Service dog users have to overcome many issues – from being denied the ‘reasonable adjustments’ required by the Equality Act to being straight-up denied access to premises with their dogs – but that is not all. There is another problem too many people with service dogs face every day: that of members of the public distracting their dog while out and about.
One reader, who asked not to be named, wrote, “My dog looks adorable, I get it, but when he’s out with me he’s working. He is clearly marked as a service dog through his jacket and that’s for a reason: I need him to be able to tell me when my blood sugar drops dangerously, so I can immediately take action. So for example, if I am sitting outside a pub and people come over to pet him, or coo at him trying to get his attention from the next table over, he may not remain entirely focused on me.”
“I know this is a widespread problem among people with service dogs. Sometimes people will not stop even when asked to; I had a man get verbally abusive because I asked him to keep his children away from my service dog and no, I wouldn’t have him pose for pictures. When they distract my dog, it gets downright dangerous as he may not be able to do his work efficiently.
“I’d prefer not to end up passed out on the pavement because someone absolutely had to pet my dog. I wish there were fines for this kind of behaviour, so that people finally understand that distracting a working service dog can be as bad meddling with someone’s wheelchair.”
Others, however, feel that fines may not be a solution.
“More education is needed for sure – too many members of the public have no idea of the harm they may cause by distracting a service dog,” another service dog user said. “I don’t think fines would help much. If someone distracts my dog and doesn’t stop when I tell them to, who is going to be around to give them a fine? If I call someone, they surely won’t keep standing there waiting for them to come. It seems difficult to enforce and doesn’t get to the root of the problem – a lack of education.”
What do you think – should there be fines for people who distract service dogs in public?
Let us know what you think here, on Facebook, or by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Great Debate” in the subject line.