“OMG! Your Dog is so Cute!” How to Interact with Assistance Dogs on Campus

“OMG! Your dog is so cute!” Isn’t he though? He knows it too, With those big, brown, puppy eyes it is incredibly hard to resist giving him a big cuddle, but saying hello isn’t an option here! Bailey is my 2-year-old Bull Arab x Great Dane, and his official job title is Cardiac and Mobility Assistance Dog.
I have two main chronic medical conditions Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which affects my joint stability, and Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) that affects my blood pressure which causes dizziness and fainting spell. Bailey is crucial to my independence, he acts as a mobility aid by supporting me up stairs and counterbalance during dizzy spells so I don’t trip or fall. Bailey also has an amazing talent, he can tell me within a minute that I’m about to have a fainting episode, by alerting me Bailey gives me the time to find a seat or lay down before I lose consciousness and severely hurting myself. Bailey so far has stopped me fainting with knives in my hand, falling down staircases and stopped many, many trips to the
emergency department. When Bailey is in his work vest, he needs to concentrate if he is too late alerting it could mean I end up in the back of an ambulance.
How frustrating is it when you are working hard on an assessment, and someone breaks your flow by talking to you, Assistance Dogs are the same, they are working dogs. When you come across any dog in a vest, do not touch, talk to, call, make cute baby sounds, give them commands or try to feed them. It is definitely not rude if you don’t even acknowledge the Assistance Dog is there.
If you have an Assistance Dog in your class or you see an opportunity to ask a question, speak to the handler directly as if Bailey wasn’t there, though some days I wish Bailey could answer for me. Please do not be offended if the handler declines to interact with you, as there is an essential reason for it.
The Guide Dogs for the Blind & Visually Impaired and Hearing Dogs for the Deaf & Hearing Impaired are amazing animals. They provide incredible support but dogs abilities to help don’t stop with these invaluable jobs.
Assistance Dogs come in all shapes and sizes from a 2kg chihuahua to 40kg+ rescue Bull Arab. They are trained to do a variety of different jobs, depending on a person’s medical needs. Dogs can be trained to help someone with:
Mobility Issues such as picking up items, pushing lift or traffic buttons and even helping with the laundry.

Medical Alerts by telling their owner that a seizure, fainting spell or blood sugar drop is about to happen.

and Psychology Management by providing anxiety support, leading to a safe place and even visual or auditory disturbance interruption techniques.

There is no limit to what these gorgeous helpers can do, and they are so good at their job that most of the time you can’t even tell they are providing medical support and keeping a very close eye on their owners.
Assistance Dog teams have the right to access all public areas apart from a sterile area such as an operating theatre and a food preparation area like a restaurant kitchen. However, they are still allowed to enter the dining area at a restaurant. Qualified Assistance Dogs will be clean and very well behaved, so there is no need to worry about them interrupting your dinner. Still, they are dogs and not robots, just like humans, they

can have hiccups which will probably be an isolated incident and be dealt with only by their handler. Bailey still wishes he got away with trying to lick the chicken at Coles! Oh, Bailey nice try!
The training that Assistance Dogs go though is constant and changes as our medical condition changes, or if the world changes around us. University is an intense environment for any Assistance Dog because they are not only coming into an incredibly busy space repeatedly throughout the day but they are in it for long periods of time and maintaining this can be incredibly difficult. We have to concentrate on multiple things at once, the content being taught, watching for behaviour changes in our Assistance Dogs such as alerting or stress indications and watching the environment around us that might interrupt or change those behaviours, a dog in class can distract many students especially if they make cute sleeping noises in the middle of a lecture, oh Bailey chasing dream rabbits again!. If the majority of students understand that the Assistance Dog is for the handler only and not to acknowledge them then that is one thing we can take off our concentration plate.
So, please keep me safe by ignoring my incredibly cute partner. My life may literally depend on it!

Listen to Jessica’s Feature Episode on the ‘Through a Handler’s Eyes’ podcast.

Jessica Robinson-Turns
Jessica Robinson-Turns
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