As further proof that our civilization is irreversibly doomed, there was a guy in the grocery store toting his white “service rats” on his shoulders and wearing mouse ears so he could self-identify as a rat. This happened in Boise, Idaho, formerly the land of rugged cowboys and a bastion of conservative thought where self-sufficient citizens are proud descendants of gun-owning, flag-waving, baby-kissing, beer-drinking, Bible-reading pioneers. Now we have service rats in the produce section.
Rodent-Man was accompanied by a menagerie of androgynous folks who apparently didn’t self-identify with humans or animals. They were barefoot. In the grocery store. In Idaho. The only positive result of this offensive crew was that I saved money and calories because I put down my bananas and artisan bread and walked out of the store. I don’t care what people do in the privacy of their own home or nest or den; and if a pot-bellied pig brings them comfort, that’s fine. However, I have a right to have discomfort with comfort animals in public.
After enduring a recent stay in a luxury resort that had gone to the dogs, I began to question how the rights of people pampering pets in public took priority over my right to live happily without them. For a legal description about service animals, I contacted my friend, Lori Duff, a bestselling humor author and attorney who writes a column titled “Legalese.” She told me to stop swearing and listen.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, and those tasks the dog has been trained to do are directly related to the person’s disability,” she said. “In addition to dogs for the blind, there are dogs that can sense when a seizure is about to occur, dogs that can alert diabetics to radical shifts in their blood sugar and a host of other medical assistance skills that service animals can be trained to do.”
“I don’t have any problem with these trained dogs,” I said. “But I don’t believe anyone can convince a rat to be a service animal.”
“There are service animals and emotional support animals,” she said. “As a rule, emotional support animals are not qualified as service animals under the ADA. The man considered his rat to be an emotional support animal.”
This is why the fine print in legal documents has so many words in it and why people hate lawyers (except Lori.) Apparently "service animals only" isn't enough for some people. You must list everything that service animals are not: No comfort rats, mice, hedgehogs, monitor lizards, guppies, ponies, rattlesnakes, etc. But I claim a right to object if I see someone trying to sneak a comfort feral hog into a public elevator.
“I don’t want to tolerate some clown walking around a grocery store with rodents crawling over his body. He petted his pets and then handled the fruits and vegetables. I object to support-rat-residue on my bananas.”
“Service dogs that are properly trained can’t bark repeatedly, or bark in a library, museum, or theater, or other place where it would be a distraction to other patrons,” she explained. “It would be difficult to train a rat not to fiddle with your fruit. You had a right to talk with the store manager and demand that the man with the rat be asked to leave.”
“Why isn’t he required to ask if he can enter?” I asked, reaching for my pet-free stash of Cabernet.
Lori laughed. “That would require decency and an adherence to the unwritten rules of society. He probably doesn’t give a darn about that.” She may have used a stronger word than darn.
I thanked Lori for her advice and promised to buy more of her hilarious books. She suggested I buy my groceries online. At least I wouldn’t see vermin running wild over the food. I’m considering that option.
As a caveat to my rants against turning creatures from the animal kingdom into kings in public, I fully support the legal use of service dogs. My stepson has a well-trained, official service dog. He is a Marine and was blown up when his military vehicle hit a bomb while serving in Iraq. He sustained lifetime injuries, and his service dog has been trained to assist him with his daily routines. If you get blown up by evil people trying to kill you, you’ve earned a service dog.
I also support canine units in police departments and search and rescue teams. These highly-trained and intelligent dogs protect and save lives.
You can find additional information about the legal requirements for service animals at ADA government regulations. You can find Rodent-Man in the local grocery store. You can avoid all the drama and order my books online. Order some of Lori's books, too. We need more laughter, fewer hairballs.