Petting service dogs can distract them from the incredibly important work they’re doing
For Laura Joos and others with service dogs, even a trip to the grocery store can turn into a life threatening situation. And that’s exactly what happened to her when a passing child hit her service dog, Polly. It distracted Polly and caused her to miss an alert that Joos was in danger of losing consciousness.
Now, Joos is sharing her story in a viral Facebook post. Furthermore, she’s imploring parents to teach their kids that service dogs they see in restaurants, in malls and in grocery stores are working. Petting them can have dangerous consequences, she explained.
“Dear fellow mom in Walmart,” Joos wrote. “I saw you coming down the aisle towards me, your three kids in tow. I get it. Being a mom is hard work sometimes. Your youngest in the cart, your older two walking next to you. I could hear you from far away ‘Yes, look, doggy, woof woof!’ Your kids walking faster arms stretched out. They where excited! ‘A DOG! A DOG!’ They called out. With people behind me, shelves on both sides. I had no choice but to pass you.”
Joos wrote that she knew the kids were going to try to pet Polly. She tried to turn around and walk the other way, but the aisle was blocked by other people. She had no choice but to walk by the family. But when the other mom’s little girl reached out, it wasn’t for a gentle pat.
“Your daughter reached out and SMACKED my dog hard. An audible thud as her hand hit her back,” Joos wrote.
Luckily, Polly is a legitimate service dog who’s highly trained and socialized. She didn’t react to being hit by a stranger, but the moment of distraction caused something far worse to happen.
“5 minutes before I saw you I got an alert from my dog, my heart rate was steadily climbing. My chest was becoming tight. My vision was going fuzzy. I felt like I was under water,” Joos wrote. “You couldn’t tell my hip was sliding in and out of place and every step I took was painful, agonizing. You couldn’t see that your daughter’s actions caused my dog to miss a second alert. My heart rate now nearly 120, I felt like I was going to vomit. Luckily, I made it to my car before the full effects of my heart rate hit me like a ton of bricks. I lost almost consciousness. Luckily my kids didn’t have to stand over their mother in the middle of the grocery store waiting for her to wake up.”
But what may be most upsetting about this situation is that Joos did confront the other mom. In her post, she wrote that she politely informed the other mom, “She’s a service dog, please teach your kids not to pet them,” and that the other mom’s response was a snotty, “EXCUSE YOU.” What this mom seems not to have realized is that service dogs are important medical tools. The work they do saves the lives of people with disabilities. As Joos put it, “I’m sure you wouldn’t allow them to grab someone’s cane, or yank on their nasal cannula that supplies their oxygen.”
Luckily, this kind of extreme situation isn’t the norm.
“Kids always get excited over a dog, but parents normally explain that they can’t pet her, or that she is working,” Joos told Scary Mommy. “I actually don’t have many kids/adults hit my dog, but just because it doesn’t happen to me every time I’m out doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to handlers all over the world.”
Joos also said the best thing people can do to avoid getting in the way of a service dog’s work is to educate themselves. It requires some effort, she said. But it’s worth it.
“The best thing they can do is read the section of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) that pertains to service animals,” she said. “I know they are a ton of reading but it’s so important and it’s the best way to learn (in the United States). Also a good rule of thumb is if you’re out in public, and you see a dog where dogs normally wouldn’t be (the mall, movies, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.), just ignore it.”
Luckily, everything turned out OK for Joos and Polly this time. But to avoid a scary or even tragic situation like this happening to Joos or anyone else, we all need to know the rules surrounding service dogs. That way, they can do their jobs keeping their people safe.