Public Presence

An Assistance Animal is there to keep its handler safe, but many people forget this when they are out in public. Most people know that they should not touch or pat an Assistance Animal without asking their handler first, but many people do not realize that any distraction of the Assistance Animal is just as bad.

In reality, you should not interact with an Assistance Animal in any way, shape or form. This includes:

  • offering food, water or treats to the Assistance Animal,
  • patting, touching or other interference with the Assistance Animal or its harness or equipment,
  • talking or calling the Assistance Animal’s name,
  • making eye contact or gestures towards the Assistance Animal,
  • moving or attempting to move the Assistance Animal,
  • standing in front of the Assistance Animal or blocking its path, or
  • allowing children or animals to interact with the Assistance Animal in any of these ways

Assistance Animals are lifesaving, yet many people forget that an Assistance Animal has a specific purpose and it a vital piece of equipment to its handler. Any distraction or interaction what-so-ever can have negative consequences for its handler including the potential to become injured or seriously ill. In some situations, this could mean permanent damage or death. Even when an Assistance Animal seems just to be laying quietly beside their handler, they are closely watching and monitoring their handler so it is crucial that you do not interrupt.

Assistance Animals are specifically trained to focus on their handler at all times. This is why an Assistance Animal will never seek out your attention or instigate a pat whilst working. You should do the same and respect the Assistance Animals role and avoid causing any distraction. It takes years to train an Assistance Animal, and many thousands of dollars. These animals are valuable, and invaluable to their handler.

Although asking to pat or interact with an Assistance Animal is permissible, it is not encouraged. This is because handlers can be asked many times a day whether people can pat their Assistance Animal. This becomes tiresome and time consuming as handlers are just trying to go about their life. Imagine if people started coming up to you multiple times every day and asking about your hat. The first few times you might not mind, or even enjoy the interaction, but by the fourth or fifth time answering the same question this is unlikely to be the case. However, if you have a genuine question many handlers will be happy to answer your question. But remember, asking about an individual’s disability is considered to be quite rude. After all, would you go up to a person using a walking frame and ask for information about their disability?

This does not mean that you should ignore a handler and their Assistance Animal. Instead, just be realistic in your encounters. If you have a genuine reason to speak to the handler, go right ahead. Examples may to be offer customer service, to offer support if the handler looks distressed or lost, or if the handler or Assistance Animal approaches you. Some Assistance Animals are trained to seek out help for their handler in the case of an emergency, so if an Assistance Animal approaches you alone, their handler is likely unwell and needs immediate help. In this case, you should follow the animal and call emergency services if required.

Assistance Animals do not work 24/7, and they do have down time. If you encounter an Assistance Animal who isn’t working at the time, you may be lucky enough to be offered to pat or interact with them. But please do not assume. If the handler says no please respect this and do not ignore them and interact with their animal even if the animal doesn’t look to be working.