I get some interesting things on my FB page – mainly because the people who post the most are my American friends. I’m not very good at acknowledging their diligence but I suppose if it’s a choice between posting a picture with a dog and a nice story and looking out your window at snowflakes and defending yourself against rancid, Covid-wracked Republicans, I know which one I’d choose. Today someone posted the etiquette of service dogs. It made me understand how we build walls around things we either don’t understand or are not encouraged to understand. See, I always thought a dog was a dog. Some dogs were good at certain things like leading the blind and sniffing out drugs and now I find out that all dogs who perform tasks like this are grouped as service dogs. Why? Is this generic, pointless description an improvement on the words guide dog? At least you know what’s going on. The dog is guiding. If we’re being chased by a hairy police officer with a dog on a lead out the front, we know we’re being chased by a police dog. If I end up in prison and they bring in the dogs to go through my room, I know they’re drug dogs and don’t get me started on the little sniffers at the airport. These are the specifics of working dogs and when they’re not doing those things, we all know they’re just being dogs. Since when did they become so damned clever that they need to have written guidelines so you don’t upset them? Come on! Anyone with half a brain knows when to back away from a snarling dog and what’s so wrong with the conversation about not patting dogs who are trying to do their sniffing or guiding or whatever they do? Conversation is the way we learn things, how we make friends and find out really quickly, how things work.
The wall around service dogs is as tall as the one around servicemen and women. Once upon a time they were soldiers (or sailors, or in the airforce) but for the sake of my rant, lets go with soldiers. We all know soldiers. Our grandfathers, fathers, brothers, uncles – these men (and last century 90% of them were men), had been soldiers and fought in wars none of them spoke highly of. We knew with certainty that they were human and that a large number of them were cooks or did mundane work like organizing the post. Renaming them servicemen/women, offers only a pair of boots, a rifle, and a set of camo fatigues. In New Zealand we do tend to unthinkingly follow the USA. Sometimes it’s with a turn of phrase we sought and never managaged to capture until it came from the mouths of American actors. ‘Sorry for your loss’ entered our common vocabularly, directly from ‘Hill Street Blues.’ I am still struggling with ‘ma’am.’ Sometimes words are amazing. And other times you have to call them out for the shitty job they’re doing. Service is heading offline. It used to be given in generosity of spirit, in full view of everyone and available for inspection. Now it’s building walls.