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Day 95

The beach was calling me today. I wanted to sit in the sun, feel the sand under my toes, and remember. My car is at the mechanic. It has the city sticker on it that’s required for parking at my local beach. With my trip to the beach postponed, I climbed into the tub and tried to remember the beach.

Constance and my most eventful beach trip was with Otis, her service dog, and her father. Otis was decked out in his service dog vest. He sat under Constance’s chair, tethered to her, keeping her from eloping. I was in a chair next to her. We sat under a large umbrella with our books and snacks. We hadn’t settled in for more than a few minutes when our picturesque scene was interrupted by a teenage lifeguard.

“There are no dogs allowed on the beach. You have to show me your dog’s service documentation,” the lifeguard demanded. There isn’t any federally recognized service dog documentation, certification, or license. Further, the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as several federal policies forbids people from requesting any form of verification. On hearing his demand, Constance began flapping her hands in a manner typical of someone with an autism spectrum disorder or other sensory processing disorder. I calmly said, “No, that is not the law. You can’t ask us to prove to you any documentation.”

The lifeguard pressed on, “My boss sent me over here to check your papers. I am not asking for you to prove she’s disabled, just to prove he’s a licensed service dog.” My biggest hot button is when someone refers to a person in the third person in front of them. This happens constantly with people who have challenges, children, and senior citizens. It is dehumanizing and it enrages me. Constance could understand what was being said about her. That is why I was constantly telling her I loved her and was thankful to get to be her mom. Constance’s anxiety built and she started making babbling and moaning noises.

“There is no such thing as a license for a service dog. That doesn’t exist,” I tried to reason with him. He said, “I am going to have to ask you to leave.” “No, we have a right to be here. We aren’t going anywhere,” I replied. If eye contact could kill, he’d have been murdered. “I am going to go call the police and they are going to remove you,” he threatened. “Call them,” I challenged. He marched off toward the lifeguard building.

Constance’s father began to get dressed. “What are you doing?” I asked. “If the cops are going to arrest anyone, it’s going to be me.” If you are new to this blog you might not know that Constance’s father is a man of color. This is relevant because this was a summer where police officers in other communities were caught on tape murdering men of color. Suddenly, I was embarrassed that my place of privilege allowed me to project two resolutions: either we stayed at the beach or I would be tweeting about injustice from my luxury vehicle.

Otis continued to sit under Constance’s chair enjoying the shade while their tether kept her safe. I got out my phone and prepared a sharply worded tweet.

The lifeguard marched back with two community officers behind him. We lived in a lovely suburb of Chicago, which has both community officers and police officers. These were community officers. I see them around town helping people with disabled vehicles occasionally. The lifeguard repeated his threat, “No dogs are allowed at the beach. This is the park district’s policy. You have to show me documentation of your service dog license or these police officers are going to remove you.” The police officers looked at each other, looked back at us, and silently shook their heads ‘No.’ It was clear they had no intention of dragging anyone off the beach, especially with a child who was clearly challenged. Now, with more confidence, I reiterated, “No. That’s not the law. We are allowed to be here and we are not leaving.”

Constance’s father carried a copy of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with him whenever he was in public with Otis and Constance. He offered a copy to the gentlemen while trying to reiterate there was no federal certification or license requirement.

“My boss told me you have to show your documentation to be on the beach. Regular dogs aren’t allowed. If you aren’t going to leave then I am going to have you removed,” the lifeguard said before turning and marching back to the lifeguard building again.

A moment after the lifeguard reached the building, a police car drove up. Two police officers went to the building and spoke to the lifeguards. I don’t know what was said.

Then, three lifeguards, including the now infamous “boss,” approached us. They sincerely apologized for not knowing the law. They explained this was their first time encountering a service dog and, hence, they did not know how to deal with it. They told us that we were welcomed at the beach. We accepted their apology and shook hands. The lifeguards left. Once they returned to the lifeguard building, the police officers and community officers left.

I insisted they follow the ADA because I envisioned a time when Constance was living in our house and going to her local beach with her service dog. Naturally, in the future, I was dead and she was an adult. Better they are educated on the law and used to Constance now, I reasoned. That way, she wouldn’t have to defend herself on her own. Constance won’t inherit our house or spend a long life enjoying that beach. Nevertheless, I am glad we stood our ground on the off chance we made it easier for the next family with a service dog that went there.


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