Dateline: Golden Beach, Florida
I don't know what it is about me and dogs - or rather dog walkers. Back in Blighty, I've had trouble with them on Wimbledon Common, I've had trouble with them going up to Holy Communion at Brompton Oratory (yes, really!) and here I've had trouble with them on the beach. I was sitting happily reading and minding my own business when along came a woman with a dog on a lead, trotting right past me along the water's edge. "Do you know dogs aren't allowed on the beach?" I asked helpfully.
"Thank you", she said and continued on her way. "There's a dog beach just down there", I pointed. She didn't seem at all interested. The rules, of course, did not apply to her.
Due to the dog beach and such, this place is already canine heaven.
The van we saw on the road the other day was advertising a pet resort, with every luxury. "Pets so Pampered You'll Wish You Could Stay". They know their market. So often you see dogs in push chairs, or little trailers where there'd normally be a human baby, dogs wearing babygros (onesies to Americans) raincoats, sunhats and bright bandannas. It doesn't take a psychologist to work it out. So many people here are retired and lonely and far from their families and grandchildren. Dogs become baby substitutes.
I have nothing against dogs - in fact I like them a lot - in their place. And their place is not the beach. And it's especially not the supermarket. I was in our local one last week when I spotted a woman with a dog on a lead. She appeared to be in fine fettle and in full possession of her eyesight and was happily trying samples at the tasting counter, the dog, with nothing to identify it as a "service dog", snuffling at her heels. When I complained to the management, I was told there is very little they can do. They are simply allowed to ask if the dog is there because of a disability (not what the disability might be) and what the dog does for its owner. The popular answer these days is, "He's an emotional support dog. I need him because I'm anxious going into the supermarket." Apparently you can buy the little official jackets on the internet. And there's darn all the supermarket can do about it for fear of being sued.
Now this was probably a perfectly nice woman and a perfectly sensible dog. And for all I know she may have had a genuine problem. But my argument is that if everyone decided to bring their dogs into the supermarket for emotional support, (and heaven knows, we all need emotional support in the angst of the checkout queue) there would be mayhem. Aside from the hygiene issue, it's hard enough, in high tourist season, manoeuvring your trolley around other people's without getting it tangled up in dog leads too.
I believe the airlines are starting to fight back on this. (On any flight to Florida you'll be lucky not to be sitting next to a dog providing emotional support and getting a free ride for its trouble.) And more power to their elbows. And the sad thing is, that the more people's goodwill is abused, the more difficult it will be for those with genuine disabilities - which may well be hidden ones - to be believed.