A companion, an assistant, a life line, a Service Dog!
As I walk down the aisles of Walmart, people stare. As I walk into the grocery store, children surround me. When I walk down the street, I hear a shriek “awww can I pet him!” I am a Service Dog, my handler and I need respect!
A Service Dog is an assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities, such as visual impairments, hearing impairments, psychiatric disorders, seizure disorders, mobility impairments, and diabetes. A Service Dog can be any breed or mix of breeds, but must be in good health, have the right temperament, and be trained to perform a task(s) for its handler directly related to the handler’s disability. A handler may train his or her own puppy/dog, have a professional trainer train their puppy/dog, or buy an already trained dog. Five examples of tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a handler who is having a seizure, calming a handler with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, and/or performing other tacks. Their job is so very important and to learn more about Service Dog’s jobs click here.
What many people don’t know or understand is that a Service Dog is not a pet! They are companions, but they are not pets. They have a job and it’s to assist and help manage the well-being of their handler. That is why they are allowed in airports, malls, and other public areas. If their vest is on then they are working! No talk, no touch, no eye contact, it’s a life saving matter! Now all service dogs are not the same and are not trained the same. If you know the handler and know the dog then you know what is and isn’t acceptable to the handler, but when you don’t know the handler or the dog then you MUST abide by this courtesy rule.
What does no talk, no touch, no eye contact mean?
- NO “can I pet your dog?”
- NO saying “ohhh look at that dog” or “awww, your puppy is soooo cute!” especially in a high-pitched tone!
- NO eye contact
- NO action in the attempt to get the dog’s attention whatsoever
Well, why not? Their dog IS sooooo cute! The simple answer is, the dog is there to keep their handler safe and they can’t do that if you distract them. I can not emphasize this enough! When the dog is distracted they are not paying attention to their job; therefore, their handler could very easily miss an alert, have an episode, get disoriented, or seriously hurt. If you distract the Service Dog and the handler gets hurt, it is your fault. Of course, Service Dogs are trained to ignore these types of distractions, but they are still dogs and it comes off as rude and inconsiderate to the handler.
So what should you do when you encounter or approach a Service Dog and it’s handler? You should simply ignore the dog completely and interact with the handler as you would any other person. When you see a service dog and their handler just out and about don’t stare. Staring is rude and can offend the handler even if you are just “checking out” their dog. Remember not all disabilities are visible. Now if you really feel the need to comment on the dog, the best approach is to directly talk to the handler in a calm, normal toned voice. You can say something like, “your dog is really cute” but remember you MUST ignore the dog so you do not distract it.
Also asking in detail about the disability of the handler and/or what all their dog can do is so inappropriate and against the law! Department of Justice has issued ADA regulations to protect Service Dogs and their handlers as well as businesses owners. A person or a business may ONLY ask two questions 1. Is this animal required because of a disability? (NOT “what is your disability?” or “are you disabled?”) and 2. What work or task has this animal been trained to perform? This is to protect the handler’s medical privacy and allow the access of the Service Dog. To protect a person or a business, they may ask a handler to remove a Service Dog from the premises if: 1. The Service Dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it (growling, whining, barking, wandering, jumping, or any other rude behavior) or 2. The Service Dog is not housebroken.
You can find out more about the 4 main Federal Service Dog Laws, the American Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), by clicking on these links.
I hope this post shines some light on the awareness of Service Dogs and how they play such an important part in so many lives. In a later post I will be talking about how much Rocco has changed my life and what his role in my life is. Please share so others can learn how to respect and understand the life saving job of a Service Dog.