• Lauren Burke

No, You Can't Pet my Service Dog.

And please don’t talk to her, either.


At least once a day while Ricki and I are out and about someone asks if they can pet my dog. My response is almost always, “No, she’s working, but thank you for asking,” and then I quickly walk away, trying to avoid them. When we were first placed together I wouldn’t leave so quickly, and people would respond with all sorts of crazy things.

“Seriously?”

“That poor dog, no one is allowed to love it.”

“How cruel”


Some would even come over and start petting her anyways, saying it was ok, they are a dog person.


People don’t ask why not. They just assume whatever they want to think. People really thought (think?) that my dog, Ricki, my spoiled brat cuddle bug dog, was being neglected. Or that I’m just a bitch and don’t want to interact with the public.


Ricki resting her head on my leg at a conference.

What I really want everyone to understand is that I don’t want you interacting with my working dog. How would you feel if strangers came up to you at work and started patting your head? Imagine how hard it would be to focus if people were talking to you every 10 steps you took.


Ricki has an important job. Her job is to keep her nose on me to make sure I’m alive and healthy, and that takes a lot of work and focus.


She also has to know that it isn’t ok to approach people when she has her vest on. I always know when someone has given her inappropriate attention in vest, because the next time she comes near someone with dogs, she goes up to them and sniffs them up—and that is not ok. She knows the rules, but she’s a smart dog. If someone tells her it’s ok to break the rules, she is going to break the rules. And I can’t have my dog sticking her cold nose on some lady’s leg in the checkout line at the grocery store.


When we are home, Ricki’s vest comes off, and she gets to play and snuggle and be more of a dog. She will always do her job, but she gets to relax just like other dogs. Don’t worry, she gets plenty of love and attention when you aren’t around to see it.


Ricki helps take care of my diabetes. Diabetes is a terminal illness, you can die from a low blood sugar in as little as 45 minutes, or you can die from high blood sugars in a week or two. But you have at least 45 minutes, which is more than other working dogs have to alert. Some dogs alert on seizures, or POTS, or other medical conditions where they only have 5-15 minutes to warn a person before an episode hits. If you sneak pets on to a seizure alert dog, it might not have enough time to tell it’s human to take their meds or get into a safe place and position before that seizure hits.


I heard a story once about a young woman with a seizure alert dog. They were waiting at a crosswalk when someone started petting her dog. She asked them to stop, but they didn’t, and the dog missed an alert. Less than 5 minutes later, she collapsed in the street having a seizure. Had the dog been focused on her, she would have known, and wouldn’t have crossed the street. Instead, she spent the night in the hospital with some decent injuries.


The general rule with service animals is No Touch, No Talk, No Eye Contact. These dogs are medical equipment, so treat them as such— Ricki is the equivalent to a wheelchair. Would you come over and ask to touch someone’s wheelchair? Is it polite to stare at someone’s wheelchair? Would you talk to a wheelchair? Hopefully not. So, Please. Don’t pet my service dog.

© 2020 Lauren Burke

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