From the Introduction of ‘Confessions of a Guide Dog – The Blonde Leading the Blind’
First of all, I’m not sure I agree with the title. To call it ‘Confessions of a Guide Dog’ seems to imply I have something to confess.
Well I don’t. It’s not that kind of book. I’m not going to air all my dirty laundry or expose any skeletons in the closet. Well…I will confess how food-driven I really am. I love food!
I love my mommy and daddy, but if there’s a treat anywhere in the vicinity, I can’t focus on anything else. My attention is totally aimed at the treat and nothing on earth but Daddy’s stern command can deter me. It’s like the Postal Service Motto.
‘Neither pulling on my leash nor calling me nor pretending you have nothing in your hand will stay this beggar from the swift consumption of his intended morsel.’
How’s that for a confession?
But what actually triggered a book about Musket? Sorry bad pun. Get used to them, Daddy does it a lot. It all came about because everywhere I went with Daddy and Mommy, amazing things happened. We met lots of people, travelled all over the country, had adventures and made a difference in the lives of men, women and children everywhere. I don’t know why or how. I’m really just a Guide dog, trained to take care of my handler and keep him safe. I’m no different than any of the other hundred of thousands of Guide and Assistance animals all over the world.
But darn it, incredible things happened, and as the years went on, Daddy began to realize they were pretty unique. Even other seasoned Guide dog handlers commented on me and how amazing I was.
Daddy started thinking to himself a lot and that got both me and Mommy worried. He’s not only blind but a guy, and a thinking guy is a bad combination. Want proof? Remember those stupid hats with hands that clapped? Or putting a fake Rolls-Royce hood ornament on a VW Beetle? Or the T-shirts that looked like a tuxedo? All guy ideas.
Then one day he said, “I think I should write a book about Musket.”
It could have been a lot worse. Daddy once thought of getting a black Labrador, painting white spots on it and saying he was a ‘negative Dalmatian.’ Oy.
First he thought of silly titles like ‘Pooch Tales’ and ‘Zen and the Art of Begging.’ Then he came up with ‘Confessions of a Guide Dog.’ Everybody thought it was great.
It should be called ‘The Remarkable and Amazing Life Experiences of the Most Wonderful, Lovable, Cute, Adorable, Intelligent, Loyal, Sweet, Perfect and Humble Guide Dog in the World.’
I suggested that one to Daddy. He didn’t stop laughing for a week. He said it wouldn’t fit on the cover.
Okay cut out ‘Humble.’
Well anyway, ‘Confessions of a Guide Dog’ it is. Then I suggested a subtitle, ‘The Blonde Leading the Blind.’ He liked that.
Daddy knew no one would buy a book just by him. But with my name on the cover it’d be a bestseller. Daddy’s a pretty good writer and what better subject than me?
He narrates what happens to us, and I add my comments. Sometimes they’re sort of confessions, others are clarification, and sometimes they’re ‘spin control.’
I’m supposed to be the ‘co-author’ but he’s really the one who did all the writing. Not that I didn’t try.
Remember those 1950s Disney films of cute and lovable animals (seals, monkeys, dogs, cats, wombats) getting into trouble and causing total mayhem while catching the crooks?
I didn’t catch any crooks but boy did I cause mayhem.
I actually got up on the chair in his garage office one night when he went into the kitchen for a snack, and planted my front paws on the keyboard. And I accidentally deleted about a week’s work. When he came out I was back on my bed looking innocent. Well it didn’t matter. He’s blind, remember? He immediately freaked out. After a minute of hysteria he turned to me. “Musket,” he asked me in a fake syrupy voice, “any idea who erased two whole chapters?”
“Seems like a certain Guide dog might need a trip back to school for some re-training,” he said with a dark gleam in his eyes.
I know he was kidding.
I’m sure he was. I think.
Now I’m coming clean and going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the…um, maybe that’s too much. I once heard Mark Twain said, ‘Truth is a very valuable thing. I think we should be a little economical with it.’ Makes sense to me.
I’ll tell the truth.
When it suits me.
When it doesn’t you’ll have to just take my word for it. After all, I’m so cute.
Have fun reading our book. I think it’s pretty good.
From Chapter Seven ‘No Dogs Allowed – Wanna Bet?’
Want some Irony with those Fries?
