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The Gatekeepers of Entitlement

service dogA story I was following over the weekend came to a conclusion that, while not exactly happy, felt a little like justice.

A family whose little boy has a rare form of of epilepsy called Landau-Kleffner Syndrome made a reservation at a Louisiana hotel, but after the mother placed a courtesy call to the hotel informing them that their son requires the use of a service dog, the hotel cancelled the reservation, claiming the facility was not “pet friendly”. A hotel worker confirmed to one reporter that they are aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which covers service animals, but said they are unable to defy the instructions they receive from the owner of the hotel. (Apparently that worker has been fired, reportedly for speaking to the media.) This incident doesn’t appear to be a case where the hotel was ignorant of the ADA. Apparently, they simply chose not to follow it, which is more common than you might think.

Last Thursday, in response to news stories about the incident, the corporate office of Best Western Hotels decided to restrict the Baton Rouge hotel from using the Best Western brand name. The hotel will be required to stop representing itself as a Best Western, including covering or removing all its Best Western signs and logos, until a hearing can be held at corporate headquarters, at which time the hotel’s future association with the brand will be decided.

It’s an encouraging story, at least in my opinion, because it shows a company making the right choice, not just to be compassionate but also to follow a very hard-fought law that provides protections to people with disabilities. Best Western would have been within their rights to play the whole “our hotels are independently owned, don’t look at us, go after that jerk, why don’tcha?” angle. But they were concerned enough about the reputation of their brand and what they want it to stand for that they took a pretty hard line.

This is the kind of teeth the ADA should have. You can argue that the hotel should be motivated by human decency, not federal law, to accommodate the needs of the disabled. I’d agree with that statement, obviously. While we’re making wishes, we should all have a cold bottle of chocolate milk delivered to our door every morning, too, maybe by a panda or a guy riding a unicorn. Given the world in which we live, I’ll take this as a positive story.

All in all, a swell story,but for that age-old internet rule. Never read the comments.

A recurring theme in the comments section of every iteration of this story that I’ve seen online is suspicion. Is this REALLY a service dog? Like, a FOR REAL service dog? Because I’ve heard that a lot of people dress up their dog in a little vest so they can bring them wherever they want. Who’s out there making sure that all these service dogs are legit? I thought they were for blind people. Do people with epilepsy or PTSD really need a service animal?

While I agree that charlatans who create fake service animals are Bad People, I also personally think they’re probably mostly apocryphal. They seem to largely fall into the category of “I’ve heard about…” or “I know someone who saw…” They seem to hang out in the same places as all those people committing voter fraud. I believe these stories aren’t so much about a great scam being perpetrated, but rather are products of a great public fear, one that seems to grip Americans most of all.

It’s the suspicion that somewhere out there, SOMEONE is getting away with SOMETHING.

It’s the persistent American narrative, as enduring as George Washington’s cherry tree. People on welfare are just leeching off the system; they don’t actually want jobs. I saw a lady taking food stamps out of her Gucci purse. I’m not going to give that homeless guy any money, he’ll just spend it on drugs or booze. Poor people shouldn’t have smartphones. Fat people at Walmart shouldn’t dress like they’re sexy.

People with disabilities get it particularly bad. That mother is just letting her kid have a huge meltdown right here in Target, ruining my shopping experience. That kid is way too big to be in a stroller; his permissive parents are just encouraging him to be lazy. Why does that guy have a handicapped parking sticker? He looks fine to me. That doesn’t look like a service dog to me; I’ll bet they just made that vest so they could bring their dog on the plane. You just know those special education kids in inclusive classrooms can’t understand anything; they shouldn’t be taking time and attention away from the kids who can learn and amount to something one day.

We are so convinced that we have a right to know and understand every single scenario that we see. We are offended by nuance, and confused by invisible impairment. We are the gatekeepers of entitlement (a word that is itself loaded with judgment), and if there’s one thing we cannot stand, it’s the idea that someone with a disadvantage somewhere is getting something that we don’t think they deserve.

This is just my opinion, which you are of course free to disregard completely. But I believe this attitude makes us a very, very ugly people.

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7 Comments
  1. Mary
    June 23, 2014 | Reply
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