We’re not huge local network news watchers, and as unlikely as we are to sit down to a half-hour of taste-ish News McNuggets served up by any of the Big Three, we are about a grillionth as likely to belly up to a steaming plate of Q13 Fox News, the pig-nostril fajita of local current events coverage. But Margaret had a double-handful of snakes while I was cleaning their tank, and she didn’t have ready access to the remote.
So she and I were treated to a peach of a human interest story on Fox about a Seattle Air Force veteran who has run afoul of law enforcement at his local Veterans Affairs hospital, where he goes for treatment for his PTSD. From the lead-in:
SEATTLE – He served his country in the Air Force, fought in both Gulf Wars and now suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. His life changed for the better when he got medical help and a service dog, named Rescue. But, now this Iraq vet says he’s in the doghouse with the Seattle Veterans Affairs Hospital over the 6-year-old chocolate lab.
Randy Tobler is aided with his PTSD by his service dog, who accompanies him to his regular therapy sessions at the VA. This is not the problem that got Tobler “in the doghouse”; service animals are welcome at the hospital. The problem is that, for some reason, Tobler insists on having his dog accompany him without benefit of a leash.
Let’s be clear: nobody, including the VA, including me, wants to force this guy to attend his therapy sessions without his faithful hound. The dog is a service animal: it fulfills a clear therapeutic function for him. But we should all bear in mind that we are talking about, for lack of a better term, a dog. And in the city of Seattle, dogs are required to be on a leash.
There are really, really good reasons for this law, that go far beyond allowing the jack-booted thugs at the VA to push innocent patients around for their own sick amusement. Like every other dog on the face of the planet, service dogs come in all shapes, sizes, temperaments and levels of training. Just slapping a nylon vest on a mutt does not make it an antiseptic, perfectly controlled servomechanism that can be left to its own devices. Dogs run the gamut of qualities: from gregarious, impulsive and curious, all the way through unsanitary, aggressive and dangerous. This is why they aren’t allowed off-leash in Seattle grocery stores, let alone hospitals.
Dogs are dependent upon their owners not only for their social cues, but for the mediation of their physical behavior. That’s pretty much the distillation of the difference between adult human beings and other animals. They are not held responsible for their actions; we are. And society—at least Seattle society—has decreed that citizens are not required to leave their personal safety and comfort to chance in the presence of other people’s pets in public areas.
One of the things that drove both Margaret and I so completely nuts about this piece was the fact that, at no point was the question asked of Tobler that both of us deemed to central to the controversy, namely: what is it about the prospect of putting your dog on a leash when you go to therapy that is so fucking detrimental to your mental and emotional well-being? I’m super cereal here: neither of us can come up with anything remotely like a reasonable explanation for this. Despite his no-doubt debilitating condition (for which I feel the government should spare virtually no expense in treatment), Tobler is not physically disabled. He does not have pronounced loss of motor function. Rescue the chocolate lab is not fetching him drinks of water or answering the door for him. However severe the injuries he suffered in service to his country, Tobler does not require an untethered service animal to help him to manipulate or maneuver through his environment. And this being the case, there seems to be no rational reason why his dog needs to be free to roam the campus of his local VA hospital, any more than he should be free to roam the aisles of his local Safeway.
And without this crucial justification, Mr. Tobler’s defiance of what appears to be a perfectly reasonable prohibition begins to look less like a personal stand against the forces of darkness and more like a temper tantrum. I can’t come up with any viable physiological/medical/ethical justification for his action in this particular case. On the other hand, I only have to go as far as my local public park to see lots of examples of what thoughtless, selfish, uncaring dog owners are willing to force their fellow citizens to put up with, to the detriment of everything from their shoes to their limbs and, on occasion, their very lives.
Also from the article:
“I have yet to see a policy of the VA that says service dogs need to be on a leash, until I see that I’m not violating any rules or regulations, breaking any laws,” said Tobler.
Randy says his last few visits have actually been a lot quieter. But, he says until someone shows him something in writing, “Rescue” will stay at his side without his leash.
“Don’t bother me, I’m not bothering you. I’m here for treatment, I’m here to help myself, helping myself helps society,” said Tobler.
Of course I’m probably not getting the entire story (Entire Story divided by Local Media minus Fox Affiliate equals *ptooey*), but given that what little grist the viewer was given to mill was geared radically towards the side of sympathy for Mr. Tobler, it’s hard to imagine that anything that would give more weight to his side of the issue was left on the cutting room floor. As a result, I’m not in too grave a fear for my immortal soul when I opine that the above quotes don’t show this guy in the best light. If you took “disabled veteran” out of the narrative, what you would have left would basically be a guy who wants to defy city law and common courtesy in the name of his “rights”. You can imagine a similar argument from the guy with the backyard pen full of dogs that bark all night, or the yard full of rusty cars that leak oil into the neighbors’ ground water, or the passel of teenagers who tear down residential streets at homicidal speeds. Fuck you, I know my rights, you can’t prove anything, show me the law what sez I can’t.
The article concludes with mention that the VA hospital is officially codifying their requirement that service animals be on a leash at all times. I can only hope that Mr. Tobler will comply with this perfectly reasonable request so that he may continue to receive treatment there. That’s a right I wouldn’t ever dream of denying him.