Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Service Animals and the General Public

Perhaps you wonder how the ADA and Service or Assistance Animals pertain to you?

Please note that my directives and indications with regard to Hamilton, here, and in future posts on his interactions with the public, or when you meet him in public, only reflect MY requests and may not extend to other people with service animals.

A good rule: a working animal is just that, working. Feel free to ask his owner/handler of his status, and respect both the person and the animal equally.

If you are in the grocery store, bank, or other public place and a service animal such as Hamilton comes into view...perhaps you are unsure of what you should do.

In 12 years of working with, training and owning service dogs, I have seen many reactions:

-running in the opposite direction
-duck and cover
-the stink eye
-the wide-eyed gasp
and my favorite,
-big smile and a cocked-head with a "can I say 'Hi' to your dog?" expression.

As a general rule: a dog or service animal wearing a vest or collar indicating they are a service or working animal should not be approached or distracted. This is especially true of seeing-eye dogs and dogs accompanying people of mobility impairment.

Having said that; Please, if you see Hamilton in public, don't be afraid to approach us and ask questions. Be aware I, his owner, am deaf, so the conversation may take a little patience on both our parts. For the most part I am fine with people touching and petting Hamilton, but that ONLY applies to Hamilton, not any other service dog and their owner/handler.

Visit the Socialization part of his blog to learn more about what he's doing for his first year.

After socialization, Hamilton will have been exposed to most any situation I can provide for him: airports, grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters, sporting events, concerts, parades, outdoor gatherings and events, as well as emergent and hazardous situations to train him to react and respond, as well as to adjust to the noises and activity of given environments.

While in public, Hamilton may not seem to be 'working'. Granted, much of his job is at home, with me. However, I can't predict when I'm going to encounter a situation where I need him, so he is with me at all times, in all situations. While shopping in the frozen food aisle, Hamilton isn't really doing much in the way of protecting me or assisting me with my choice of what's for dinner, but he is continuing his bond with me, and strengthening his trust and connection with me. I am always watching his ears, his body language, his eyes. What I can't hear, he can, and he shows me what I might need to pay attention to, or not.

What applies to you legally:
  • I cannot be asked to leave a public place simply because I have a service dog.
  • I cannot be given different treatment or segregated from other people or refused services, access or accomodation.
  • You cannot act aggressively toward me or Hamilton, as we are protected by law, and I have to wonder what Hamilton's reaction would be if he felt I was being physically threatened.

What you should know about Hamilton:
  • I have allergies. Hamilton is given a bath regularly, his teeth are cleaned, he is brushed, and his toenails are trimmed and capped. He lives indoors and is rather spoilt. He is given vet care and is up to date on all his required shots and tests. I make every effort for Hamilton's hygiene to match my own, as I know he is in a position where he can affect others in a way a 'pet' cannot.
  • I have children. Hamilton will go through 6-9 months of socialization to ensure he is ready to be in all situations I may find myself and to handle himself with obedience and gentle behavior with children, the elderly and other situations where his size is an issue. Hamilton was chosen for his temperament, and was raised with my own children, so that he understands child-like behavior and responds appropriately.
  • Hamilton is housebroken, obedience trained, and has been tested for aggression or ill-behavior when he was a puppy. He is not perfect, but he's pretty darn close.
Please email me if you have a question I have not addressed here.


Woofs. Ham's rating system.

  • Five Woofs = I REALLY LIKE IT
  • Four Woofs = I like it
  • Three Woofs = It was OK
  • Two Woofs = Meh.
  • One Woof = No, thanks.

Hamilton's family



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