Most people know by now what to do when they see a service dog–leave it be. Service dogs have important jobs to do, and petting, talking, or otherwise trying to get their attention will distract them from whatever service they’re trained to perform. But what happens when a service dog approaches you without their handler? Some people assume the dog is neglecting their duties by wandering away from their handler, and other people that don’t like dogs get annoyed by a service animal’s attention. One woman’s story is setting the record straight about the right way to react.
Over the weekend, a PSA post about service dogs started circulating the internet. Twenty-year-old Tessa Connaughton turned to Tumblr to share an experience she had with her service dog named Raider. It was eventually passed around Twitter where it got even more attention.
Tessa first got Raider two and a half years ago to help with her autism. When she was later diagnosed with epilepsy, she started training him to help during her seizures. One day when out shopping, Tessa tripped and fell down. She was unharmed, but one of the tasks she trained Raider to do is run off and find an adult when she has a seizure. When Raider saw his owner fall to the ground, he assumed she was having a seizure. He ran off to do exactly what he was trained to do.
Tessa’s Twitter Plea
SERVICE DOG PSA
So today I tripped. Fell flat on my face, it was awful but ultimately harmless. My service dog, however, is trained to go get an adult if I have a seizure, and he assumed this was a seizure (were training him to do more to care for me, but we didn’t learn I had epilepsy until a year after we got him)
I went after him after I had dusten off my jeans and my ego, and I found him trying to get the attention of a very annoyed woman. She was swatting him away and telling him to go away. So I feel like I need to make this heads up
If a service dog without a person approaches you, it means the person is down and in need of help
Don’t get scared, don’t get annoyed, follow the dog! If it had been an emergency situation, I could have vomited and choked, I could have hit my head, I could have had so many things happen to me. We’re going to update his training so if the first person doesn’t cooperate, he moves on, but seriously guys. If what’s-his-face could understand that lassie wanted him to go to the well, you can figure out that a dog in a vest proclaiming it a service dog wants you to follow him.
— Melissa Hope (@lissalet) June 16, 2018
Raider found a woman nearby and tried to get her attention. Not understanding the dog’s intentions, the woman quickly got annoyed. She tried swatting the dog and telling him to go away. It was at this point that Tessa picked herself up and tracked down her service dog. She assured Raider she was okay, and the pair quickly left the annoyed woman alone. But after the incident was over, Tessa started thinking about what would have happened if she was actually in trouble and needed human help.
She decided to share her experience in hopes of helping other people in real emergency situations. She explained that many service dogs are trained to leave their handlers’ sides to look for emergency help. In many cases, it’s a life or death situation, and how a person responds to the dog is extremely important.
Tessa wrote in her post that instead of ignoring or getting annoyed at the dog, the right thing to do is follow them. She wrote,
“If what’s-his-face could understand that Lassie wanted him to go to the well, you can figure out that a dog in a vest proclaiming it’s a service dog wants you to follow him.”
Since it first caught people’s attention, Tessa’s message has been shared on Twitter over 160,000 times. It started a conversation that revealed a lot of people, even people who like dogs, wouldn’t know what to do if they encountered a service dog with no one on the other end of their leash.
Do you know what to do if a service dog approaches you without a person?
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) June 19, 2018
The Today show also looked into the issue and talked to a dog trainer about service animals that are trained to seek out human help. She said that while a service is dog is trained to never jump or bark, they’ll try getting a person’s attention by nudging them with their nose. When they do that, they’re not looking for any kind of specific cue from the person, their intention is to get the person to follow them. If this happens to you, remember Tessa’s story and follow that service dog to wherever it’s trying to take you. You could end up helping someone in serious need.
Featured image via Flickr/DoD News