As the positive effects of animals on humans become more evident, service animals are becoming more prominent in public spaces.
Dogs, cats, ducks, pigs, you name it. People have found comfort and healing affects in every type of animal.
But while these animals may seem cuddly and cute, it's important to remember they have a job to do for someone else...and that job is not to be the object of your affection.
Take, for example, Flynn. He's an Australian Shepherd dog who began working with 17-year-old Hailey in 2014. Flynn is Hailey's medical alert dog for warning her about an impending seizure. Unfortunately, a stranger put Hailey in danger when Flynn was on duty and just 7 months old.
Hailey was visiting her dad at work when a stranger came up and started petting Flynn. Hailey immediately told the man to stop petting her service dog, but he kept doing it. This distraction caused Flynn to miss a cue to warn Hailey she was about to have a seizure.
When Flynn did warn her, it was already too late.
"I thought I had 10 minutes to get safe, take medication and call somebody for help," Hailey said. "Unfortunately, I didn't and ended up getting a nasty rug burn."
"Since Flynn was only about 7 months at the time of the accident, he was, and still is, learning to ignore people petting him," Hailey explained. "We understand our dogs are super cute, but they are really important for our safety and health."
Jessica Reiss, who works for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), says "The dog is part of a team. It becomes almost an extension of that person, just like someone's wheelchair … besides the fact that the dog is part of who you are, that touching can distract the dog from what they need to do."
Assistance dogs are trained to perform a specific duty. It can take just a split second for them to go from playing with a toy to immediately warning their partner about an oncoming medical issue. Petting them, talking to them, and trying to play with them can all cause distractions that could end up putting someone's life in danger.
Hailey has a simple way of explaining it: "If you wouldn't do it to a wheelchair, please don't do it to our dogs."
Share this so people know the risks of petting an on-duty service dog!