Today I will provide a warning in an admonition I hope you will accept my correction in the healing spirit in which it is offered. I have a lot of friends and associates that rely on dogs — Service Animals, if you will — in order to live a more average life. These special dogs are raised by families as puppies and only the most dedicated and pure-of-heart dogs make it into a lifetime of service.
Some of these people who rely on these dogs for the daily routine of their lives are Blind or Deaf or they have Cerebral Palsy or Autism and the dogs become their eyes, their ears, their legs and their common sense.
The issue I am raising with you today is to ask you to respect the Duty of the Dog. If you are on the street or if you meet someone who is using a Service Dog, ignore the dog, and speak to the person.
Often people who are uncomfortable with a Disability will ignore the person and begin to engage the dog and that is dangerous for several reasons.
Do not pet a Service Dog. Do not ask to pet a Service Dog.
Respect the hard job of the Service Dog by ignoring the dog as an animal and realize the dog is engaged in a difficult job.
Don’t become part of that difficulty. A Service Dog knows it is on a job while in a harness. You may try to engage the dog and pet it and play with it but the dog is trained to ignore you and to only serve its master.
These dogs are trained to deal with traffic, recognize danger and serve as the first and last line of defense for a person who cannot provide for their own safety in the world. If you try to play with or pet a Service Dog — even if the dog is sleeping or sitting — you run the risk of confusing the dog while on duty.
These dogs know if they are in their service harness they have one personality and when that harness comes off they can play like a regular dog and express their real personality.
I have a Blind friend named George who knows the first instinct of every person he meets is to look away from him and pet his big, beautiful, black lab.
He listens for the sound of the stranger’s voice as is trails away from eye level to dog level and the moment he senses that shift in sound, he reaches down to his dog and places both arms over the dog and sharply says, “Please do not pet my dog. He’s working right now.”
Many people get offended — especially children — that George won’t let them pet his dog. If they are willing to listen, he’ll explain why petting a dog on duty is confusing to the dog.
George goes on to share stories of his dog at home at play. George says having his dog is like seeing again. “I can walk through the world as I used to walk when I was sighted.” Some Disabled people are not as strong as George to warn strangers off their dogs and some are not even aware of your petting and the cooing until it is too late.
If you happen to see someone petting a dog in service — remember, the clue the dog is on duty is the harness or the special bib markings — you might be able to help the person the dog is helping by stepping in and saying something positive like, “That dog is working right now.” Just remember a Service Dog knows its place and its duty. Know your place and duty.
You can enjoy looking at a beautiful dog in service, but pay that compliment to the owner and not to the dog. They’ll both appreciate your sensitivity and your uncommon understanding that they’re alone in the world together and fighting to maintain average.