It's new, letting dogs come with their owners into the soup kitchen. The other dogs I've seen are tiny, except for one rather oversized pug who still counts as small. I wondered what the exact rules were, and as I crossed the crowded dining room to bring milk to another diner, I went toward them, because for me, all dogs are irresistible, wherever I meet them. "Hello, lovely," I thought, but we never got a chance to meet properly, the dog and I. Only our eyes met, and then things began to happen.
I saw a staff member come over and ask her owner something.
"She's a service dog," he said.
While he talked to the staff member, he accidentally took off her slip lead as he fumbled with her and a backpack, avoiding eye contact with everyone. I was right next to them, and I wondered how this anxious dog would respond.
She went into a "down" and stayed put.
"I need to see her papers," said the staff member.
"I know my rights," said her owner, a young guy with stitches in his chin.
Soon this escalated into a call to the police, a few minutes of high tension, a physical encounter I couldn't quite see, the dramatic spill of a bottle of red gatorade, various angry words spoken and the departure of the brown and white dog with her person.
I have to admit my first thought in all that happened was for the dog. She was a good girl. In the midst of being challenged, her owner was opening his backpack to get her dinner out, a bag of Beneful.
One of my youth group members asked the question that really mattered, when we checked in to see how everyone was, to explain the underlying issues (the patron was intoxicated, and it probably wasn't the best strategy to use the dog to get him to leave; he put his hand near a police officer's face, and that's when things got worse). She asked what I want to know, too. "If you don't have anywhere else to get your dinner, what would you do with your dog?"
I'm glad I was able to say, because I heard the police officer say it, "The dog was not the issue."
Because she wasn't.
At the soup kitchen, the rules allow the person working the door to deny entry to people who are clearly high or drunk. But I know from many years of volunteering, and from discussions when I served on the board, that you or I might judge differently who is too out of it to come in, and who might just be better off sitting down to dinner. You or I might judge differently just what it means to be "beneful" on any given night.
‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40, NRSV)
I wonder if I will see them again. The soup kitchen is just a few blocks from Downtown High School, and I drive through the area often. I think I'm going to get a bag of Beneful and put it in the car, just in case.