Let’s begin with an incident which happened to us in November 2007. I’d worked at ISD for nearly six years in the same location. The building was in Hillcrest in uptown San Diego. The neighborhood was mixed residential and retail, with some fast-food places.
Exactly opposite ISD, in full view of our office, was a McDonalds. They too had been there for many years. A lot of our staff and consumers went there, so people with disabilities going in weren’t unusual.
õ “I like this story. I can’t wait to get to the good part.”
On that fine cool Thursday morning, Musket and I were on our way to work. Passing McDonalds, I suddenly had a craving for a McMuffin. Unusual for me, because I don’t care much for fast food. I hadn’t been in a McDonalds in about five years. But what the hell, I entered the door.
There was someone ahead of me, so Musket stopped.
Then it was my turn. Or so I thought. I asked for two McMuffins.
The girl behind the counter said something I didn’t catch. I repeated my order and she repeated her statement. Then the customer waiting for her order informed me, “She says your pet can’t be in here.”
Okay, I knew how to handle this. I calmly explained to the girl Musket was not a pet, but a Guide dog.
She again said my dog couldn’t be in the restaurant. Again I repeated it, stating I have the right under law, to be served.
Still no go. I was in the netherworld between wanting to get this misunderstanding sorted out and just saying to heck with it.
I don’t like to quit. So I stayed.
She then said “You’ll have to take your dog outside, I have customers waiting.”
What was I, chopped liver?
õ “Ooh, I like this. Daddy really gets going.”
After three more tries I did what I shouldn’t ever have to do. I pulled out the laminated law card given to Guide Dog grads. I never had to use it, not in more than five years in cities all over the country.
I found out later that this was all on the surveillance tape. I could clearly be seen calmly removing the card from my wallet and showing it to her. She didn’t even bother to look.
Wait, it gets better.
I said I wanted to speak to the manager. He’d get this straightened out, right?
õ “BZZT! Wrong answer, but thanks for playing.”
He was just as obstinate. “Sir, we’ll be happy to serve you if you go outside. Please take your dog out.”
I wonder if the steam coming from my ears was visible on the tape.
I pointed out the window. “Do you see that building on the corner? That’s Independence of San Diego. It’s an agency which helps persons with disabilities fight for their rights. It’s been there for nearly thirty years.”
Then I dropped my bombshell. “I work there.”
õ “Should have been a show-stopper, huh?”
Nope. He actually stepped from behind the counter and repeated I had to take Musket outside.
It was something from Candid Camera.
What was Musket, the source of all this angst doing? Was he being aggressive, barking and snatching food from tables?
Nope. Musket was being perfect. Quiet, calm. Just being a good Guide dog.
õ “Yeah, can you believe it? I was wearing my most cute look, too. I saw some people watching the drama. I could smell grilled meat and French fries. Even the vanilla shakes made my nose twitch. But I sat there, being a good dog.”
Not a hint of backing down from the manager.
He even said “There’s a sign on the door that says no pets.”
I was finally fed up with these people. I told him I was going to call the police and fight for my rights. Not for a sumptuous five-course meal at the Four Seasons in New York, but a couple of McMuffins. The irony just bites.
õ “This was like mugging a cop in front of a police station.”
After arriving at the office, I told my co-workers about the incident. Every single one was astonished.
“Are you kidding? They wouldn’t let Musket in? Are you going to sue them?”
All very good questions.
Was I going to sue? I was considering it.
õ “Want some fries with that irony? Listen to this.”
One of my co-workers told me, “There is a sign on the door of that McDonalds. It says ‘No Pets. We Welcome Assistance Dogs.’”
It was the very sign the manager told me to go and read. Funny, huh? Believe me I was splitting my sides laughing. For one thing, the man never made the connection that I had a Guide dog because I was blind.
õ “I told you it was a good story. And yes I’d like some fries.”
I called that McDonalds and asked for the name and number of the franchise owner.
When I got the franchise operations supervisor on the phone he was stunned. He said he’d look into it. I think he might not really have believed me and thought I was just a hothead.
As the day wore on, I hadn’t heard anything, so I decided to go back to McDonalds and get the names of the two persons from the morning shift.
õ “Are you ready for this?”
A new shift. New manager.
He refused to help me. Not only did he not give me the names he said I had to take my dog out. No dogs allowed.
I wonder if he could see my tonsils. That’s how far my jaw had dropped. Then I heard him turn around and walk away.
