Yesterday I went to the bookstore at Syracuse University. It was a mob scene because yesterday was also the opening of classes. Entering the store felt like boarding the subway on Lexington In New York City and I crammed and squeezed my way forward and then it happened: a well meaning man wearing a very orange tee shirt raced up, ostensibly to help me, but really he wanted to pet my guide dog. He didn't ask permission, just settled into a loving session which caused Nira to forget that she was "in harness" and on duty. This fellow went on at some length about his own dog, and meanwhile, there among hundreds of people I struggled to keep control of my dear working companion who was in danger of getting out of bounds.
I didn't reprimand the fellow. Didn't tell him that when a guide dog is wearing its harness you shouldn't talk to it or pet it. Didn't explain that this consistency has everything to do with keeping the dog's owner safe from falling on ice or stairs because the dog has decided to get some attention. Didn't explain that "working a dog up" with petting can make it lose all focus. That the reason guide dogs can go everywhere is that long ago blind activists proved that their dogs were impeccably trained. I didn't say any of these things.
People are lonely. We cover it up with fashion and goo-gaws. We talk our way out of it–almost. And for a moment I saw it there in that crowd. So I just let the whole guide dog thing go.
I have to remind myself that my own safety is at stake. Empathy stops at the street's edge.