The call crackled over police radios in the First Precinct just after 2 p.m. on Wednesday: a dispute at a deli in TriBeCa – dog involved.
A squad car responded to the location, the Tribeca Deli on Greenwich Street, witnesses said, as did a smaller single-person police vehicle and an ambulance, possibly because there had been a report that a blind woman was involved.
Outside the deli, officers spoke with a woman, who stood with her dog. She wanted to get a turkey sandwich with mustard on whole wheat. And she wanted to take the dog inside with her.
“It was busy time,” said one worker, Jose Santos, who staffed the sandwich stand in back of the deli with two other workers.
Mr. Santos did not see the woman or her dog, he said, but he registered a commotion in the front of the store. He said choice words could be heard, though he declined to elaborate on which ones.
Up front, the cashiers were mum. “No comment,” one said.
“I just get here; I don’t know what happened,” said another, but noted the rule: “No dog. No dog in the store.”
Mr. Santos said the cashiers up front had asked the woman to wait outside with her dog as the men in back made her sandwich. That was apparently not a good solution. The police were summoned.
A Police Department spokesman said there was no record of any incident at that location, adding that police officers talk to people on the street all day long and do not record every interaction.
Yet 30 minutes after the radio call, a wolf pack of reporters arrived, chasing a story of a service dog and a blind woman denied entry to a deli in one of the tonier sections downtown.
Inside the deli, a picture of a St. Bernard — a beverage bottle in place of a barrel around its neck – greeted entering customers.
But the woman and her dog had already left, as had the police.
Carlos Gutierrez, a chauffeur to a Hollywood celebrity, said he saw the commotion from his black Cadillac Escalade parked across the street. “She didn’t seem like she was blind,” he said. “It was just one lady talking to three cops.”
Service animals — anything from a dog to a hedgehog — assist owners with a variety of disabilities besides blindness and are permitted to enter stores that sell food, per the city health department [pdf]. Such “food service operators” may not demand to see proof of an owner’s disability or identification for the animal.
One door down from the deli, at a Duane Reade drugstore, a cashier said people regularly try to bring their dogs inside. “If it’s a small dog, I tell them to carry it; if it’s a big dog, I tell them to leave it outside,” he said. “Because customers complain when they sniff the candy.”
An assistant manager chimed in: “In Manhattan, some people treat their dogs like kids.” Both employees declined to give their names, not wanting to be drawn into any fluffy kerfuffle.