Porky and Buddy: What should I do when I see a service dog at work?

Dear Porky and Buddy,

I am writing to ask your opinion about something.  

I was in the library the other day and there was another patron there with a dog that was wearing a little vest that said therapy dog on it. I thought it was really cute and said hello to the dog and the woman snapped at me and told me not to talk to her dog.  

What’s with that? It’s not like they were trying to cross the street or something.  

I apologized  but she just left in a huff.  Did I really do anything wrong?


Dear Mary,

Trust us, we understand the temptation to speak to cute animals, but in the case of therapy animals you really need to learn to bite your tongue (so to speak).

Animals, especially dogs, are increasingly being used to help people with a range of physical, psychiatric or sensory disabilities, mobility limitations and medical conditions.

Not every handler’s disability or medical condition will be obvious and although most service and assistance dogs will be on a leash or harness, or be wearing an identifying vest or tag, this may not always be the case.

For the safety of the handler, it’s important to remember that a service dog is not a pet or companion animal, but is working and should not be interrupted.

 When in the presence of a handler and their service dog, you should:

  • Never distract, pat, talk to or encourage the dog to play or come to you. The dog needs to concentrate fully on its handler, its task, and be alert to any danger.
  • Don’t respond or encourage the dog if it approaches or greets you.
  • Always talk to the handler, not the dog.
  • Always ask permission to pat the dog but be prepared for the handler to decline. Remember, it’s not a pet and has a job to do.
  • Don’t ever feed the dog.
  • Don’t point out or draw attention to a handler and their service dog; not only is it rude, but it can interfere with the dog’s work.
  • Offer a handler help if you think they require it, but don’t assume they need it or will accept it.
  • Never  hold or take a service dog’s leash or harness.
  • Teach your children about these rules and how to behave around service dogs.
  • Always keep other pets on a leash and away from service dogs.
  • Service dogs play an important role for their owners, even if their owners seem a little crabby, so let it go.   Go pet your own dog.

Speaking of having fun, the Oswego County Humane Society is holding its 15th Birthday Bash and Clambake from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, July 20 at Bayshore Grove, Bayshore Drive, Oswego.

Come join in the fun and celebrate with us.  All the clams you can eat, grilled foods, a huge buffet (with vegetarian selections, of course), free draft beer, cash bar, games, a $5,000 hole-in-one contest, a $500 lottery scratch-off board drawing, a fabulous silent auction, and live entertainment.

Buy tickets at $50 per person online at oswegohumane.org.

The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter services and assistance, fostering and adoption of animals in urgent need, humane education programs, and information and referrals to animal lovers throughout Oswego County.

Our office is located at 265 W. First St., Oswego. Phone is 207-1070. Email is ochscontact@hotmail.com. Website is oswegohumane.org.

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One thought on “Porky and Buddy: What should I do when I see a service dog at work?”

  1. I read this same response in the Oswego Shopper and cringed! I have a service dog, and we live here in Oswego. All those suggestions are great if what we’re talking about is a service dog.

    Service dogs and therapy dogs are different things. A service dog is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks to mitigate the disability of their disabled partner. These dogs receive a significant amount of training to behave in public, either from an organization that provides service dogs, or by their disabled handler themselves.

    A therapy dog has likely received extensive training, but their job is different from a service dog. A therapy dog’s job is to provide emotional support to people other than their handler. These dogs accompany their handler, when invited, to places like hospitals and libraries to provide therapy and assistance for other people.

    I do want to point out that service dogs themselves don’t have rights, it is the right of the disabled handler under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Air Carrier Access Act, and any applicable state law that has the rights. Without their disabled handler, or protection by state law for trainers of service dogs, a service dog cannot enter any public place.

    Furthermore, there is no certification for service dogs. A doctor can write a letter of support, but there is no national registry or certification process for service dogs to undergo.

    When I read this, I was worried that perhaps the owner was misguided about what qualified as a service dog. Perhaps the dog is merely an emotional support animal. An emotional support animal is a dog that provides emotional support for their disabled handler, but has received no special training to mitigate their disability. Rather, their mere presence helps their handler, which according to the Dept of Justice is not a task.

    As a service dog handler, I’ve become somewhat accustomed to seeing dogs that are not trained to mitigate their handler’s disability that are being brought out into public. Sometimes, these are just plain pets that are being passed off as service animals and other times the dog is an emotional support dog or therapy dog that the person has chosen to bring out into public. By doing this, these people are hurting handlers of legitimate service dogs.

    Please, if you are not disabled, or if you are but your dog is not trained to do work or perform tasks to mitigate your disability, leave them at home!

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