Up in the air

This was a moment captured last week. Just us two gals getting ourselves sorted out for the usual morning shenanigans.  It should come as no surprise that Khailee comprises a huge part of my day-to-day life. The endless stories, photos and love for her I share in person and online has probably tipped you off. Even still –  make no mistake – I know she is a dog.

I like dogs. Obviously. And although I am perfectly aware that not everyone feels as I do, I respect that others do not wish to be bothered with my puppy love. (However, if you are reading this blog then you agree to subject yourself to it.)  I genuinely enjoy the perks of living in a civilized society. (Even though it isn’t always civilized.) As much as I am happy to disregard all sorts of unwritten norms that often only serve to prevent me as an individual from achieving greatness, I do adhere to the policies and rules that we have all (in some way or another) signed onto in an effort to live happily, freely and in harmony with one another.

So I pick up after my dog outside. I walk her on leash and guide her to stick to her side of the sidewalk or pathway. I teach her boundaries when interacting with humans of all ages and backgrounds. I  create a positive, disciplined home environment so that she can learn the “dog rules” of living in a human world.  And I act as her steward – toward a life filled with dignity and joy.

It was a late Friday evening when Khailee and I set out on our journey up in the air. Our second trip together was certain to be smooth-sailing. Khailee and I showed up. We did our part. What we didn’t realize is that by virtue of our very existence (i.e. dog and dog owner) we would come face-to-face with an antagonistic company culture.

Everything went swimmingly up until the gate. Since this wasn’t our first time, we knew the drill. We waited in line. Checked in. Headed outside for a quick pee. Got in line for security. Passed with flying colours. Picked up some water for our plane ride and headed to the gate. For most of this Khailee was being carried by me. On the way to the gate, my hands were a little full so I walked her on leash so that I could get her and I organized for boarding.  All eyes were on her. She strutted with her sweet red polka dot bow. Happy as can be and perfectly behaved. Everyone smiled or cooed at the sight of her. All except one.  Before I could get to the gate to put her in her carrier, I was chastised by Air Canada personnel. Relentlessly. (Lady, I got it the first time and acknowledged your request so do yourself a favour and shut-up.) I wanted to tell the woman that passengers were far more likely to be allergic to her (and her attitude) than my hypoallergenic dog. I didn’t say that because I’m “civilized” but getting harassed left me exasperated.

Like many other creatures – humans included – dogs feed off of energy. Good or bad. So I shifted gears mentally, exhaled a few times and moved on. After Khailee was in her carrier, I assumed we would waltz on the plane and be on our way. Fifteen minutes to take off and we were still not called for boarding. Once we got on the plane, I was told by two separate flight attendants the “rules”. “The dog must go under the seat.” “You can’t take her out of her carrier.”  This was all completely unnecessary. Was the dog outside of her carrier? Was she not under the seat? Sheesh. They kept us waiting for 30 minutes on the plane with no air circulating and my pup overheating under the stupid seat and their greatest concern was that I not take her out?

When you walk into a restaurant is the first thing you hear out of the hostess’ mouth: “Our policy is that you will not be served unless you are wearing a shirt and shoes”? What if that was the first statement you were greeted with? Furthermore, what if you were fully dressed and wearing shoes? Would it seem weird? Would you wonder what kind of assumptions are being made about you? Does it seem reasonable to assume that at some point during your meal there would be a risk that you might kick off your shoes and take off your shirt? I don’t think so.

I was really struck by how obsessed the crew was with “rule breaking” and the so-called comfort of other passengers. On top of being a paying customer like all other passengers, I paid an additional fee to have Khailee travel with me in cabin. They were doing me no favours. I paid for this service. And that service was delivered but I got harassed in the process.  So I couldn’t help but wonder what has contributed to this. These attitudes and behaviours  that have led to treating a dog like a piece of carry-on luggage – with no concern for the welfare of the animal and only where she would be stowed – stem from assumptions about dog owners and/or dogs. Those assumptions then influence behaviour.  And behaviours exhibited by individuals in a collective (i.e. a company or community) over and over again without correction or comment then become accepted norms. But what does it take to go from a culture of enforcing rules to one in which you harass rule-abiding folks?

Beyond my curiosity, I have a new approach which I will attempt on my flight back. It will be an experiment – the results of which I will share next week.  In the meantime, I am in Winnipeg to wrap up work on a community consultation and enjoy a much-deserved change of scenery.

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