General public doing a disservice to service dogs

conner wolf

Conner Wolf, mass communication junior
Conner Wolf

I am sure that everyone has been in a store or restaurant before and noticed a person with a dog and wondered why it was there. That person with the dog may have been my girlfriend with her hearing alert dog, Sophie.

Service dogs like Sophie are highly-trained dogs that perform specific tasks to mitigate their disabled handlers’ disability.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act protects these dogs and their handlers in any public setting in which the general population is allowed, many people do not know that, or anything else about service dogs.

There are a few things that I wish the general population knew or would consider about service dogs before speaking to a service dog handler.

The law looks at a service dogs as medical equipment, and others should see them this way as well. A service dog should be treated just like someone who is in a wheelchair, because to a handler, the dog is just as vital. Service dogs have a job to do and being bothered can distract them from it.

Nobody would just go up and pet or talk to a wheelchair or oxygen tank, so do not do the same to a service dog.

Just think what might happen if it were a seizure alert dog that you just distracted, it could have missed an alert and the owner could have seized without warning and injured themself. By petting a blind person’s guide dog, it is essentially like taking away someone’s glasses. It temporarily stops the dog from being the handler’s eyes. When someone distracts a hearing alert dog, like Sophie, it is like taking away Kaitlynn’s ears.

In addition, people seem to have no sense of shame or tact when it comes to service dogs. Too many times my girlfriend and I have caught people staring and talking about the fact that we have a dog with us. The ask us things like, “So is she for epilepsy, autism, or diabetes?” and “You don’t look disabled, why do you need her?”

Asking a complete stranger about their disability is disrespectful and tasteless to say the least. I know that people are stupid and not everyone thinks that way but still, it is very frustrating.

Some people also do not know the purpose of the dogs. They do not get the connection that the handler is disabled in some way and the only reason that they have the dog is to help them deal with their disability. People assume the dog is either just there for fun, that any dog can be a service dog, or any well-behaved dog can be one.

If people were just more educated on the fact that the only reason for service dogs is to help disabled people, maybe some of this annoying behavior would stop.

Conner Wolf is a senior in mass communication.