. I am guilty of this, I know.

I rarely drink coffee anywhere but at home, because I’ve become a coffee snob. I prefer Sumatran coffee with beans that have been roasted to the second crack, and I prefer coffee made with freshly ground beans. Do I need Sumatran coffee? No, I can drink coffee grown in other parts of the world — if necessary — though this new blonde roast coffee I’ve been seeing doesn’t appeal to me a great deal.

Just the fact that I have that kind of choice in this minor area of life testifies to privilege that I as an American enjoy, though my income is well below the median household income for the state of South Dakota, which in turn is well below the median household income for the nation. That’s just one way in which I enjoy the privilege of living in an affluent nation.

One of the blogs I read regularly is written by a young woman who is serving in the Peace Corps in Lesotho, a small African country. I met Heather when she interned at a newspaper for which I worked and have felt blessed to read about her experiences as a volunteer. One of her early blogs was about carrying water from the well in order to wash. I have lived in poverty, but I have never known that kind of poverty; few in our country do.

So is it surprising that any of us would confuse a necessity with a convenience? Probably not, but maybe we all need to be a little more humble about asserting our right to anything when others have so much less than we do.

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