Seeing Eye Dog Trumps Allergies

Went to see Borat on Saturday night. It was at one of the smaller screens at the 12th street cinema [look at 12th street and 2nd avenue] but the place was packed. We got some cozy seats on the aisle and are waiting for previews like everyone else when an unexpected patron strolled in: a service dog, in training.

A nice looking couple sat three rows ahead, on the aisle, dog in tow. The dog carried his own leash, as doggies sometimes do. He had tan colored fur, big brown eyes and pointy ears and he immediately made himself quite comfortable, lying down under the couples’ seat and not making one sound. You couldn’t ask for a better Service Dog in training.

I, however, did not ask for ANY kind of dog especially as I am highly allergic to them. And I really wanted to see Borat as I was in need of some cheering. So what to do? Whose rights win here?

Service dogs: I’m totally down for the endeavor, they are wonderful for people who need them and I’m grateful that there are people who train these pups. However, the people who had the dog were not disabled themselves therefore should they be asked to leave? I paid admission to see a movie, not get sick. I could see a later show or come back another night but frankly I didn’t want to. It was 8pm on Saturday, this was my plan I wanted to stick to it.

We went to talk to the nice but overwhelmed and somewhat out of his element manager Josh. Josh came into the theater and looked at the dog, who had his little “I’m a Service Dog” vest on, all official and looked at me with some serious puppy dog eyes himself.

“Look I can’t throw them out. I looked it up, they have the right to be here. And I can’t ask them to leave.”

“You mean training a dog for someone who has disability trumps my allergy to that dog?”

The answer was a somber, “Yeah, kinda.” He added, “Look, I will refund your tickets for this show and you’re free to come another time.”

But as I said I wanted to see it at 8pm on Saturday. So I said, “I’m gonna stay. If in 30 or 40 minutes I get allergic, I’ll know and we’ll leave and come another time.” He was fine with that.

So we went back in and I decided just to forget about it until I couldn’t. The theater was air-conditioned, the dog wasn’t in my lap and I really wanted to see the movie. So I pretended I was in an airplane. I’ve been on many flights with dogs or cats in carriers in the passenger cabin without major incident and I just figured if I could do that for three hours, I could stand a big movie theater with high ceiling and lots of a/c. I had one big sneeze about halfway through and that was it. And I laughed my ass off.

Of course when we left I was still thinking about the disabilities act and how even training a dog for a disabled person to be trumped someone who could potentially suffer in the moment. Do allergies fit into a disabilities act? If not, why not? There was an article in the Times recently about diabetes and disability. If allergies disallow one from functioning normally in certain situations, would that be considered a disability? I think I need to investigate this much further.

PS Disability follow-up link


Please let us know what you find out. I'd be interested. Allergies always seem to be on the bottom of the list. Very unfair.
ByTheBay said…
I've struggled with this, too. However, I figure that as someone who has all of my senses (sight, hearing, etc), even with my allergies and asthma and chemical sensitivities I in general have a much higher and easier level of access to public accomodations than people who are disabled enough to need a service dog. And to me, there IS such thing as "more" or "less" disabled (which I know is very controversial to say.)

A dog in training shouldn't be seen any differently than a dog that is working, btw - They are both working dogs who are giving (or will be giving) somebody the ability to live an independent life, something most of us who aren't blind or deaf or in a wheelchair take for granted. I also have the ability to get asthma and allergy meds or shots, while there are no meds that make a blind person see.

In a large public space with a free flow of air, one cat or one dog is not going to cause most people with allergies a life-threatening asthma attack. A sneeze, itchy eyes, etc is not much of a sacrifice so that a blind or deaf person will be able to live their life with dignity. I usually just move seats, and if it's an enclosed environment or I do feel my breathing will be compromised, I leave. I don't encounter service animals more than a few times a year. So this is not really that big an issue for me.

I don't think there's anything wrong, however, with advocating for ourselves by asking that spaces we use regularly be scent-free when feasible, asking for a voucher to come see the movie at a different time, etc. I do that often.

These situations are frustrating, I really hear you on that. I have felt resentful at times of how someone else's disability trumps mine. I also hate that I do in fact risk having severe asthma attacks when I go into public spaces (due to fragrances, mostly) or friends houses that are covered in animal hair (due to animals).
ByTheBay said…
BTW, I believe the ADA applies to you if a major life function is compromised. I.E. if you have lifethreatening asthma from your allergies it would apply, but if you sneeze and have itchy eyes and a sore throat it would not. I know that my physical disabilities count for ADA coverage but my chemical sensitivities fall in a bit of a "no man's land."
Kathy Podgers said…
I use a service dog and have met many folks who either do not want the dog present due either to allergy or to fear. here is how I try to handle it. If I am sitting in a theatre, a public meeting, restarant or class room, I first show that it is not "an ordinary dog" but a servise animal. This usually fails to work. Then, if the person expressed fear, I offer to "tie the dog up" and with a short lead I have for thet purpose, secure the dog with the panic stricken person watching my every move. My dog, smiling profusly, cooperates fully, and the person who fears my dog shows great releaf on their face, and sayt, "Thank you."

If it is a person with an allergy, they usually demand that the dog be removed. I explain that it is not about the dog but about me. I have a right, like other folks to be present, and acompanied by my white cane, wheelchair, walker or service animal. However, I express genuine sympathy at any discomfort that might happen, and explain that I have run into this situation before, and sitting apart has always been sufficient. We then can both change our seating so we sit as far from each other as possible.

In hotels they have rooms set aside for "disabilities" and I am usually put in there if they do not allow pets and have seperate rooms they let to folks with pets. However, in the general public, one can expect to come across many more folks with allergies than service animals.

I am curious about this issue, as many folks wear things that cause allergies, not just perfume, such as down filled jackets, and many public accomodations are filled with allergins such as dust bunnies filled with dust mites, mouse urine, etc. Some places even have plush new rugs, and use foul polish on their smooth floors.

Is there nothing that a person with an allergy can take when they see a dog that would avoid the symptoms from occuring?

PWD's do not usually think of their disability as trumping someone elses disability. No one is competing with another for more "sympathy." What most folks with disabilities want is independence and an end to isolation. We just want inclusion.

Therefore, why not speak to the person with the service animal, and arrange for both of you to change seating so you can get the max didtince between you.
Sharon Stout said…
I really think that those with allergies to animals NEED to go to their employer and get a form. Called 504 filled out documenting this allergy. As a psychotherapist, dozens of people have come asking me to declare they need their pet with them at work as they don't want to go home for lunch to let their dog out or feel like having their dog with them at work or on vacation . I do not help them as none of the people asking had that appropriate disability. There is a flood of people now only thinking about their wants and not your needs to stay healthy. Talk with your doctor and get that 504 disability for filled out that you can not be near an animal due to allergies at work. Laws will have to be written to help those allergic or you will be limited in the future as to where you can sit at a restaurant, movie play etc.

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