Warning: graphic photo (no visible wound) of injured dog below. Also: This is a rant and may contain strong or disturbing language.
Don’t take it personally. Since I haven’t met 99% or more of you in person, none of this should apply to you. I am going to believe all of you are good pet owners and would never be involved in the activities described in the following rant.
As a service dog partner, let me tell you, plain and simple: if you think your dog is friendly or that you are being helpful, you are deluding yourself.
But not near as harsh as the reality we who have service dogs must live with.
It only took 30 seconds for my friend to lose her service dog to an attack by a “friendly” off-leash dog. Mighty Morph, her service dog, was ruined as a service dog in that attack, and the man whose dog attacked Mighty Morph still walks his dog without even bringing a leash, still believes his dog is “friendly” and that leash laws don’t apply to him. She spent thousands of dollars and 2 years trying to rehab Morph, and thousands more getting a new service dog after having to retire Morph and rehome him to a safe house so he wouldn’t ruin her new service dog with his fears. He was so afraid of other dogs that when they were in public, he was so focused on them and where they were that he was unable to guide her safely from place to place. Ruined in 30 seconds.
A woman left her large dog tied up outside a restaurant while she went inside to eat. It escaped and attacked a Golden Retriever that was in its final acclimation training with its new handler, my vision impaired friend who was getting his first service dog on my urging. The Retriever received several bite wounds that infected and the dog forever after limped and was afraid of other dogs - ruined not just as a guide dog, but as any kind of service dog. The Retriever had to be retired before he ever got to be a service dog, and rehomed as a pet in a home with no other dogs. My friend still hasn’t been able to bring himself to try to have a guide dog again. It’s been 5 years.
A friend of mine who had been partnered with a guide dog for 4 years lost her dog, Adam, when it was attacked by 2 other dogs while she was on her way to the bus stop to go to work. These were “friendly” dogs, off leash, in an area where leash laws existed and, ironically, the attack happened right under a leash law sign. She said she felt Adam being jerked around, and she couldn’t see, couldn’t do anything but call 911. When the police arrived, and the owner of the 2 dogs located, the owner of the 2 dogs claimed his dogs were “friendly” and he let his dogs roam the neighborhood so they could “play” with other dogs. Adam died of his injuries 3 days later. It’s been three years, and she’s still afraid to get another guide dog, afraid it will be attacked and she’ll be helpless to save it.
Itzl was attacked by a pair of Golden Retrievers that were off-leash in a highway rest stop clearly marked with the leash law requirement 4 years ago, which injured his knee and weakened it enough so that when he re-injured the knee, he had to have surgery on it. Without that initial attack, his second injury might not have been so severe.
Fortunately for me and Itzl, the attack on him didn’t ruin him as a service dog, although he is wary around larger dogs and has added an alert for Scary Dog to his sound alerts.
And he freaks out if a strange dog jumps up on me, especially one that’s not on a leash.
Imagine if you are blind, out walking with your dog – to the bus stop, to work, to the grocery store, to visit a friend, or just to get some exercise – and a dog starts barking nearby. Your guide dog picks up the pace, pulling you faster. You have no clue if the dog is leashed, if the dog is friendly, if the dog is about to attack you or your service dog, if the other dog’s owner is nearby to control it. You can’t see. Your heart races. Are you going to be bitten? Is your guide dog going to be hurt or killed?
Imagine if you are hearing impaired, and out with your service dog when your dog gives a “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!” signal, and you turn around to see an unleashed dog preparing to leap on you or your service dog. You don’t know if the dog is friendly, all you see are giant paws and teeth coming straight at you. (This has happened to me so many times I no longer go to public parks, even ones that have a “No Dogs Allowed” policy, because unleashed dogs wander where they will.)
Imagine if you have balance issues and you are out walking with your service dog, and another dog bounds up and jumps on your dog, knocking him aside, and knocking you down. As you struggle to reach your dog to get the help you need to stand up, the pet dog keeps jumping on you and your service dog, and then someone comes up laughing about how “playful” and “friendly” their dog is. You are bruised, shaken, maybe you have a broken bone, and your service dog is being kept from aiding you by the laughing person and the “playful” pet dog.
