Harry the assistant dog.
Harry the assistant dog. Renee Pilcher

Steer clear of working dogs

DISABLED pensioner Cliff Hutchings has put way too much blood, sweat and tears into training his assistance dog to let it be ruined by thoughtless actions.

He's decided to take the matter into his own hands and educate the public about proper handling of service dogs after a bad episode in a shopping centre.

"We were doing our groceries and people started pushing us out of the way to pat the dogs," he said.

Animal educator Kate Butterworth said patting was a common problem experienced by people who required the service of an assistance dog.

"The public needs to be educated about assistance dogs," she said.

"When they see these dogs they are not to be petted. They are working dogs and patting distracts them, especially when they're wearing their service jackets."

An assistance dog is similar to a guide dog, in the way it helps people who are deaf, in wheelchairs, on crutches, or suffering from a disabilities lead a fairly independent life. These dogs have the same access privileges as guide dogs and are permitted in all public and private facilities, where they often become the centre of unwanted attention.

"We made the mistake of letting people pat Princess in the beginning," Mr Hutchings told The Gympie Times.

"People got used to patting her and now they get offended when I tell them they can't."

Ms Butterworth asked members of the public to think of these assistance dogs as working dogs and avoid contact as it distracted them from their job. She said even when it looks like they are relaxing at their handler's feet, they are still very watchful and alert because their handler may be depending on them for their lives.

Sasha is a gentle Rottweiler that has become Leslye's companion and carer in the past year. Like all assistance dogs, Sasha will receive ongoing training to adapt to her owner's changing needs.

Sasha helps Leslye rise from her bed by lying down beside her and using her strength to pull Leslye into a sitting position.

For more information, visit animaleducation.com.au.

Gympie Times


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