As the day to honour the sacrifices of veterans and those who have died in the line of duty approaches, one Corner Brook veteran has been feeling like his contribution has meant nothing.
Mike Rude served a total of 28 ½ years with the Canadian Forces army and the reserves with the Canadian Rangers before retiring in 2016.
He has PTSD and for almost a year now has had a service dog that has made a big difference in his day-to-day life.
“If I go without her, I almost feel, not lost, but it seems like something is not right,” he said as Spark, a two-year-old Belgian Malinois, lay at his feet in the boardroom at The Western Star.
“I go everywhere with her.”
Last Sunday, Rude and Spark went to the Valley Mall. They’d been there before, without issue, but on that day a mall employee told him that pets were not allowed in the shopping centre.
Rude replied that Spark was not a pet and was a service dog.
The man asked for proof. So Rude showed him a copy of the certificate he carries from Baden K-9 Incorporated identifying him as the handler of a service dog. That wasn’t enough, so Rude showed the man his driver’s licence.
But the man still said he had to leave.
Rude then volunteered that he is a veteran and details of his disability.
But the man, who Rude said was less than polite, still told him to go.
He did, but went back to ask the man’s name, but was refused.
So upset by the encounter, Rude went to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, but was told there was nothing they could do because it wasn’t a criminal matter.
Rude went back to the mall later in the day with his wife, Elaine Kearney, and the same employee called out to say he’d already told him he couldn’t be there.
This time, Kearney let the man know they were not leaving and that the dog could be in the building.
Before leaving, she tried to approach him again to explain things, but felt the man was not willing to hear what she had to say or understand the purpose of the dog, and was very disrespectful.
“You can not understand and still be polite and still be respectful,” she said.
“It’s OK not to have knowledge, but it’s not OK to be ignorant.”
It’s not the first time Rude has encountered some questions or inappropriate behaviour by others when it comes to Spark and their understanding of what a service dog is, but this incident hit him hard.
“Sometimes it’s pretty hard to get out of the house,” he said, his voice wavering.
“Not always can I handle a crowd, or not always do I want to go out.
“For the amount of times that I am able to go out, then when I have someone stop me …,” he said, stopping without finishing his thought.
He’s speaking out because he wants people to be more knowledgeable and to be more understanding. There’s no national standard when it comes to service dogs or the vests they wear. Spark’s vest, made out a pair of camouflage pants Rude wore in Afghanistan, identified her as a working dog that day.
Service dogs are also used for all types of conditions, and they are supposed to be allowed anywhere their handlers go.
Kearney has had conversations with the mall manager about the incident, and said the woman sounded sincere and apologetic but Rude and Kearney would like the employee to apologize, Kearney said.
The Western Star contacted the management at the mall for comment, but received no response.