The Fox and the Hound

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:44 pm

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.

And later,

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.

4 Responses to “The Fox and the Hound”

  1. YakBoy Says:

    I’ve had a service animal rant brewing in me for a few weeks now that I’ve been really afraid to let out for fear of how it would probably end up sounding.

    I firmly believe that service animals are of great benefit to those that genuinely need them, and there are people who absolutely could not perform their activities of daily life without their service animals. That is fine. More power to these people and may the FSM touch them with his noodly appendage and give them peace and comfort.

    That being said, my experiences as a health care professional have led me to be highly skeptical of many people who insist on their need for service animals. As you said, you cannot just slap a nylon vest on a mutt and have it be a service animal. There are WAY too many people out there that have been “prescribed” a service animal by their Associate Degree level “therapist” that do just that. These people are loathsome attention whores who give people with legitimate disabilities a bad name.

  2. Margaret Says:

    There are WAY too many people out there that have been “prescribed” a service animal by their Associate Degree level “therapist” that do just that. These people are loathsome attention whores who give people with legitimate disabilities a bad name.

    You are giving many of the abusers more credit for actually having ANY sort of professional “prescription” for a service animal than they are due. Most of them don’t.
    One can purchase a “SERVICE ANIMAL” vest online that comes with “official” papers thus making anyone that interferes with your god-given right to take your drooling little anklebiter into a restaurant subject to federal prosecution.
    The people who actually _need_ service animals, who actually have _trained, qualified_ service animals HATE these posers with a passion.
    And there is nothing really to be done about it because you can be subject to federal prosecution under the ADA if you have an issue with someone taking their damn chihuahua into a grocery store because you have a nebulous anxiety disorder that “the dog helps me with”.
    You can NOT ask what the disability is that the “service” animal is supposedly helping. You _can_ ask what service the animal provides. It is, I hope, at least some source of shame when you stare at someone and say “Oh, REALLY” when they tell you that their “service” animal helps them remember to take their medication. I hope.

    If you want to start a rant war, start talking about “service” dogs on any veterinary website. We’ve got some _great_ stories.

  3. Uncle Andrew Says:

    Heh. Yeah, check out this Seattle Weekly article I came across whilst looking for the Q13 story online. Pretty much sez exactly what you were referring to. makes me really feel for local merchants. I also remember a story from a few years back about a Wallingford shop owner being legally compelled to take sensitivity classes when she told a lady she couldn’t bring her “service” chihuahua into the store. *shudder*

  4. Slattery Says:

    Uncle Andrew, I do believe that I have NEVAR seen you comment.
    This is a photographic moment, parden me while I attempt to take a screen shot.
    Also, seeing that in about three hours it is Mother’s Day, let me be the first to write it in obnoxiously bolded letters on your screen!


    Hopefully that’s red.

    I’m writing epics for Mother’s Day (Mom & Gramma), one being about Anthony and Cleaopatra, the other about the journey to Western Heaven (Chinese epic, hope it turns out).

    Because there’s also Aunty Marsha here (Vinny’s sister), so I’m making an epic saga about Pocahantas’ love.

    I’m not sure who’s getting what, but, you know, it’ll depend.
    I’m sure I’ll be able to figure it out.

    Once I write them…

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