To the Editor:
There’s a new dog in town!
She’s curly, and tall, and just so darned cute – people can’t wait to pet her!
But, she’s not “just” a dog. She’s my lifeline!
You see I have mild cerebral palsy and Lila is my certified Service Dog. Lila is trained to make my day less challenging. If I fall she is trained to help me back. She is trained to break my fall so I don’t hit the ground as hard as I used to. She picks up items I can’t and helps me climb stairs, even those without railings. She stabilizes me so I can walk with greater ease.
It’s hard to put into words just how much independence this amazing dog has granted me – she is my faithful mobility assistant.
If you see Lila and I around town you will notice that she wears a harness and vest. A vest is a standard piece of equipment for every certified service dog. When the dog is wearing the vest, it means they are working. These vests all have similar patches such as “Certified Service Dog” and patches that are specific to explain what service they provide their person. Those services can be provided to someone with diabetes, vison impairment, autism, mobility issues or post-traumatic stress disorder.
That person and their dog have a very strong bond and work as a team to help overcome the struggles that come with a physical or mental disability.
On all certified service dogs’ vests, there is a very important patch on it– in big, bold letters, you will see the words “Don’t pet – do not distract.”
“Don’t pet” is self-explanatory, but there are so many ways to distract a service dog! Talking to them. Pointing to them. Leaning down to get closer to them.
You see, they are still dogs and get distracted, no matter how well trained the service dog is – the reality is, what dog doesn’t like being petted and talked to?
That moment of distraction can be very dangerous – for a blind person, it could mean walking off a curb, or tripping on an obstacle that their service dog would normally have alerted their owner to. In my case, the dog could pull me right off my feet!
The truth is, the biggest distraction and the hardest for the person to correct is when people are petting and/or talking to the dog.
Lila and I had a problem a couple of weeks ago that demonstrated how important it is for people to not pet and talk to a certified service dog.
I was coming out of a store and Lila began to pull me and before I could correct her, I had hit the ground hard.
Thankfully I was not badly hurt, just sore and confused – I didn’t know why Lila had started pulling away from me and why she hadn’t broken my fall. Once the shock had worn off, I realized someone was talking directly to Lila in the form of baby talk, Lila’s favourite.
Since I needed more time to recover, I had to rely on someone else to get me up – something Lila is trained to help me with. Once on my feet I did my best to get Lila under control so I could use her to balance – but this person continued talking to her. Two others nearby did all that they could to help me, and I am very grateful. They did not interact with Lila, they simply tried to help me. I did not get their names, but I hope you read this, and know how grateful I am for their help!
As you can see, it is very important not to pet, not to talk to, and not to distract a service dog. If they are wearing their harness, they are working. When we get home, the harness comes off, and it’s fun time. We play just like every other pet friendly home!
Please help me make her a great service dog by respecting the harness and the badge, “Don’t pet – do not distract.”
Carolyn Laidlaw and Lila the Service Dog