One Human’s Tragic Mistake Reminds Us Why We Should Never Pet A Service Dog

Written by: Regina Lizik

July 10, 2015

Dogs are irresistible balls of fluff and cuteness. As adorable as they are, some pups are off-limits to human interaction. That’s because these dogs have a special job to do. They’re service dogs.

Service dogs keep their hoomans safe, sometimes from death. Petting or otherwise distracting one can have tragic consequences.

That’s what happened to 16 year old Hailey Ashmore. Hailey has multiple illnesses including Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and epilepsy. Her service pup in-training, Flynn, has the important task of alerting her roughly 10 minutes before she has a seizure. This gives her time to find a safe place so that she does not injure herself while seizing.


Flynn is still in training, which means he likely has to perfect his distraction skills. But even well seasoned service dogs get distracted on the job, just like humans do!

While visiting her father at work, another human began petting Flynn. Flynn wears a giant “STOP” sign on his back. Hailey also told the person to stop petting her dog.

Hailey says:

“The only time somebody should ever approach Flynn and I is if I am unconscious and/or having a seizure. Besides that, nobody should try to pet or get near him.”

This may seem like an overreaction to most people, but for a person with a disability, a distracted service dog could mean imminent danger.

Although the other human meant no harm, her action nearly resulted in tragedy. Because Flynn was distracted, he failed to give Hailey proper notice of her seizure. By the time he was able to alert her, it was already too late. Hailey fell to the ground, sustaining a serious rug burn to her head.

“My service dog is my lifeline. I don’t say that to be cute. He helps keep me alive just like life support. If he gets distracted this happens. If he gets distracted I can die. Do not pet service dogs. Do not call to service dogs. Do not taunt service dogs. Do not talk to service dogs. Do not do anything to service dogs.”

I know how difficult it is to not pet or acknowledge a service dog. Think about it this way: You wouldn’t pet someone’s pacemaker without asking, would you?

(Not that you could. That would be SO weird.)

I have a service dog. He is my pet when he is off-duty, but when we are working, he is, in a way, medical equipment. It’s no different than if I was walking around with my cane. No one would think to grab that out of my hand.

I’ve had similar experiences to Hailey. I think most people with a service dog feel a bit bad when someone wants to pet our pooch. We definitely understand the inclination, but we have to say no. It’s for our own safety.

The most responsible thing that you can do is to ignore the dog altogether. Pretend that it’s not there. Doing that could save someone’s life.

Featured image via @theadventuresofflynn.

h/t Little Things.

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Written by: Regina Lizik

July 10, 2015

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