No touch. No talk. No eye contact!

No touch. No talk. No eye contact.

I wouldn’t have noticed the dog if my wife hadn’t stepped into Sephora.

I chose to wait outside. I figured people-watching on Union Square would be more interesting than helping her pick out shades of lipstick and nail polish. Plus, the last time I tried to guess the ones that apparently worked best with her skin, I wasn’t close.

No brownie points there.

At first glance, it was just another guy walking his dog. But there was something unusual about the equation between the dog and the man. The dog looked young and nervous, glancing up at the man every so often, almost as if it was looking for his approval.

Then I noticed that the dog had a jacket that read “In training. No touch. No talk. No eye contact!”

It was a dog in training – a service dog, or a police dog, I presumed.

Union Square can get busy. Tourists abound as they wait in line to catch the famous Cable Car ride – the San Francisco experience. As the two employees went through the motions of manually pushing and turning the cable car around, I realized that automating the turnaround certainly would make it more efficient. But, the whole drama would be lost.

As sporadic clapping erupted, I looked at the dog. It seemed to handle the crowd well albeit in a nervous sort of way. When another random dog came sniffing, it seemed to waiver for a second, but some secret command or a tug on its leash – not visible to me – seemed to get it back on track.

The trainer appeared no less focused than the dog. Watching the dog and its every reaction and yet trying to look casual, like any other man with a dog.

He walked the dog closer to the rail that kept passersby away from the cable car lines.  A flock of pigeons merrily pecked away at food debris left by tourists. The dog’s ears perked up. Once again it seemed fidgety and on the verge of losing its composure. You could tell it desperately wanted to chase the birds. Clearly, the dog was being tested for its ability to handle distractions. On some unseen cue the dog stood up on its hind legs with its paws on the rail and calmly watched the birds. As the pigeons jostled each other for food, the dog looked at the trainer for approval.

In my books, the dog passed the test.

Self-control. Discipline. Toe the line. Obey orders. The dog had displayed it all.

As I walked away, I felt bad for the dog. I wondered what it did for fun. Did it ever get to play fetch with its trainer? Or, was that only for pet dogs?

In a weird sort of way, I could relate to the dog – always being taught to behave, to be disciplined, to be good.

“And lead us not into temptation…” I didn’t have to grow up Christian to remember the Lord’s Prayer from my boarding school days.

And yet, occasionally fallible as we all are, forgetting to behave.

Unlike the dog.

Which makes me wonder – what about all those people who don’t follow rules or blatantly break them? Like the ones who park their cars in spots designated for disabled people, or the ones that cut you off on the road, or squeeze into the exit lane at the last minute ignoring all the folks who patiently followed the rules and stayed in line for over thirty minutes?

What about the ones who get ahead by being rude and obnoxious – the squeaky wheels? The ones who drive their personal agendas? What were they taught?

And then the bigger question: What should we inculcate in our children? To be compassionate, caring, and altruistic?

Or, to look out for number one?

Perhaps there is a middle ground…

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