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Parents, Please Teach Your Kids Not to Pet Service Dogs

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If you’re anything like me, your heart probably skips a beat each time a dog walks by you. They are precious and I want every single one for myself despite it being unrealistic. What I love most about dogs is that some breeds are driven to work and please their owners or handlers. Some dogs were just born to work, which is fascinating to think about.

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When you think of a working dog, I’m sure you think of the drug sniffers at the airport or the police K-9s that will tear your leg off if you take off running. What if I told you there are countless other jobs that dogs can be trained to do or perform?

Despite how common service dogs seem to be these days, people often still act like it’s absolutely shocking that there’s a dog in the grocery store. Before you think of the little fake one in the cart on aisle 3, imagine a real task-trained service dog laying on the floor, out of the way, eyes on their handler and not on other distractions. Imagine that dog having the most important job in the world to their handler. Imagine said handler not being able to function independently without that dog just as a paraplegic is unable to function independently without their wheelchair.

Next, I want you to imagine a child running up to you as you are wheeling yourself down the aisle doing your weekly grocery shopping. A child runs up screaming and wailing about how cute your wheelchair is. They ask why you have your wheelchair, they pet your wheelchair without asking permission — they invade your personal space without even asking.

That’s what it’s like each time a child sees my service dog walking next to me.

Weird, isn’t it?

Service dogs have a very important job to do, in the same way a wheelchair has an important job to do for its passenger. We are just trying to go about our day normally, get what we need at the store, and be done with it. But my shopping trips are almost always three times longer than they should be because of the number of people and children that bombard me. I just really want to get my food for the week and go home like the rest of you. But because my medical equipment is a living thing with a precious face, I can’t go about my shopping like everyone else.

I completely understand that my dog is cute and that you get excited when you see one. Dogs are my favorite, and I want to pet every single one too. But I also realize that some of them are working, and others just actually don’t even like to be petted. So I respect the dogs and their owners’/handlers’ space and let them be.

Please start teaching yourself and/or your children that they should never be running up to a random or strange dog trying to pet it. First of all, service dog or not, you never know if a dog is aggressive. I was always taught to never reach for a dog without asking. Let alone the fact that your child reaching for my service dog without asking, is interfering with my dog’s job. I should also add that interfering with a service dog is actually very illegal and there are pricy consequences for doing so if the dog misses an alert for the handler.

I understand it’s exciting to see a cute dog. But please teach yourself and/or your children that some dogs have a special job to do and it’s never OK to run up to one without asking first. If you’re the kind of parent that points out my dog to your child while we walk by saying “honey, look, a dog,” you are teaching your child that service dogs are just like any other dog. When in fact, they are not, and should be treated with respect as they are there as medical equipment for their handler.

I can also acknowledge children are not perfect, it’s hard to get them under control sometimes. But trust me when I say that if you sit them down and have a talk with them, they are likely to understand if it’s broken down simply enough for them. My favorite thing is when I hear a parent educating their child on why my dog is in the grocery store with me. I’m also nice enough to understand and accept an apology from a parent for their child’s behavior towards my dog and me. I’ve even said thank you to many of those people because I appreciate them more than they will ever know. However, you would be surprised by how many adults I’ve had that act like a 5-year-old child when they see my dog, too.

Each state has different levels of penalties for interfering with a service dog. There are only six states that do not have this kind of law set in place. Depending on the state you are in, you may be fined thousands of dollars and may be required to perform community service as the charge is in fact a misdemeanor.

Interfering with a service dog is no joke. My service dog is medical equipment for me just as a wheelchair is my cousin’s medical equipment. There is absolutely no difference as defined by federal law under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

There is so much knowledge that needs to be learned and spread about service dog etiquette. It starts with you learning these things, and teaching them to your children if you have any, or even other family members that may just not be aware. Please let us go on our way just like everyone else.

This story originally appeared on Understanding Chaos.

Originally published: April 20, 2021
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