Dear Abby: I am 18, disabled and work with a service dog. I would like to offer people a few tips on interacting with service dog owners. Perhaps it will lessen some of the daily frustrations all handlers deal with:
1. Not all service dogs are big dogs. I know several Chihuahuas who save their owners' lives every day with their medical alert tasks.
2. Not all disabilities are visible. Please don't ask, "What's wrong with you?" or "What's your problem?"
3. There are many kinds of service dogs, not just guide dogs. Medical alert dogs help people with everything from epilepsy to diabetes to panic attacks. There are also autism service dogs, mobility dogs and hearing dogs.
4. Please do not pet my dog without asking me first. My dog wears a patch that says, "Do Not Pet." It's there for a reason. Abby, I can't count the number of people who read her patch out loud, then reach out to pet her anyway. Please do not take it personally if we say no.
5. If a dog's handler seems ill, it's OK -- even preferable -- to ask if we are all right. I once had an episode, and no less than two dozen people walked right past me while I sat on the floor. Had I been diabetic, I could have died because no one stopped -- including two store managers.
-- Hoping to Help in Pennsylvania
Dear Hoping to Help: Thank you for an important letter. What many people fail to understand is that when an assistance dog is out in public, the animal is working and should not be distracted from its task -- which is ensuring the well-being of its owner.
Your last tip was the most important of all. Folks, I shouldn't have to tell you that if you see someone who appears to be in trouble, it takes only a moment to do the right thing and make sure the person gets the help he or she needs. And that includes calling 911 if it's merited.
Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.