The general public rarely has the opportunity to interact with service dogs. There are thousands of service dogs working throughout the United States. Most people don’t know how to interact with them. I’m going to explain why Crush and I need space in public. In addition, I will talk about why in general you shouldn’t interact with service dogs when they are working.
Crush is with me in public to do a job. He is my lifeline. When my blood pressure or heart rate gets too low, he alerts me. When I’m starting to itch the precursor to a life-threatening allergy attack, he alerts me. His job in public to help me get around. His harness gives me stability. He also retrieves things for me that would otherwise cause my blood pressure to drop. He is not there to look cute (although he does) and play with you. Crush has made my life a million times easier but when you distract him, you’re putting my safety at risk. Let me explain why.
Crush is not in public to get attention. He is there to do his job. When you stare at him, getting his attention or start talking to him he no longer is in “work mode.” As well trained as he is, Crush is still a dog and loves to make friends. When he isn’t ready to work he stops paying attention to my needs, what he’s there to do. I could be itching for five to ten minutes before he realizes. He could pull me over in an attempt to get closer to you to soak up all your love and attention. It is this simple, when you interact and distract Crush you put my life at risk. You are not the exception to the rule, you need to stop interacting with service dogs.
Now let me make a distinction, I am happy to talk about Crush. I don’t mind questions about Crush, if the individual is speaking with me and not my service dog that is okay. That being said, it is considered rude to ask what someone’s disability is. My medical history is not your business.
Crush and I recently had an incident at Mayo Clinic. After coming out of a procedure, Crush and I turned a corner and a fellow service dog started barking at Crush. It was pulling on their owner who was in a wheelchair. I don’t know what level of training this dog had or if it was an isolated incident but I chose to report it. I hope this dog was in training but it’s not legal to have a dog in the building if it’s not under the control of the handler. This dog seemed to be aggressive and posed a risk to Crush. Crush being the mellow and well-trained dog he is, couldn’t have cared less. One quick glance and he was ready to move on. Mayo’s response was less than encouraging. After speaking about this incident they offered little help in what I should do in the future.
I spoke with them about their staff interacting with Crush, as well. They suggested I should use those moments to educate staff. They said I should tell them what they were doing is wrong and why. This is crazy for a lot of reasons. Mayo Clinic is a world-renowned medical facility. They treat patients from all over the world with rare diseases. On an average day, Crush and I see at least one other service dog team in the short period while we’re there. The most I’ve seen is four other teams in a day. Mayo Clinic in Rochester is huge. These are only the dogs I see when I’m there. I know from the organization that trained Crush that there are hundreds more. Mayo has policies about service dogs but doesn’t often address them with staff. Doctors, nurses, technicians, and secretaries often have no clue how to treat a service dog.
When I’m at Mayo, I’m seeking medical treatment. There are days when I’m not feeling well. There are days I get bad news. There are days when I would rather be anywhere else. I don’t want to expel my energy to treat their staff. It’s not that I don’t want to, more so I don’t have the energy. If I’m waiting to hear about surgery, I don’t want to have a conversation about how inappropriate it is that they tried to pet my dog. That infuriates me. You are asking me to have a difficult conversation about how and why that’s socially incorrect. If this were Target I’d be happy to speak with people about these situations but this is vastly different.
In summary, Don’t interact with service dogs. They are there to do a job. If you distract them from doing that job, you are putting the safety of the handler at risk. If you are going to be in a facility that you come across service dogs often, please listen and respect the rules.