Humans and canines have enjoyed a special relationship since before recorded history. Indeed, scientists believe that neither species would have evolved as far as they have currently without this relationship. The popular adage, dogs are man’s best friend has proved true for millions of people even today.
More people are employing service animals to help them deal with emotional and medical problems. It can be almost an irresistible pull to want to pet and interact with a service dog, even if that animal is obviously working at the time. However, this can be very dangerous. Service animals are not pets. Each dog spends a minimum of two years being trained according to their abilities. The relationship that they have with their handler can mean the difference between life and death for that individual.
But is it a Real Service Animal?
The law within the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) specifies that it is illegal for any business to refuse service to someone who requires the assistance of a service animal. Service animals have a special vest and their owners must carry documentation to prove the status of the animal. Unfortunately, there are some dog owners who will strap a fake service vest on their dog and fake the documentation.
Legal problems can arise if faux service animal acts out or bites someone. Not only does it open the owner to liability, it can also make it difficult for legitimate working dog teams in the future.
John F. Cordisco, attorney and founder of the Cordisco Saile law firm says “What these pet owners fail to realize is dealing with the liability of their dog biting or attacking someone already has liabilities attached to it. Those who pass off their pet as a service dog are breaking the law and face additional fines and face 6 months in jail.”
Service Animal Interaction Tips
Here are some important things to remember when interacting with any kind of service animal.
First, talk to the owner/handler of the service animal from a distance before attempting to interact or touch the animal. True service animals are trained to ignore distractions and are more focused on the person they are with and their needs to always ask beforehand.
If the answer is no, respect the request and move on. More likely than not it isn’t personal.
Don’t attempt to distract a service animal with treats. Many service dogs have very specific diets and impromptu treats can present a potential hazard to a service animal and their human partner.
If you are with your own pet, keep them a respectful distance away from a service dog team. Ask the human member of the team if interaction between the two animals is alright first.
If you consider that the animal is doing a job and the human is their boss, that can go a long way toward smoothing over interactions.