In the last few years, the sight of service dogs in public locations ranging from supermarkets to restaurants has become increasingly familiar.
Despite becoming more commonplace, not everyone understands the proper etiquette for responding to service dogs in public. Failure to respond appropriately to a working service dog could actually have dire consequences. That’s precisely what happened when Laura Joos encountered a young family while out with her service dog, two children, and niece on a shopping trip.
Even a moment of distraction can result in a service dog not being able to perform their job.
Joos had noticed the mom with three young children moving down the same aisle where she was shopping with her service dog, Polly. From the moment Joos heard the children calling, “A dog! A dog!” she knew there could be potential trouble and began looking for an alternate route.
Yet, with people behind her and shelves lining both sides, Joos had no choice but to pass by the overly excited children. She instinctively knew that the children would reach out and try to pet Polly, but what happened next astounded even her.
In an open Facebook post to the mother of the children, Joos stated: “Your daughter reached out and SMACKED my dog hard. An audible thud as her hand hit her back.”
While less well-trained dogs might have responded by snarling or even biting, Polly has been highly trained and socialized to serve as a service dog. She didn’t respond aggressively, but what happened next resulted in a potentially life-threatening event to Joos.
It could have been worse.
That single moment of distraction caused Polly to miss an important health alert in Joos. Five minutes before encountering the family, Joos received an alert from her service dog that her heart rate was climbing at a steady rate. Her chest had become tight and her vision was becoming fuzzy. When the stranger’s child hit Joos’ service dog, she missed an important second alert. Joos’ heart rate neared 120. Fortunately, despite missing the second alert, she was able to make it to her vehicle before losing consciousness.
The danger encountered by Joos due to the incident is startling enough.
What is perhaps even more disturbing is the response Joos says she encountered from the other mother when she politely informed her, “She’s a service dog, please teach your kids not to pet them.” Rather than acknowledging that what her child did was wrong or apologizing for her child’s behavior, the other mother’s response was to say, “Excuse you.”
Since the incident, Joos has shared her story in a Facebook post that has gone viral. She is now imploring parents to understand that service dogs are working when they are out in malls, restaurants, and supermarkets. Petting and certainly smacking them can result in dire consequences.
Educating parents and children how to respond appropriately to service dogs is essential to the health of handlers
For the most part, Joos says this type of incident is the exception to the norm. She doesn’t typically have people hit her dog, but she is concerned that this type of situation could happen to other handlers.
According to Joos, the best thing people can do is educate themselves about what the Americans with Disabilities Act states is the best way to respond to service dogs when they are out in public. The best response is to simply ignore service dogs when you encounter them. By understanding the rules relating to service dogs, you can ensure they are able to perform their jobs of keeping their handlers safe and avoid a tragic situation.
Please Don’t Pet Me, a community committed to providing resources as they relate to service dogs, recommends that if you meet a service dog in public, you should not call to the dog, pet the dog without permission, or be offended if the handler will not let you pet the dog. Furthermore, it’s important to never offer food to a service dog when he or she is working, as doing so could result in a distraction. Finally, Please Don’t Pet Me advises that service dog handlers be treated with dignity and respect.
Joos’ story serves as a cautionary reminder that these dogs perform a valuable service and it’s important not to interfere with that work.
As is the case with Joos, not all disabilities are obvious to everyone else. Learning the proper rules for encountering service dogs ensures they are able to continue their important work and prevent tragedies from occurring.
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Dear fellow mom in Walmart,
I saw you coming down the aisle towards me, your 3 kids in tow, I get it being a mom is…