Imagine if you are in a wheelchair, and you have a service dog who pulls you and fetches things for you, opens doors, turns on lights, and helps you balance as you wheel up and down ramps and curb cutouts (some of which are distressingly scary). You’re on your way up one of those scary narrow ramps when someone walking their “friendly” pet dog comes up and insists on letting the dogs “greet” one another, and the “friendly” dog pushes your service dog hard enough to pull your wheelchair off kilter on the ramp and you tip over.
There are no official records kept of attacks on service dogs, either by other dogs or by people. There are several unofficial surveys that have been conducted with people who have service dogs. I’ve participated in several, and they range from 20 to 65 questions.
And every one of them has come back with the results that more than half of the respondents had experienced at least one attack on their service dog by another dog, most were not on a leash. An attack is where the dog or the human partner are injured by the encounter (bruises, scrapes, broken bones, slobber from bites that don’t break the skin, bites that draw blood to either the human or the canine half of the team, or the service dog later dies of the injury).
The pet dogs that were leashed and attacked a service dog did so with the pet dog’s owner unable or unwilling to control their dog.
Half of those teams who were attacked by a pet dog experienced more than one attack. (Itzl and I have experienced more than a dozen attacks by pet dogs, 3/4 of the other dogs were leashed but not under control; they were “friendly” dogs.)
I keep a list of all the service dogs I hear about that are killed because they are service dogs – most of them were killed by a pet dog attacking them while they were out performing their duties or by people who were being “friendly” or “helpful” or murdered by people who felt the human half of the team didn’t deserve or need the service dog. It’s a sad list. I add a few service dogs a year. And these are just the dogs I hear about. Imagine how much longer that list is for the dogs I don’t hear about.
Nearly 85% of the people answering these surveys indicated their partnership had suffered interference by an aggressive dog – a dog the owner usually claimed was “friendly” or “playful”. Interference is where no one is injured, but the team is terrorized, delayed, or even had to abort their activity.
More than 80% of these attacks and interferences happened on a public right-of-way, and more than 90% of them happened in areas with clearly posted leash laws – sidewalks, parks, bus stops.
Nearly 70% of these were attacks by pet dogs who were off leash. Many of the owners who were present at the interference didn’t even have a leash with them. Many of these off-leash dogs were running loose in the neighborhood because the owner let them out to “get exercise” or to “play” with other dogs. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had to snatch Itzl up as we were getting out of the car in our driveway to keep from being bowled over by “playful” dogs roaming the neighborhood – or had to wait in the car in my own driveway until these “playful” pet dogs wandered off.
This doesn’t even reveal the number of pet dogs who are attacked by other pet dogs that are off leash or not under the control of their owners.
Any dog could be a service dog; you never know. And it shouldn’t matter. Each of us should have the right to decide how we socialize our dogs and not have that decision made for us by people who can’t be bothered to obey a simple, easy-to-follow law.
Leash laws exist for a reason, and that reason is that most people with pet dogs are deluding themselves into thinking their dog is friendly. They are deluding themselves into thinking their dog is under their control.
The Seeing Eye, Inc. has been trying to get stricter laws passed that will protect service dog teams, but it seems no one else cares about the problem. The pet dogs are “friendly” and “playful” – and they damage service dog teams without any thought of the trauma, the expense, and the disruption such interference causes.
This doesn’t even address all the things people do to disrupt a service team.
If you simply delay the service team from going about their every day business, you are part of the problem. No matter how pleasant and friendly sounding the human half of the service team seems to you, if you don’t know them and you stop them to interact with their service dog or to ask about their service dog when they are busy, you are part of the problem.
Most service team people who have experienced a lot of delays by “friendly” people have learned to avoid eye contact, to look away from other people, and to do their best to avoid engaging with strangers when they are busy. It doesn’t seem to stop others, but we try. When we aren’t in a hurry, we’ll take time out to talk to you about our dog. You can tell we are open to being stopped if we look at you, if we smile at you, if we stop immediately when we realize you want to talk about our dog. But sometimes, we are in a hurry and don’t have time to satisfy your prurient curiosity.
