It was so hot. We had stopped at one of the rest stops on I90 for a bathroom break and to restock our cold drinks. Joe had assembled the chair and then we headed in. After 'resting' at the stop we did a bit of shopping. I was bored in the line up so I told Joe I'd head back out to the car on my own. We checked to see who had the money to pay, I did so I passed it to him and then headed for the door.
They have automatic door openers that are well placed, easy to reach and that work so I was easily able to leave the building. As I rounded the corner I heard a dog begin to bark excitedly. We've had dogs for much of our lives and it is easy to tell the 'stay away or I'll bite you' bark from the 'hey, I'm excited give me a cookie' bark. Of course there are ranges in between, this was clearly one of the happy barks.
I love the ramps down from sidewalk to curb when the curb ends and the parking lot begins without a huge lip. This was a smooth transition and I let the car go and roll quickly down, using my gloved hands as breaks. The dog, barking, was looking straight at me with his front paws dancing.
He was in a chair. That's right a doggy wheelchair. Again, I'd seen them on television and in movies but never in real life. I'm not shy about this stuff so I wheeled on over. The dog, Ralphie as I came to know him, was bouncing now. The owners were smiling broadly at me. I asked them if it would be OK to pet their dog, they joked, "We were going to beg you to, it's the only thing that will shut him up now."
We talked a little bit and they told me that Ralphie goes nuts whenever he sees somebody in a wheelchair, "sometimes even a walker" they said. "he seems to think you're all one breed." Ralph wasn't really a dog of distinction and they confirmed my suspicion that he was just a mutt. He'd been hit by a car a few years earlier, they explained, and they had two options. Death or disability. The operation was costly but worth it. Ralphie adapted to the chair and while there are some considerations for toileting (I didn't ask) there was not much difference.
Now I'm sitting chatting with them and Ralphie has pulled his chair up beside mine and has rested his chin in my lap and is going into a trance while I pet his head. I know how to pet dogs, I miss petting dogs, this now is as much for me as him.
Joe comes out of the rest stop and sees us. He told me later that he couldn't believe his eyes. And came over to join us. We could have all talked forever but we had a long drive yet ahead of us. I bid farewell to Ralphie as we headed back to the car. He whined slightly.
I turned to them and asked what that was about, his excitement at the wheelchair and his obvious slight upset that I was leaving.
"I don't know," she said, "Sometimes he feels alone, even with us, I think."
Ralphie understands, in his doggy mind, about isolation even amongst those who love us. He understands the need for moments of community. I think this is the way we are all growing as disabled people. What we are beginning to understand. That as different as we are from one another, we are still all one breed.