What is the first thing you do when you see a dog?
How about an assistance dog?
If your answer to both questions was run over and pet the dog with reckless abandon, there’s a chance you may be causing more harm than help in approaching dogs on the street.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.
To put it simply, service animals are working animals, not pets. A service dog is a dog with a job. As Guide Dogs of America reports, the exact job the dog performs depends entirely on the disability they have been trained to assist with.
- Assistance dogs help the visually impaired by guiding them through crowds, around obstacles and stop at stairs and crossings2.
- Dogs assist people in wheelchairs by helping them pull the wheelchair up a ramp, press a button on automatic doors, pick up dropped items and even bring objects that may be otherwise out of reach to their owner2.
- Assistance dogs help people with epilepsy by sensing when a seizure will occur and alerting their handler.2.
- Dogs assist veterans with PTSD by nudging, bringing medication or even circling the owner in a crowded area to create personal space2.
Daily Paws recommends trying to contain your excitement when you see a dog walk by, so you don’t interfere with their work.
“While service dogs may be well-trained to tune out distractions, it can still make it hard for them to concentrate if you are trying to get their attention through noise, gestures, or by reaching out to touch them,” Daily Paws reports.
Service dogs and their handlers work as an equal team. If you want to speak or communicate with the dog, it’s appropriate to approach the owner first.
Once you’ve asked to pet the dog, if the handler still says ‘no,’ don’t be offended. Service dogs are just as important to a disabled person as a wheelchair or cane, even if the job they are performing is not obvious to you.
As the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc. reports, you should not give the dog commands. Always allow the handler to do so unless they give permission.
Since the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not mandate that service dogs need to wear special harnesses or even carry identification, it’s best to assume that every dog you meet is a service dog unless the owner states otherwise.
Taking the Assistance Dog Pledge will go a long way to helping these animals perform the crucial duties they were trained for. Sign the pledge below and take a stand for Assistance Dogs!
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