Monday, December 27, 2010

Laws Protect and Impose Penalties for Interferring, Injuring, or Killing Service Dogs

More than half the states have laws laws on the books protecting service dogs and their handlers for interference, injury, or death caused by a person or their animal, based on a self conducted count of the results in a Google search. I have wanted to write this post for a while, but I didn't know of a good compilation until recently. I discovered the Harm to Service Animals and Criminal Interference Laws
Resource from the Animal Legal and Historical Center at the University of Michigan.
Many people don't see any harm in:
  • letting through dog "say hi" to a working service dog
  • Coming up, grabbing and petting a service dog
  • Barking, whistling, clapping their hands, talking to in a baby voice, or making kissy noises with the intent of attracting the attention of a working service dog
  • Throwing food or other objects at a working service dog 
  • Yelling a working dog's name with the intent to distract them 
  • Crawling on the floor trying to pet a working service dog
  • Issuing commands to a service dog to see if it will listen even just one to them
  • Hitting,kicking or purposely stepping on a working service dog to see if they can make it react
  • Allowing their children to do any of these behaviors
I know some of the things on the list seem unbelievable, but they do happen to most teams at some point in their partnership. These things often seem funny,or harmless to the people doing them because they:
a) love dogs so much they can't help themselves
b) want to see if the dog is really as well trained as everyone says
c) want to be able to provoke a dog to bad behavior because they don't like/fear dogs and know  if the dogs act up they will have to leave
d) think that they or their children should be allowed to play with or do whatever they want because these dog are there and are safe
I can think of many instances in the media such as the women whose guide was dropped kicked off it's feet, and the hearing dog who was attacked by off-leash dogs in a mall parking lot (warning very graphic description) to name a few.

Sadly, I also have no shortage of instances in my own life both minor and large where people, their children, and/or their pets have interfered with my service dog safely executing their duties in peace.

  • Bastien and I were crossing a five lane street when someone who knew us from the bus decided to call his name when we were in the middle of the crosswalk causing him to stop,turn and look as he was trained to do leaving me stopped in the middle of the street. Most crosswalks don't give me enough time  to get safely across going as fast as we could, it was something I never allowed this to happen again because I stopped giving out his name.
  • Bastien and went to a neighborhood store one Sunday morning to pick up a few items for brunch.Bastien was minding his own business laying as close the the case as he could get to be out of the way while waiting for me to decide what I wanted, when I felt his head turn toward his tail. I turned to see what was bothering him,and was astonished to see an eight year old child  repeatedly purposely stepping on his tail. I told her to please stop stepping on my dog and she did it again! I told her again to stop stepping on my dog. This time her mother heard me and proceeded to start screaming at me tat her daughter could do whatever she wanted and ,well let's just say the situation continued to deteriorate until store staff who knew us came to our rescue.
  • The college students on the bus to work who repeatedly call to, make noises at, and pet Shilo. This happens so often I have lost count.
  • The women on the Amtrak who decided it was a good idea to come up behind a strange dog (Shilo), and start scratching her behind without saying a word to her or me while we were trying to exit the train.
  • The dog shut in a car at the beach with the window down starting to come out the window,barking and bearing its teeth while the owner who was twenty feet away tried to convince us the dog was "harmless". We, My roommate,her guide Cammy,and Shilo, decide it wasn't harmless back tracked crossed the road and went up the other side where the side walk was non-existent.
I could go on for pages with various stories. I am fortunate that none of these instances have caused me or my service injury or death. However, it is not at all hard for me to imaging anyone of the above situations having turned out very differently. Service dogs are with their owners to assist them in: navigating a world that remains difficult at the best of times; give them the help they need when and how they need it rather than hoping for someone to decide to help then hoping the person doesn't hurt them somehow in the process;being able to actively decide and participate in the business of living their lives. The time you have the urge or see someone actively trying to distract or interfere with a service dog, I hope you will think of the real danger your seemly harmless action  may cause choosing instead to exercise self-control and admire our dogs quietly, from distance. 

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