June 27th, 2016
He had that civilian military look about him: dark t-shirt, proper cargo pants, baseball cap, and a chip on the shoulder; the Winter Soldier on the run, having abandoned his plums. He was tidy, quiet, but stormy underneath. And he had his dog with him.
He came into the store, sort of nodded, made a silent beeline for the beer room. And he had his dog with him.
I knew he’d pick up a can or two of something, maybe a few other groceries, and I’d smile and ask him if he wanted his receipt, and he’d go through the motions stoically, just trying to hold in all the hell he’d seen. And he’d have his dog with him.
She was a sleek black lab, small for her breed, with kind eyes and only a simple red and black harness, no bold proclamations of “SERVICE DOG” or “DO NOT PET.” Just like her owner, she was tidy and quiet, quintessentially unobtrusive. The American’s with Disabilities Act does not require service dogs to be specifically marked; it’s up to the owner, and everything about this man said quite plainly, “Don’t ask me about it, I’d rather not tell you.”
As I watched their retreating backs, my manager asked rhetorically, “Come on, buddy, do you really have to bring your dog in here? You clearly don’t have a disability.” He spoke softly, half to himself, half to me. He was annoyed. He didn’t really mean any harm. Tim is a great guy, but he didn’t know. So many people don’t know. “Actually,” I ventured, “I’m pretty sure he has PTSD. That’s a therapy dog.” “Really?” He was genuinely surprised. “How can you tell?” “Well,” I said, “it’s the way they both act. He’s so quiet, the dog is so well behaved. She’s got a harness, and I saw his military ID bracelet.” “Oh.” He paused. “Well, now I feel like an asshole.” I laughed a little. “You’re not an asshole, it’s just not something many people know about, but it’s getting to be more common. It’s a great service for the men and women who have served us.” Tim nodded, “Makes sense.”
A few moments later the veteran returned to the front of the store. “Find everything alright today?” I smiled. He nodded. The dog smiled. “Anything else for you?” He shook his head. “$7.96 is your total, would you like a receipt?” He shook his head. “Alright, well, you have a good day.” He nodded. My manager chimed in as well, “Have a good day, sir.”
He turned to me after they left. “I feel like a real jerk.” I shrugged, “Well, now you know, and you won’t have to fret about it the next time he comes in and he has his dog with him.”