Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Sit-In

(Editor's note: I had meant to write this for 9/11, but what can I say? I was too busy goofing off. Anyway, here it is. I don't think I'm saying anything controversial, but standard disclaimer applies: The views and opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the blog author. The contents of this blog have not been reviewed or approved by Helping Paws, Inc.)

When I was a child, my parents took my sister and me on a family vacation to Mt. Rushmore. It was a memorable vacation, but what I remember most vividly is not the Presidents’ faces carved in the mountain, but a little restaurant somewhere in Wyoming.

A hushed silence fell over the restaurant when we entered, as everyone turned to look at us. I could plainly see a number of open tables, but the manager informed my parents they were reserved. After waiting half an hour, we were finally seated at a table in the corner, by the kitchen, the four of us squeezing into a tiny table obviously meant for two. From our tiny table in the corner, we continued to watch the waitresses seat and serve people who had arrived after we did. We asked a number of times, but we were never given menus: "I'm busy; I'll get them later."

After half hour of the cold shoulder, we left.

We were the only family in that restaurant who did not look like the cast from “Ozzie and Harriet.” Was it discrimination? I don’t know. What I do know is that I felt we were treated differently, and that we didn't feel welcome.

I got this same feeling the other day, when I took Dempsey on a training trip to the auto parts store. The manager wasn't happy to see Dempsey.

"Hey -- no dogs allowed!" the manager warned us as we entered.

"He's allowed to be here," I replied. He's a service dog in training."

"Oh yeah?"


The manager didn't ask us to leave -- which would be clearly illegal -- so Dempsey and I started training in the store, while the manager continued to glare at us.

"Are you going to buy anything?" he asked.

"Not today, thank you. I'm here to train the dog."  By Minnesota law, we're allowed to train in stores without buying anything. I typically buy a little something as a courtesy, but the way the manager asked, I decided I'd get my wiper fluid somewhere else.

"So you're just in here to walk the dog?"

"No," I replied, trying not to sound too irritated. "We're here to train. Dempsey is a service dog in training."

"Oh yeah?"


The phone rang, and as the manager walked off to answer it, I talked to Dempsey.

"Dempsey, today you're representing all service dogs. You have to be extra good."

Dempsey stared back at me intently, and I really think he understood. Though he has a tacky fascination with fuzzy dice, he did a perfect sit-stay right next to them, and when I "dropped" my keys under them, he retrieved them perfectly, with nary a sniff.

The fuzzy dice exercise over, we were ready to leave, but I thought we needed to affirm our right to be in the store. So Dempsey and I decided to stage a sit-in protest.

We walked up to the door, and I had Dempsey do a nice long sit-stay right next to it. He ignored all the customers coming and going, and he never once barked, sniffed, or tried to steal anything. He was a perfect, perfect little dog. After about ten minutes, we finally left -- by our choice.

I won't even pretend to be as courageous as the soldiers, patriots, and Freedom Riders who risked, and often gave, their lives to defend our freedoms. Ask me to be shot at, burned, tortured, or run out of town by a mob of pitchfork-wielding yokels, and I'd probably go hide under my bed. But I believe passionately in civil rights, and I like to think Dempsey and I made our stand that day with our little sit-in protest.

The last few times we’ve taken Dempsey to church, he’s fallen asleep, but that smart little boy seems to be learning something anyway. Last night while we were watching the news, he said to me, “Man looks on the outside, but dog looks in the heart.”

How true. Dempsey is devoting his life to helping someone who, like me, may not look like a “normal” American. Dempsey doesn’t care what color a person’s skin is, or how they worship, or whether they need to use a mobility device. If you’re a kind-hearted person, Dempsey will love you and help you.

As we reflect on anniversaries from the past and religious controversies in the present, I think we would do well to consider Dempsey's values, and his commitment to love, liberty, and justice for all.

(Except for squirrels -- Dempsey.)


  1. Dempsey is very wise...Many do tend to only look on the outside and not in the heart. A good reminder for all of us.

    Sorry to hear of your experiences...both at the restaurant and the auto parts store. We (Loti and I) have been denied access to two locations...a restaurant and pictures with Santa at the mall! Because of the large number of people at both locations, I chose to just walk away....gritting my teeth and biting my tongue. Good for you guys for taking a stand...or "sit-stay", as the case may be!

  2. The restaurant incident wasn't too bad. We got junk food from the gas station for dinner, which I think is every 10 year old's dream come true!

    Dempsey amd I have had 2 occassions when people tried kicking us out: A restaurant and a movie theater. In both cases, I was able to explain the law and stay. The theater owner in particular was apologetic and grateful, even making a copy of the statute he could use to educate his employees.

    For me, "soft" discrimination, being made to feel unwelcome, seems more insiduous. For example, you can legislate having handicapped parking spaces, but you can't stop people from honking and flipping you off because it takes a while to back into the only van-accessible spot. (I've actually seen this happen.)

    I think training Dempsey has made me a better, more sensitive person. Thank you, Dempsey!