One of my favorite public interactions involves my dog. He’s 80+ pounds of furry black sleepiness hell-bent on sniffing the air and sleeping. If we’re in motion he’s rolling to his own beat, proud to find every single seat-ish object in a 20 mile radius of my body and take me there. If he does something he deems awesome, his entire body wags until I acknowledge it.
He’s a very, very good guide dog.
Suffice to say, we’re a little bit in love. We share so many characteristics how can we not be? He likes eating, I like eating. He likes sleeping, I like sleeping. He likes personal space, I love personal space. He doesn’t like to be touched by strangers, I don’t like to be touched by strangers. It’s win/win most of the time. It’s like we read each others’ thoughts.
So when I’m cruising the public scene with my guide dragging my left arm to a seat on the bus or train it’s usually because we’ve got things to do, not because we’re interested in a social visit. Imagine my surprise when a fellow commuter told me yesterday that in fact my dog loved pets and attention. So much so that he was going to give him lots of pets regardless of what I had to say.
It resulted in my dog staring at me with those gloomy, allergy-ridden eyes and a quick snappy response from my own two lips. Really? You know my dog better than I do? Because all humans are alike, all creatures are alike, and goddess forbid any creature not want attention from a human…man.
This isn’t a rare occurrence of course. The school I got my dog from even published a little ‘how to” when meeting guide dog teams because so many people interfere with the business of independent travel for so many teams. But every once in a while it goes from “oh I’m sorry I pet your dog, I was distracted by the cute” to “I know better than you, don’t tell me what to do.” And that’s where the situation goes from irritating to simply unacceptable.
There are definitely ways people with service animals can try and educate the public but…think about it. If I stopped to ‘educate’ every single person who did something ignorant with/to me and/or the dog I wouldn’t stop talking. I already talk too much. It’s tedious, it’s dehumanizing, it’s often unimportant. Those little signs you can put on a harness handle to tell people not to pet the doggie woggie? They go ignored.
So…helpful creature lovers….stop petting them. Ask. Respect the answer.