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Friday, March 8, 2013

Please, don't pet the dog

Last night, after dinner, The Wifester had the wonderful idea to take dessert over to her brother's house as a fun way to get a little play time in with our nephews. Needless to say, we were deemed the fun aunts again, and fun was had by all. Especially the nephews.One is turning four this summer and the other is coming up on a year. They are such cute boys and so smart! These are fun ages. Especially the nearly four year old. He's so curious and excited about everything. Sometimes I watch him and think, honey, I hope you never lose that curiosity or that capacity for sheer joy.

Well, to make a long story short, my sister in law told us, over ice cream cake with sprinkles and crunchy, cookie insides, about an event that occurred at her office that was weighing on her mind. She has a coworker who is physically disabled, and is in a wheelchair. I don't remember if it was MS, MD or something else...regardless, the cause of the disability is inconsequential. This particular coworker has a service dog. Another co-worker, in a meeting with all the staff present, announced that they wanted to introduce everyone to the "office dog" and invited everyone to go over and pet the dog. 

This is wrong on so very many levels. First, this person was calling attention to the fact that this person is disabled. Not cool. Second, service dogs should never be pet without first being granted permission by his/her handler. To do so can confuse the dog and make him forget that he is at work, and has a job to do. As you may or may not know, service dogs for disabled persons are highly trained, and so are the people that they are placed with. The two become a real team, one that requires strict adherence to rules, discipline, and specific reward when appropriate. The are far beyond a "pet." They are integral to a disabled person's ability to complete every day tasks that you and I may take for granted. They are working, just like you are when you punch in on that time clock, or sit down at your desk in that cubicle. They need not be distracted from the task at hand, as serious injury can occur to their human counterpart.

It is with this on my mind that I decided to post this guide to interacting with a service dog team:

Service Dog Etiquette

When you meet a person with a service dog, please remember that the dog is working. Don't do
anything to interrupt the service dog
while it is performing its tasks.
Some Rules for Interacting with People with Service Dogs.
1. Speak to the person first. Do not aim distracting or rude noises at the dog .
2. Do not touch the service dog without asking for, and receiving, permission.
3. Do not offer food to the service dog.
4. Do not ask personal questions about the handler's disability, or otherwise intrude on his
    or her privacy.
5. Don't be offended if the handler does not wish to chat about the service dog.
What if you don't like dogs or are afraid of dogs?
Place yourself away from the service dog. If you are a business person, discreetly arrange for
someone else to wait on the person. You may ask the person to have the service dog lie down if
it does not interfere with its work.
What if the service dog barks, growls, or otherwise forgets its manners?
Find out what happened before taking action. Was the service dog stepped on, poked, asleep and dreaming, performing its job (some alert their owners to oncoming seizures by barking once or twice)? If the dog's behavior is disruptive or destructive, you may ask the person to remove it from the premises.
What if other people complain about the dog being present?
Explain that the service dog is medically necessary and that federal law protects
the right of the person to be accompanied by the service dog in public places.

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