Dr. Amy Kavanagh has been visually impaired her whole life, but she only started working with her guide dog named Ava recently. Ava makes getting around much easier for Kavanagh, but like all service dogs, distractions make her job much harder. Strangers try to pet Ava daily, no matter what Kavanagh says.
Many people get offended when they’re told they can’t pet a service dog. Kavanagh recalls that some individuals have even displayed abusive behaviors in response. Yet, some distractions have put Kavanagh’s life at risk, so she shares the horror stories to help teach others.
Can’t Take No for an Answer
While guide dogs are adorable like any other dog, Kavanagh reminds everyone not to pet them while they’re working. She recalls one incident where a random man at a cafe yelled at her because she politely asked him not to pet her guide dog.
“I’ve had instances of people becoming very abusive when I’ve politely said no, they can’t pet her. One man in a cafe screamed in my face because I asked him to stop touching Ava,” Kavanagh said.
Almost every time Kavanagh goes in public with Ava, someone distracts the dog. Many people will pet her or call to her, which can be confusing while she’s working. Distractions can make Ava’s body language change, which can be overwhelming and frightening for Kavanagh. In extreme cases, it could even put lives at risk.
“I had a woman pet her earlier this week just as Ava was showing me where the gap was at a train platform. That is the real risk and not to sound dramatic but we could die. She could be stopping me walking out in front of cars or falling down the stairs,” Kavanagh explained.
A Guide Dog’s Point of View
When told not to pet a service dog, most people don’t see the severity of the situation. So, Kavanagh put a camera on Ava to record a short video from the pup’s point of view. In the video, several people pet her or distract her while she’s trying to work, which makes her hesitate sometimes. Kavanagh hopes the video will encourage more people to take service dogs seriously.
According to a study from Guide Dogs UK, 71% of guide dog owners say their dogs are distracted by people at least once a day. 28% of people surveyed admitted that they’ve stopped to pet a guide dog while they were working, and 40% have attempted to do so. 9% even went as far as to feed the guide dog.
“It’s a bit entitled because really they’re putting their want to play with a dog above my boundaries,” Kavanagh said.
Ava is a busy, dedicated dog, but Kavanagh never overworks her. She said her companion usually only works for three hours at a time. At home, Ava gets toys, treats, and cuddles. Kavanagh will even bring her cane on walks around the neighborhood so Ava can explore and play. So, she gets to live the life of a normal dog, but when she’s working, she needs people to let her focus at all times. Kavanagh hopes that her stories will help more people understand this.