It’s been happening more and more.
Just yesterday there were two instances: once at a restaurant, the second at the grocery store. The setting changes, but the scene plays out the same: A small child catches sight of Tommy, glee sweeps him off his tiny feet and propels him toward us.
But before those little fingers catch hold of some fur, a parent grabs hold of the situation. How? They don’t grab hold of their kids. They don’t block, tug or scold. I’m seeing more and more young moms and dads pause, wrap an arm around the child, fold down to talk to them at their level, maybe even, for a moment, ooh and ahh at the size of the dog.
What I’m hearing more and more of is:
“Yes, he is a beautiful dog. But See his vest? He’s working.”
“We’re not supposed to pet him. He needs to pay attention to his job.”
“Look. See the lady he’s with? He’s helping her. That’s his job.”
Really. I couldn’t have scripted it better myself. Not only are these parents teaching their kids about how to behave around a service dog, they’re teaching them about what service dogs do. I don’t remember my parents ever explaining about service dogs to me, but that’s probably because we never encountered one. There were disabled people, but we were taught to look away so as not to stare.
To all the parents who have stopped not to stare but to fill their kids in on the do’s and don’ts of encountering a service dog, Thank You. More and more of you are doing so, and those of us, like me, who depend on our canine canes (or eyes or ear or more, for some people), appreciate it. I used to catch your eye. More and more, though, I carry on with my dinner or my shopping so you can focus your attention on your work as parents.
I tell Tommy what a good job he’s done after each outing with him. From where I stand (beside him), I see what a good job you’re doing. By taking the time to explain, you’re helping your kids understand why someone might need a working dog and why the dog shouldn’t look away from his human.
But there’s more. By pausing to watch, to witness, to look at Tommy and me, you’re teaching your child to see the disabled person as human and they needn’t look away.