One of my first jobs as a college student was working in the dining hall of the dormitory where I lived. I worked the breakfast shift three days a week and had to report for duty at a morning hour ridiculous to my 18 year-old freshman self.
I had varied duties in the dining hall. I wiped down tables. If a diner failed to clean up after him/herself and left dirty dishes on the table instead of placing them on the conveyor belt that carried items to the bowels of the dish room, I had to clean the mess not of my making. (Such messes were primarily left behind in the smoking area, so I grew to harbor a hatred in my heart for these smokers, many of whom later became my friends when I no longer had a job requiring me to wear a hairnet and clean up their filth.) Other duties included filling straw, napkin, and cereal dispensers and adding orange juice to the machine when the beverage reached critically low levels. I stayed busy.
It was also in my (unwritten) job description to assist students with vision impairments as they went through the serving line. This duty didn’t bother me. I’d spent a summer working at a camp for kids with disabilities. I wasn’t freaked out by people who couldn’t see. I knew I shouldn’t grab the arm of those folks and propel them through the room, but instead let them take my elbow as we slowly walked to their destination.
One of the fellows I saw on my work days was a dapper young Southern student. He always greeted me politely and we chatted as we walked down the long corridor between the entrance and the serving line. He held my elbow while I carried his tray. When we faced the servers, I’d tell him about his breakfast options: grits or oatmeal, pancakes on a good day, greasy sausage or soggy bacon, eggs cooked to order every morning. It was a nice break for me from cleaning up after inconsiderate slobs. It was a nice human connection.
One day the Southern gentleman student arrived holding the harness of a service dog. The dog was cute, but I knew I shouldn’t pet it or talk to it while it was working. The student told me I should walk him and the dog through the line so the dog could learn the routine. Once the dog knew where to go, he’d lead the student through the line, and I’d only have to carry the tray. While I didn’t mind the man taking my elbow, I was happy for the additional independence a service dog would bring him.
I began walking with the man and his dog down the corridor to the serving line. It quickly became apparent to me that this dog had not received adequate training. He pulled on the arm holding the harness as he tried to run ahead of us. When we got to the serving line, he dove under the counter after wayward French fries. He master had to keep a firm grip on the harness to keep the dog somewhat under control.
The student was not discouraged. When I saw him two mornings later, he had the harness in hand and the dog was behaving fairly well. I offered my elbow, but the man said the thought the dog could handle leading him. He told me said I only had to carry the tray.
The dog did ok until he got up to the serving line and was distracted by more fallen food. I wondered why a service dog still lunging for tasty ground scores had been turned over to a person who couldn’t see and why the closing dining hall crew wasn’t doing a better job cleaning under the serving line.
The student held onto the harness, and he and the dog and I headed into the large dining room. I followed along with the tray, prepared to carry it to whatever table the man chose. As I watched the human/dog duo navigate the room, I saw the dog run its master right into the empty salad bar. The man didn’t seem to be hurt, but I saw the surprise on his face. I offered my help again, but he said the dog would learn.
I mentally shook my head and thought if I had a service dog that ran me into a large, stationary object, I’d send its ass back wherever it had come from and take my chances on my own.