Tuesday 4 March 2014

Neon Lights, Mean Poutine, and the Necessity of the Animal Companion

"Hey ... if you can go out on the town without your service dog, do you really need him?"

No one has ever asked me this question, but I had occasion this past Friday evening to contemplate both the question and the answer.

That evening, I met up with my friend Joanne for dinner and a concert — Yemen Blues, performing as part of the Chutzpah Festival. I took the bus downtown a bit early, so I'd have time to photograph Granville Street's "Theatre Row" in all its neon, retro, seedy splendour.

 Pat Metheny at the Vogue ... wow, I saw him here about 16 years ago.

Not to mention a show or two at the Fabulous (old, pre-reno) Commodore Ballroom with its bouncy wooden dance floor ... Blue Rodeo, 54-40, Doug and the Slugs ...

The kinds of events a young dog with über-keen hearing would enjoy?

I suspect not.

Friday's show wasn't at the Commodore, but the venue (which just happens to be called "Venue") was similar, and I have no doubt that the pulsing lights and thumping music, the whole boozy buzz of activity would have been a torment to poor Freddie. So I left him at home (with Paul).

The evening was a lot of fun. And I got through it — dinner, chocolate truffle, wine, thumping trance music and all — without any blood sugar disasters. Just as I got through 99% of my pre-Freddie diabetic life.

The remaining 1% would be the couple of times that circumstance and stupidity conspired to rob me of consciousness in the middle of the night. 

Those exceptions aside, however, does the fact that I'm able to go solo for a night or a weekend or a year mean that Freddie doesn't really need the right to be with me all the time? Or that I don't really need Freddie at all?

The second question is a no-brainer. Even without his blood sugar alerts, Freddie has been a wonderfully therapeutic addition to our lives — the fulfilling of various needs we didn't quite know we had.

But what about the public access question? 

One answer would simply be that many T1 diabetics with alert dogs really can't be alone without running a very serious risk of passing out and coming to grief. Hypoglycemia unawareness — the loss of low blood sugar symptoms — hasn't been a big problem for me, so far, but it could become one.

Let's say it doesn't, though. And let's say, for the sake of argument, that service dog laws can be individualized. Assuming Freddie succeeds in jumping through all the certification hoops mentioned in this post, should Heather really have the right to take him wherever the heck she likes?


Movie theatres?

Concert halls?

Poutine joints?

(Not that I'm a fan of poutine — the french fry concoction or the Russian leader — spelled differently, I know, but the announcers on Radio Canada sure make the two of them sound alike.)

The Templeton Diner?

... where Joanne and I had dinner, and where we'll now take a brief look around because the interior is so much fun ...

There are booths on the other side, each with its own jukebox console and tabletop decorated with vintage postcards. But back to the question ...

Buses and ferries, shops and schools ... airplane cabins? All those places that remain off-limits to Freddie's pals Dusty and Kali and Ploufi ... should Freddie have special access? After all, it wouldn't kill me to be away from him.

Well, neither would a single portion of poutine (can you believe there are two of these joints within a couple of blocks of each other?) ... or even a whole week of poutine. But I suspect that a steady diet of the stuff over months and years would eventually lead to some unpleasant consequences.

High and low blood sugars are kinda like portions of poutine. The overwhelming majority of them aren't instant killers (though some are). Rather, it's their cumulative effects, over years, that'll get ya. Having Freddie with me as much of the time as possible/practical will increasingly help to cut back on the number and duration my garden-variety highs and lows and will, in theory, curb the likelihood of my developing one or more of those nasty complications that everybody's diabetic grandfather or Great Aunt Mary seems to suffer from.

If a business or organization has a compelling reason for keeping dogs out (see below), I have no difficulty complying. It won't kill me.

But who knows? If circumstance and stupidity ever again conspire against me in the middle of the night, there's a pretty decent chance Freddie will help me out before the paramedics have to be called in. That possibility, along with the poutine effect, inspire me to keep working hard on his skills.

On that note, it's lunchtime, and I think I'll have a salad.

Bon appétit! 


  1. LOVE the photos - there are still chunks of Vancouver that look just like they did when I moved there in 1974. Re dogs and going places. As you know, I also LOVE dogs (and children, to only a slightly lesser degree), but I do believe that there are places that either or both do not need to be: Places that sell food or clothes that I am going to buy, and may not be able to get hair, saliva and other unknowns off of without very strenuous effort; movie theatres showing movies for grown-ups (although I haven't been to a movie theatre in years, because the grown-ups couldn't act like adults enough to let me listen to the film and not them). Other than that though, I think I'm pretty flexible!

    1. Thanks, Leigh!

      Re. food and clothing stores etc., do you mean pet dogs or all dogs (including service animals)? I've brought Freddie into both, but his behaviour is closely monitored and constrained (no sniffing around or rubbing against merchandise). Since he's still in training, I wouldn't challenge any business manager who asked me to leave ... but I do agree with the laws that allow fully trained service dogs to go pretty much anywhere. As for pet dogs, yeah, there are certain places that don't feel quite appropriate for full-on doggy access!


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