I was surprised when I went to Paris years ago with Flash, my second service dog, that while the French adore dogs, they do not handle other people’s dogs.  Many people were curious to know what a “service dog” does, after reading the patch on Flash’s red cape, because the only chiens d’assistance in France are for the blind, or, at least, were then.  But no one bent down to call Flash to them.  No one chattered away to him in a high pitched voice.  No one asked to pet him or did so without asking.  And since dogs are allowed in restaurants there anyway, perhaps Flash didn’t need to wear his cape at all.  

Flash, in his cape, playing with a new French friend, Watson, on our first day in Paris:



But here, in the United States, while a cape or harness is not required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, dressing a service dog for work has several important advantages.  For one thing, by clearly indicating why a dog has been given access where pet dogs are not allowed, you disabuse people of the idea that they should rush home, get their pup and bring it to the restaurant where you are dining, the museum where you are looking at art or the airplane you are about to board to go and visit your adorable grandchildren.  The cape, while not what makes your dog legal, comforts employees giving you access to places forbidden to other dogs.  The cape will prevent one, two or even a dozen questions from Park Rangers, hospital personnel, maitre d’s, even shop owners who do not let dogs into their stores.  And on top of all that, the cape lets the dog know that it’s time to put away childish things and get to work.

I always keep a spare key in Sky’s cape and a bit of money, so that I can go for a walk unencumbered by a purse or backpack.  She holds my gym card, my bus pass, extra pick up bags, even a bit of emergency medication, and, of course, the paperwork that says what the cape does not, that she’s legal.

Some dogs with other jobs wear their hearts on their sleeves, so to speak, as well, letting people know that they have a job to do, a purpose, and should not be interrupted.  Of course no outfit alone will stop some people from chatting away at your working dog.  Some who know they shouldn’t pet, yammer at the dog.  Some who know they shouldn’t yammer, whisper.  Some even say things like, “She looked at me,” trying to blame the dog when they get caught with their hand in the cookie jar.  She made me do.  It’s not my fault.

Still, the cape is worthwhile.  It tells the dog that even if the rest of the world is feeling silly, it’s time for them to be serious.  It’s time to go to work.

But what about people who buy a little cape, slap it onto their pet dogs, and gain access where they don’t belong?  Or should we ask instead, What about people who cheat on their taxes, lie to their loved ones, embezzle money, use shoddy material, charge you for a new air filter when your car doesn’t have an air filter, sleep on the job, check Facebook at the office, sell you out of date medication, abuse little children in their care?  Why should this be any different than any other human endeavor?  There are people who will cheat when it suits them and there are people who won’t.  You can’t decide for others.  You cannot make laws that are infallible.  You can only decide for yourself which kind of person you want to be, because when you look in the mirror, that’s whom you’ll see.

Flash at the Musee Picasso:

Flash and baby