My dog and I go everywhere together. I do mean everywhere- shopping, work, the movies- she’s a “dog about town”! She is my best friend, but more, she is my carer. She is a trained Assistance Dog, and her job is to do for me the things I can’t, so I can be independent. She can get items from shelves, pick up things I drop, get things from the floor, help me open doors, and even get help in an emergency. The most important thing she does for me is give me my confidence back- when I am with her, I feel the helplessness and frustration melt away. She’s my hero.

She is a gorgeous and well-behaved black lab (not that I am at all biased) and so people want to admire her. Wherever we go, people call her, fuss her and even offer her treats. This is despite her wearing a coat with a large warning “Please do not distract me”. People say, “I can’t help myself!” Many people don’t even ask me before distracting her, and some even get very unpleasant when I ask them to stop. People like me who use helper dogs do wish you would respect our need to maintain control of our dogs. We appreciate they are beautiful and well trained, but they are also at work and have an important job.

Worst of all is when children who clearly have never been taught to approach a dog properly bark in her face, throw things, or scream. They are lucky my dog is so well behaved, because a less chill dog would defend itself and there is no good outcome when that happens. A loving parent should teach their child how to not put themselves at risk with a dog, yet many parents yell at me for verbally defending my dog when their child misbehaves. The mind boggles.

We are very lucky in the UK that legislation permits us to bring our special dogs with us wherever we go; like for any carer, we need their attention to be just on us. When you see one of our wonderful dogs in public, please – admire from afar, don’t do anything to distract our dogs, and by all means speak to the person about the dog, but understand we get a lot of attention and sometimes we need to just get on with our business so might not have time to chat. Sometimes, we can even let you greet our dogs, but it has to be on our terms.

If you really admire our dogs and feel compelled to approach them please think about the impact you are having on the dog- it may get corrected because of your misbehaviour. Please, be less friendly: our caring companions are busy working for us, and if you really respect and love dogs let them do their job. Or, be a “puppy parent” and then you can fuss one of our dogs all you like for a whole year whilst also making a huge contribution to someone else’s life. Thanks so much.

(Note: I do not speak for the charity which trained my dog. My words and opinions are my own.)

Images by Bethann Siviter

This is a guest essay by Bethann Siviter. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

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