Service dog owners aim to educate the public on how to treat their animals

While they may seem like approachable and friendly animals, service dogs exist to aid their owners.
Kylie West’s service dog, Java Bean, is a trained medical alert dog.

As students walk around campus, it is not unlikely they may encounter a service animal and feel inclined to come up and interact with it. Puppies with Purpose Community Outreach Co-chair Alexandria Meyers said this is not how people should react.

“For the most part, service dogs should be completely ignored,” Meyers said. “We always want to focus on the person first. There's a person with that dog, and it is more important to focus on them rather than to see them as their dog.”

Puppies with Purpose is an organization dedicated to training adolescent service dogs basic behaviors and socializing them before they are sent off to be properly trained as full-fledged service dogs.

“We take them to restaurants, movie theaters, all sorts of places so they can get used to strange people, strange sights, strange smells and all sorts of things,” Meyers said. “Someday the goal is that they can be out in public with a person while they're trying to help them, so we need to make sure that they are not fearful of anything they may encounter.”

As someone who is familiar with service dogs and understands how to take care of them, Meyers is an advocate for better treatment towards service animals.

“Normally, people just see a dog and think ‘it's a dog I want to go pet it,’ and that's not how service dogs should be treated at all,” Meyers said. “Don't make eye contact and don't make noises at them. They're doing a job and we need to allow them to focus.”

Those involved with Puppies with Purpose are not the only ones who believe students can be better educated on how to treat service dogs. Students who own service dogs agree as well.

“People like dogs, so when people see my dog, they freak out like ‘oh my gosh there's a dog here,’” freshman Kylie West said. “At the time, they don't realize that he's working and they try to pet him and start trying to like call him so they can get his attention.”

West, whose service dog, Java Bean, is trained as a medical alert dog, has experienced several incidents involving poor treatment towards her dog.

“I was walking past this guy on campus once and he saw my dog, and I heard him, in passing, to his friend make a comment about how he needs to start carrying a dog whistle with him,” West said. “That makes me feel very annoyed because my dog has a job, and if you're trying to distract my dog, bad things can happen.”

Meyers said this was not an isolated incident, and it is not uncommon for service dog owners to experience some mistreatment while in public.

“Some members have talked about people on campus barking at the dogs, which is kind of odd honestly,” Meyers said. “It's a big distraction to the dogs, and even though our pups are still in training, they're really trying to learn to become a service dog.”

Not only do other people’s antics distract the dogs from their formal training, but if anything were to happen, it could also be harmful to the owner who relies on the dog.

“Don't do anything to distract a service dog because it very well could put someone's life on the line if you do,” West said.

Even when a service dog is off duty, West said it is important for students who want to interact with her dog to ask before approaching.

“Just because a service dog is not wearing a vest does not mean that the dog is not working,” West said. “Don't pet it before asking, and if they look like they’re off duty, but you know he's a service dog, you should still ask.”

Edited by Caitlyn Rosen | crosen@themaneater.com

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