If you love animals, dogs particularly, it can be hard to pass one without stopping momentarily to praise it or love on it. It’s just in your nature. But if you see one wearing a service vest or harness, you really should do everything in your power to squelch the urge and go on about your business. The reason being is that service dogs — which come in all shapes and sizes — are working dogs that need to be hyper-vigilant of their owner’s needs.
The jobs they perform keep their masters safe from all manner of hazards, and distracting them from their duties could result in an accident or injury you would never want on your conscience. For instance, guide dogs for the blind or deaf need to stay aware at all times, but other animals’ duties may not be as obvious to those on the outside looking in.
Medical Alert Canines
And, yes, service dogs are selected for their ability to remain focused and that ability is developed further through their training. The problem is, they can still be distracted by well-meaning individuals. One case that always comes to mind is that of a young woman by the name of Hailey Ashmore.
Back in 2015, Hailey suffered from frequent episodes of epilepsy. Her assistance animal, Flynn, was able to give her and her parents a heads-up when an episode was on its way. This can usually provide Hailey with approximately 10 minutes to get herself situated and in a safer position before it strikes.
Once, while visiting her dad at work, a coworker unwittingly distracted Flynn by petting him, causing the young medical-alert dog to miss the subtle cues he’d normally sense had he been paying full attention. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to alert his mistress in time, and she ended up crashing to the floor.
The result was rug burns all over her face. It could have been a lot worse, though. For instance, she could have cracked her skull or hit and broken anything on her body on the way down. It’s a perfect example of why it’s so important to allow a service dog to do its job without distraction.
Again, from the outside it can be impossible to know why someone has an assistance animal or how it helps them, but we should always assume it’s something important. Two things you shouldn’t do is ask someone why they have the animal because it’s really none of your business, and never, ever just reach out and pet the dog or try to get its attention.
If you feel absolutely compelled, ask about petting or giving a working dog attention first. Chances are you’ll politely be asked not to, so don’t take it personally. Just accept that it’s in the animal and the owner’s best interest and leave it at that. Remember, above all else, they are a working team, and the animal is essentially an extension of that person.
Respecting their boundaries may ultimately end up saving them from harm or, worse yet, from death. So, the next time you see a working dog working, let them do their job.
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