It can be as simple as reaching out to pet the dog as the team walks past you (or you walk past them). It’s more obvious when you plant yourself in front of the service team and reach out to pet the dog, preventing them from going about their business. Talking to the dog (even something as innocuous seeming as “good dog!” as you walk past) can disrupt a working team. Making faces at the dog and trying to get the dog’s attention can disrupt the functioning of the team. Giving commands to the dog (“here, boy!” “sit!” and so on) can disrupt the team.
You are deluding yourself if you think you are “just being friendly”, if you were “just praising” the dog, or “just complimenting” the dog, or you “just wanted to pet the dog”.
It’s not your dog.
You are compromising the safety and integrity of the service team.
There’s better than an 80% chance that team has been attacked or intimidated or interfered with before – what you think of as “being friendly” to them is you being intimidating, scary, interfering, or bullying.
If you were truly being friendly, you’d address the human half of the team before you even acknowledged the dog was present.
If you can’t talk to the human first, if you’re too shy to talk to the human half of the team, don’t talk to the dog.
And if the human says “No”, walk away.
When you are walking your pet dog, make sure your dog is on a leash strong enough to hold the dog. If you can’t prevent your dog from sniffing at or leaping on the service dog, cross the street to keep your dog from going up to and interfering in a service team. Or duck into a doorway, or do something so you and your dog get out of the way of the service team. If your dog is truly well trained, tell your dog to heel or sit/stay until the service team is past. Yes, it inconveniences you, but your dog is a pet; their dog is an extension of them helping them to move about just like you. Interference with them could compromise their well-being. They know you’re there, and will move over themselves to give you and your pet dog more space. But if your dog can’t keep to their own space, keep from sniffing or blocking or jumping on the service dog or the handler – it’s up to you to get your dog away from the service team.
When you are outside of your property with your pet dog, in public areas like public right-of-ways, parks, bus stops, streets, keep your dog leashed and try to keep it under control. Do not let your pet dog roam the neighborhood unsupervised and off-leash. And don’t stake your pet dog out in the front yard, where it is frustrated by all these people, children, and animals (including pets being walked on a leash or service teams passing by) – those stakes pull up out of the ground and leashes/collars break. A staked dog is an accident just waiting to happen.
A dog jumping up on other people, leaping on other dogs, barking at other dogs, running up to other dogs, is not “friendly”. Not “playful”.
A dog off leash is not under control.
Even the best-behaved dog has off moments. I should know. I have one of the most highly trained and highly socialized dogs, and I know he has his moments. He’s still a dog, no matter how well trained. At 4 pounds, I have it easy keeping him under control when he’s in arm’s length, in his carry bag, on a leash. I wouldn’t be so confident if he were larger, even just a little larger, say, 10 pounds.
It just takes 30 seconds to destroy a service dog’s career.
30 seconds of a dog breaking training, being a dog. If you think your off-leash dog is “friendly”, “playful”, and “under control”, you are deluding yourself.
Help reduce the better than 80% of service teams that have been interfered with, intimidated, or attacked by pet dogs. Help the people who need service dogs to get about their lives to get about their lives without fear for themselves and their partners.
All it takes is a leash.
What can you do to help?
Keep your pet dog leashed when out in public.
Keep your pet dog safely contained behind a fence or in a kennel run in your yard, or inside your house.
Control your pet dog so it doesn’t jump up on other dogs or people.
Teach your pet dog not to bark when it’s on a leash.
Teach your pet dog to heel (or sit) when other dogs approach.
And here are the “Don’t”s:
When you see a service team, don’t squee and run up to pet the dog, or talk to the dog without even acknowledging the human half of the team, let alone before you talk to the human half of the team.
Don’t plant yourself in front of the team and block them (I usually just turn around and go the other way, which often leads to being cussed out, but at least we get to do what we came out to do, even if we are delayed).
Don’t try to call the dog to come to you.
Don’t offer the dog treats or toys.
Don’t try to give the dog commands.
Don’t praise the dog.
Don’t beg or wheedle the human half of the team to let you take the service dog’s leash, or to pet it after you’ve been told “no”.
Don’t grab the service dog’s harness or leash.
Don’t try to pick up the dog.
It’s not your dog. And you’re not being friendly.
Don’t delude yourself.