Service animals may be seen more and more in public places, as animal behaviorists and trainers recognize the benefits of employing these clever creatures to assist those who need it most. Although dogs have traditionally been the most popular service animals, other helpful creatures now include donkeys, miniature horses, and even monkeys.
What is a service animal?
Basically, a service animal is a creature trained to offer special assistance to an individual living with a disability or challenge. Seeing-eye dogs were among the first creature companions employed in this manner.
Service animals generally work in Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA), Animal-Assisted Education (AAE), Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) or personal assistance for individuals.
Animal lovers may encounter service animals on duty for any of these purposes. How ought we to interact with these gentle and friendly creatures when we meet them?
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These etiquette tips can guide us, when we see service animals out and about.
1. Approach service animals with caution.
Despite the advanced training they generally possess, service animals may still react instinctively, if they are startled or surprised. They are also likely to try to protect their humans, if they sense a possible threat. Dogs may bite, or horses may kick. A well wisher should walk up slowly, approaching so that the animal can clearly see her coming.
2. Greet the human before interacting with the animal.
As a courtesy and caution, it’s important to speak first to the person holding the service animal. Never go directly for the creature.
3. Ask permission before touching a service animal.
Although it may be tempting to reach out and stroke a pretty animal, this must not be attempted without asking the human. A service animal is not merely a pet.
4. Avoid distracting a service animal on duty.
Guide or therapy animals are on the job when we encounter them in public. That sweet dog or mini horse may look like a mere companion, but he has work to do. Confusing the animal might prevent him from leading or otherwise assisting the one who needs his help. Consider the possible consequences of distracting a seeing eye dog while he is guiding his vision-impaired owner across a busy street.
5. Never offer a service animal treats or toys.
Animal trainers use rewards to reinforce successful exercises and behavioral achievements. Treats and toys may be offered to service animals under specific circumstances. Well-meaning individuals must not overstep in this department.
6. Be tactful with the human.
Although we may be fascinated by a service animal and his ability to assist his owner, it is not polite or appropriate to pry about the person’s particular disability. This may sound obvious to some, but it’s astonishing how many people jump right in with nosy questions when encountering total strangers with service animals.
7. Respect the human’s privacy.
A brief courteous interaction with a service animal and his human may be acceptable in a public place. Still, it’s important to remember that a human with a creature helper may be out and about with her daily business, rather than seeking interactions with curious folks. It’s best to greet the human and her service animal, if one must, but avoid detaining them longer.
As service animals find additional applications, we will likely see more species appearing with various occupations to assist humans. Perhaps general curiosity will diminish, as these helpful creatures become even more visible.