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10 Things People With Service Dogs Want You To Know

Most people have only the vaguest idea of the powerful connection between a service dog and its handler. They don’t realize how distracting and potentially dangerous it can be to interfere with that relationship.

As dog lovers, it is difficult to resist the urge to run up and pet every furry cutie we encounter, but when it comes to service dogs, they are more than just pets, they are their handlers’ lifelines.

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People with service dogs wish every member of the public knew and understood these 10 things:

1. Their dogs are working – even if it doesn’t appear that way.

 

 

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Service animals are meticulously trained to assist their handlers with a variety of tasks, as well as monitor and aniticipate their individual needs. It may seem that a dog is just “hanging out,” but chances are they are concentrating on their vital work.  It is best to politely ignore them – that includes kissy noises, whistling and baby talk! – unless the handler invites you to interact with their dog.

Think about it this way: it would be hard to perform your own job duties with constant distractions, wouldn’t it?

2. They don’t always have time to stop and chat.

 


Just like you, service dog handlers have busy schedules and errands to run. If they had to stop and answer questions about their dogs’ job, purpose, name, breed, age, training, etc. every time someone expressed interest, they’d never get anything done! Chances are, you have the best of intentions and are genuinely interested in these fascinating animals, but so are dozens of other people every day!

3. Their medical histories are private.

 

 

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While it is perfectly natural to be curious about the tasks a dog performs for its handler, these questions can put people with service animals in an uncomfortable position. Their diagnosis and personal medical history are their own private business, and they may not want to discuss them with a stranger. Even if you cannot readily tell what their disability may be, it is very rude – and in some cases, illegal – to inquire or make accusations.

4. Not all service dogs are the same.

 

Service dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds, and perform a wide variety of tasks. Labs and Golden Retrievers may be the “poster kids” for aiding people with disabilities, but it is personality, not breed, that determines a dog’s success or failure. A purebred may be cut from a service program, while a former shelter mutt might excel at the same work.

Guide dogs for the blind are the most recognizable type of service dog, but there are also psychiatric service dogs, diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, and many others. The only time that size matters is when it comes to mobility assistance dogs that actually use their size and strength to support their handlers.

5. Their dogs are loved deeply.

 

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Just because service dogs have a job to do rather than a life of leisure doesn’t mean you should feel sorry for them! In fact, most dogs chosen for service absolutely love what they do and are far too energetic for life as an average pet. Aside from enjoying their work, service dogs are deeply loved by their handlers and families. They get treats, cuddles, play time, and all the creature comforts that their non-working cousins enjoy, plus a level of gratitude from their humans most of us could never begin to understand.

6. Distracting their dogs – even for a moment – can be deadly.

 

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In 2015, this issue made headlines when a stranger insisted on petting a young lady’s service dog – despite requests that she stop – resulting in the distracted dog failing to alert its handler of an impending seizure. Luckily the girl suffered only minor injuries, but the situation served as a sobering reminder of just how dangerous interfering with a working dog can be.

7. Their dogs are important pieces of medical equipment.

 

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Most of us know better than to snatch someone’s cane or play with their wheelchair, but when it comes to service dogs, we find it hard to see them for what they are: vital and expensive pieces of medical equipment. Yes, they are so much more than that (see #5), but while they are working, they are just as essential to their handlers as any other life-saving medical device.

8. Their rights are protected by law.

 

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United States federal law states that service dogs are to be permitted in any public place. This includes, restaurants, grocery stores and small businesses – even if the owner does not allow dogs in their establishment. Also, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing act ensure that people with service dogs have access to quality housing despite pet policies and breed restrictions.

Emotional support, therapy, comfort, and companion animals are NOT covered by the ADA.

9. Fake service dogs are offensive and damaging to legitimate service dog teams.

 

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There is currently no official service dog registry, and service animals are not required to have special equipment or documentation. Every time someone decides to pass their unqualified, poorly trained pup off as a service animal, it undermines the real canine heroes and gives the public a poor image of the entire industry.

10. They would rather not have service dogs.

 

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People with service dogs respect and adore their animals, but given the choice, they would prefer not to rely on them. Keep this in mind before you make well-meaning comments like “I wish I had a service dog.”

 

H/T to AnythingPawsable & The Mighty

Featured Image via Flickr/Lisa Norwood

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Written by Dina Fantegrossi
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