SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Lifestyle

April 12, 2014

Dear Abby: Joy of having a service dog is diminished by public attention

Dear Abby: I use a service dog, and I’m constantly barraged with requests to pet him. Other people who use service dogs warned me this would happen. Although the ADA does not require him to wear a vest, I bought one for him that reads, “Do Not Pet,” which he wears in public. They ask me anyway!

They also ask what I use the dog for. Sometimes I’m tempted to say, “First, tell me about your medical history and then I’ll tell you mine.” I don’t mind quietly and discreetly discussing with a store owner what my dog does, but for a stranger to walk up and expect me to share personal information is rude.

As excited as I am about how my dog has expanded my life, I do not want to spend my time answering strangers’ questions or hearing about every dog they’ve ever owned.

Obviously, I’m still learning what it means to live with a service dog. Would you kindly share with your readers proper etiquette with service dogs and their owners?

Living Larger In Washington State

Dear Living Larger: I’m happy to. But you must be realistic. If you have a service dog, you must accept that people will be curious. However, what many people fail to understand is that when a service dog is out in public, the animal is WORKING, and should not be distracted from its task — which is ensuring the well-being of the owner.

The basics for interacting with service dogs are:

1. Always speak to the person first. Do not try to distract the dog.

2. Never touch the service dog — or ANY dog, for that matter — without first asking for and receiving permission.

3. Do not offer food to the animal.

4. Do not ask personal questions about the handler’s disability or otherwise intrude on his or her privacy.

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