Think of it. McDonalds, an American icon. A Guide dog. So well-recognized. And denial of access, the denial of a basic civil right.
You bet I fought it.
I stepped aside and pulled out my cell phone telling him I was calling the police.
He said “Go ahead. I’ll sue you.”
Dig that grave a little deeper. I called and was told a patrol car would be by shortly. Then I called my office and spoke to our executive director. He and three managers showed up. That’s what I call supportive.
Then the cops showed. The manager wilted. I’m sure he thought I was bluffing. He gave me the names. First names only.
I thanked him and the officers and returned to work.
No I still hadn’t eaten.
õ “Neither had I.”
I called the operations supervisor again and told him what had happened. This time he seemed to take my story much more seriously.
I contacted the newspaper and asked a contact there who I might tell about this. Before the day was out, my phone was ringing off the hook.
I had already written a detailed account of the incident, with times and names.
The next morning I found a message from a Union Tribune reporter. I invited him to come by. We discussed the details. Then the phone rang. The McDonalds operations supervisor was across the street and wanted to meet with me.
The reporter suggested he go first and get some coffee and see how they reacted as I came over. He’d be incognito. I liked the idea.
I was still determined but not angry, and was willing to hear these people out.
After ten minutes Musket and I went to McDonalds. Musket was as sweet as always.
õ “Well duh.”
Three men opened the front doors and welcomed me in as if I were the Governor. They introduced themselves. Both the operations director and the owner of the franchise of 15 restaurants had come to meet me.
They were very nice and offered me breakfast. I declined.
õ “That’s the part of the story I don’t like.”
Then I told them in detail what had happened the previous day. All were stunned and very apologetic. It was then I learned about the surveillance cameras. They clearly showed the rude behavior of the staff.
They asked me what I wanted. Then I introduced the reporter from Union-Tribune. That felt really good.
They took it well and openly admitted their culpability. Then I dropped my bombshell.
“I don’t want to sue. I only want to make sure this never happens to anyone again.”
I could hear relief in their voices. The owner told us he’d only bought this particular restaurant a few months before and the re-training of the staff was way behind schedule. No kidding.
It was one of the worst-run and operated McDonalds in the city, and the incident was the perfect opportunity to do something about it.
I again reiterated I had no wish to sue them. That would take a long time and benefit no one. My co-workers thought I was nuts. But I also knew I had been given a ‘Golden Arches’ opportunity. Sorry for the pun but I couldn’t resist.
Considering what I did for a living, and how I felt about frivolous lawsuits, I told the McDonalds officials I would like to be involved in the re-training of the staff and managers for the whole franchise in disability awareness and access.
One of the men was very interested in Musket and asked a lot of questions. Musket was perfect, presenting himself in the manner a well-trained Guide dog should.
õ “I wanted to be nice. This guy had access to tons of food.”
The story came out in the newspaper on Sunday. By Tuesday a local news station wanted to interview me. Of course I said yes. Good publicity for ISD, and to set an example of self-advocacy. It was also a great chance to show the general public that not all disabled people sue.
Of course Musket was given a lot of attention.
õ “They shot lots of footage of me but the only close-up was of me yawning. It was a little embarrassing. I looked like Old Yeller.”
My phone rang like crazy for days. Our center received a lot of good exposure.
After a few months McDonalds and I had worked out the details. I knew an excellent diversity trainer named Diana Carson, who said she’d be glad to help.
We set up a presentation, of which I would do the Assistance animal and access section. In front of managers and shift leaders of the whole franchise, we did a 4-hour talk about disability awareness and universal access.
It went very well. For what it resulted in, I was a lot more satisfied than if I’d taken them to court.
The incident was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities which if handled right, can make a difference to a lot of people. The moral high ground is a nice place to be. The original issue, being denied access because of my Guide dog was something I was willing to fight.
And I’m glad to say the management of McDonalds took the issue very seriously and were sincere in their willingness to address it. I was grateful for their cooperation. Some of my co-workers have been to that restaurant several times and told me the service and access has greatly improved.
It worked out well. I still get calls resulting from the original coverage. I guess Musket was pretty photogenic.
To read the actual story just Google ‘Disabled man not lovin’ it after snubbed at McDonald’s.’
õ “That was fun. Daddy tells it really good.”
Or you can order an autographed copy from Mark for $25.95 + $2.75 S/H