Dear Parents: Please Teach Your Children About Service Dogs


I’m sick, and not in the “cough cough” or “bed rest for a week” way. I’ve been diagnosed with multiple chronic illnesses, all which limit my functioning. I am sick, I am disabled, and I use a service dog as part of my
treatment.

You might not see many service dogs around (I know because I don’t see many service dogs around) and it probably means your child(ren) doesn’t see many service dogs, either. Mine might be the first they’ve ever seen working. Because of this, how you deal with the next minute is very important.

Why?

One day, I was in Target. It wasn’t a very good day for me health-wise. I was only five minutes in to shopping when I looked down to see my service dog, Dyre, standing on my foot, staring at me. When he had my attention, he put his paw on my knee, and I immediately sat down, thankful for his alert to my oncoming episode.

A mother and her son walked by the aisle that I was in, and the boy saw Dyre in my lap. He immediately perked up and called out, “can I pet your dog?” Sometimes, I’ll say yes, but at the moment, I had to muster up everything I had in me to get out, “no, I’m sorry, he’s working.”

The mother came closer and began yelling at me. “Are you serious? He’s 5 years old and he just wants to pet your dog and you won’t let him?”

I was too out of it to argue, so I simply backed off and said “fine.” Thankfully, it was the child, not the mom, who said, “No, it’s OK. I don’t need to.”

He walked away, and his mom was forced to follow. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thankful to a child in my entire life.

Parents, you have the chance to be different, to be better.

Instead of yelling at your child or me, or grabbing them and pulling them away, or encouraging them to pet my dog, take a moment to explain things. That will be far better received on both mine and your child’s end.

“That dog has a very important job to do; he is keeping his owner safe.”

“You can’t pet him because he has to keep a close eye on his owner to keep them safe.”

“He’s a very smart dog; he knows when his owner needs help.”

Kids learn from us. They only know what we tell them, and they accept everything we tell them, so something as simple as those three sentences above can shape how they’ll respond to seeing a working dog in the future.

Sometimes, if I’m feeling all right and I see a child staring, I’ll invite them over and ask if they want to pet Dyre. I’ll tell them about his job, and I’ll tell them it’s very important to ask to pet these dogs, and that  a lot of people are going to say no, but it’s just because their dogs are working so hard. I wish I always felt well enough to do that, but with chronic illnesses, I only rarely manage enough energy to get out and go shopping, let alone interact with strangers on that trip.

As a parent, it’s your job to shape your child into an exceptional human being. They have the potential; you just have to lead them. Don’t be shy about letting them know about disabilities.

There is very limited education on service dogs among the general public, but you can help change that by taking 10 seconds to tell your child about them. It’s not hard to explain this to your child, and in my experience, the kids are so amazed that they’ll back off. The next time they see a service dog, they might even tell their friends about what incredible things that dog can do.

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