How to Interact with Humans & their Service Animals
I spent the past week at SuperZoo getting to meet industry contacts, brands, and hanging out in Las Vegas. If you do not know, Superzoo is a major pet trade show. While at SuperZoo I witnessed some of the most despicable behavior when interacting with service animals. I want to start a conversation and a dialogue about my experience and lay out what I feel to be ground rules as it appears a lot of humans do not understand the DO's and DON'T's in knowing how to approach service animals.
The two major instances I witnessed:
Situation 1: At a pet industry networking happy hour I met an absolutely adorable Doodle who turned out to be a Service Dog. I will be honest that this situation made me so angry that it is very hard to put into words.
While lining up for food at this event, I started talking to the Doodle and his mother. The woman behind me in line began to question "Why is your dog here?" to the Doodle's owner. Owner responded, "Oh she is actually my service dog, so she can come with me everywhere." Lady behind me, "Well she isn't wearing a vest, why do you need a service dog?" Let me also explain that the tone of this lady was very attacking and uncomfortable, things escalated quickly. Doodle owner responds, "I actually find that I get questioned and interrogated more when my dog has a service vest on than when she is simply wearing her collar/leash. I have PTSD from serving in the military and need the dog." Lady behind me, "You are too pretty to be in the military."
This lady behind me was obviously not a great person, end of story! I think that the thing that amazes me the most is that this woman works in the pet industry. This woman took the opportunity to question and interrogate a past service member instead of simply Thanking her for her service. What does this woman owe you? Who are you questioning her? It has been proven that service dogs are incredibly helpful for military members coming home and who are struggling with PTSD. Link to some articles here
Situation 2: I witnessed a gorgeous Samoyed with a service vest who was walking from booth to booth exploring new products and meeting people. Someone approached and said to his owner, "Oh what is he service dog certified for." The woman who owned the Samoyed politely responded, "He is trained to identify and help me deal with my own medical issues." The questioning then escalated to "Well what is he identifying/how is he caring for you, do you have diabetes? seizures?" The woman with the Samoyed service pup curtly responded: "It is my personal medical issues that I do not have to share with you." She then walked away.
My response to this situation is: Why should someone with a service dog deserve to be harassed simply because she has a pup? Why does she deserve to be questioned about her very personal medical issues?
In both situations, I witnessed how uncomfortable it made both of these women who had service dogs for their own personal issues. They left both interactions vulnerable and I wanted to hug each of them to say, some people are idiots and they do not deserve to be treated in this manner.
Let's layout some ground rules when interacting with Service Animals
I understand that people want to meet your cute dog, but this dog has a mission/purpose/job and you need to respect that. Why don't humans respect that these dogs are more than just a cute face.
1. Treat the Humans with the Service Dog with Respect:
Treat these people with the same respect that you would like to be treated with. Do not ask questions about their disability or why they need a service animal? Try polite small talk and a simple hello. If it is inappropriate for someone to ask "Why did you go to the doctor, what is wrong with you?" It is inappropriate to ask this of Humans with a Service Animal.
2. Do not Pet the Dog especially if it has a Service Vest:
This dog is focused and working. If you want to meet the dog you MUST ask the owner. Keep in mind that service animals have a specific job to do and that their handlers rely on them for safety and protection in public. Feeding, playing with, talking to, or otherwise engaging the animal can be distracting for it considering that this animal is working.
I think that there needs to be a respect level that goes with how the humans and their service animals are treated. I believe that there is no mal intent on the behalf of people trying to say hi, however I do hope that awareness and acceptance of appropriate behavior around service animals is socialized.