LGBT community is not alone

April 3, 2015 • Posted in blindness, guide dogs, politics, Seeing Eye dogs, travel, Uncategorized, Whitney by

A cab driver who picked my Seeing Eye dog and me up once had such a heavy accent that I couldn’t tell what he was saying. “Dog face on floor,” he demanded. “Saliva.” He repeated that word a few times to help me understand. “Saliva. Saliva. Saliva.” Was it his mantra?

That's Floey and Ray with Great Aunt Beth at the Indianapolis zoo. We didn't catch the elephant's name.

That’s Floey and Ray with Great Aunt Beth at the Indianapolis zoo. We didn’t catch the elephant’s name.

My face must have betrayed my confusion, because the driver went on to explain that he was Muslim, and in his religion dog saliva is impure. “Dog mouth is near me, seven times I must wash.”

The driver understood that United States law required him to pick up people with disabilities who use service dogs, he just wanted me to keep my dog’s face on the ground, far from him. Whitney wasn’t crazy about the idea, but I appreciated him explaining this to me, and I’ve long believed that reasonable accommodation goes both ways. I commanded “Down!” Whitney laid at my feet, and I placed my hand on her head to keep her there.

Once home, I looked this dog saliva thing up, and sure enough, the ruling comes from the hadith:

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “If a dog licks the vessel of any one of you, let him throw away whatever was in it and wash it seven times.”

That cab ride came to mind again last week after Indiana’s divisive Religious Freedom Restoration Act made news. If the Governor signed it the way it was originally worded, I wondered if Muslim cab drivers in Indiana would have the right to refuse people with disabilities who used service dogs.

As it happened, my niece Janet invited me to join her and her two youngest kids on a Spring Break road trip to Indianapolis last week, so we were there the very day the Indiana governor signed the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Nine-year-old Floey loves to practice her sighted-guide skills with Great Aunt Beth, and 6-year-old Ray never tires of folding and unfolding Great Aunt Beth’s white cane, so Whitney got a Spring Break, too: she stayed at home and played with my husband Mike while I was gone . I didn’t hear about the new amended law until I got back home — sounds like if Whitney comes along the next time I head to Indiana, the law is still on our side.

Mary Rayis On April 4, 2015 at 8:19 am

Beth, I found your post so interesting. I also never heard of that aspect of Islamic practice. Yet I couldn’t help but think of the Pharisees in the Bible, who were so intent upon following the letter of the law that they had stopped following its spirit. I feel this way about many of the dietary, dress, and other strictures of various religions. Whether it’s wearing the hijab or abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent or refusing to eat pork and shellfish, these practices are meant to keep us grounded in our faith. But a reasonable person can surely realize that there may be times when it is difficult, if not impossible, to follow such practices. If your driver had just stopped to think about you and Whitney and the difficulties you face every day due to your disability, maybe his insistence on keeping away from Whitney’s saliva would have diminished. I am all for respecting people’s religious beliefs and practices, but not when it comes at the expense of common decency to other people.

bethfinke On April 4, 2015 at 11:56 am

What a thoughtful comment –I appreciate you taking the time to formulate your opinion and write it here so eloquently, Mary. One thing I left out of this post was the fact that many cab drivers won’t even let us in the cab, sometimes for religious reasons, sometimes for fear of dogs, sometimes they don’t want to “dirty” their cab — a few weeks ago I had to report a cab driver to the city when he said he wouldn’t let Whitney in the cab because he “didn’t have rubber floor mats.” I gave the cab driver I wrote about in this post the benefit of the doubt because he at least let us in and explained the religious reason that makes so many cab drivers here hesitant. We are taught at the Seeing Eye to have our dogs stay down in the back of cabs, so it wasn’t that difficult to do, I just had to keep my hand there so Whitney wouldn’t lift her head when he stopped at lights and such — she often does that, anticipating we are at our destination. All to say I wasn’t miffed at this cab driver, I actually appreciated him explaining a bit of his religion to me (like you, I had never heard ff the saliva rule before then, either) and if he was willing to accommodate me, I was willing to accommodate him.


Monna Ray On April 4, 2015 at 10:06 am

Happy Easter, Beth and Mike. Monna

bethfinke On April 4, 2015 at 11:57 am

Perfect comment to a post about religion — happy Easter to you, too, Monna. Blessed Passover to those of you celebrating that as well.


Janet On April 4, 2015 at 6:20 pm

It was pretty interesting to observe the people in the state, in the thick of things. Didn’t witness, or hear of anything inappropriate. Seems like the ‘Oh my God, these people in Indiana are sooo nice’ might just be patiently waiting this out. Hope so!

bethfinke On April 5, 2015 at 10:02 am

Yeah, and when I did bring the controversy up with one of those nice Indiana people, they said, “Oh, it’s so embarrassing.” Maybe it was a case where a minority was getting all the attention in the news.


Nancy B On April 4, 2015 at 8:47 pm

Very interesting. I knew that many Muslims find dogs abhorrent but I didn’t know why. I know of at least one MD who wouldn’t see anyone with a service dog; perhaps this was why. At least your driver shared the rationale with you ….always good to promote understanding…..but I have a hard time understanding it! I guess when you don’t have anything like that yourself, i.e. lent, avoidance of foods, etc it seems so random or easily ignored for the sake of kindness or consideration. As long as people keep Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin away I guess I’m OK…….great post.

bethfinke On April 5, 2015 at 10:42 am

Thanks, Nancy. I kind of liked the way it worked out with this cab driver

Benita On April 5, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Very interesting post, Beth. It occurred to me that if “taxi driver” Henry, who is allergic to the protein in dog and cat saliva, were to refuse you a ride on those grounds, he would be breaking the law. Darn good thing he decided to be a cardiologist instead.
Miss you a lot.

bethfinke On April 6, 2015 at 10:50 am

Well, yes. it’s a darn Good thing Henry became a cardiologist instead of a taxi driver, but that has less to do with cab rides and more to do with the tens of thousands of lives he’s buoyed thanks to his work. Miss you tons, too –love to the doc.


Benita On April 6, 2015 at 3:13 pm

What a sweet thing to say. Henry is very touched.

bethfinke On April 7, 2015 at 10:38 am

The best part: it’s true.


ojdoherty On April 8, 2015 at 9:13 am

Nice of him to explain his religion to you. I hate when you get a driver who obviously doesn’t like dogs, probably due to their religion, who

bethfinke On April 8, 2015 at 9:53 am

Sounds like your comment got cut off, but I get your gist. Thank you for pointing this out –not sure I made it clear in my post, but I really did want to get the point across that it was very important that he explained *why* it was he didn’t want the dog near him. That explanation made it easier for me to accommodate him. Like I said, “reasonable accommodation” goes both ways. Oh, and just fyi in case that wording isn’t used in Ireland — “reasonable accommodation” is a phrase used in disability laws here in the United States. Thanks for commenting, Jen!


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